I’m in Danger of Extinction, Too!

“Now great whales travel the rhumb lines
Dodging those deadly harpoons
Spawning their young, as their ancestors done
In the depths of her hidden lagoons

“There’re times I find myself with them
And times I feel as they do
We’re on a similar course, it’s just a different source
But I’m in danger of extinction too.”
— Jimmy Buffett
If the man from Margaritaville identifies with whales, as a lawyer I inevitably identify with sharks. Naturally, my interest was peaked by news last week that the feds broke up a band of poachers, operating out of San Francisco and specializing in Leopard Sharks. The story was all the more curious in its implication of a minister of the Reverand Sun Myung Moon’s Unification Church. The Reverend Kevin Thompson reportedly recruited parishioners to his poaching enterprise in part by assuring them that capturing and selling the federally-protected baby sharks was “God’s will.”
Most days I’m hard pressed to discern the U.S. Supreme Court’s will, much less what the Good Lord wants me to do. So I guess I have to admire a man of the cloth who knows the Almighty wants us to be poachers. Wow, what insight! Unfortunately, the feds didn’t buy that one. He’s been sentenced to a year in jail and ordered to pay a $100,000 fine, after entering a “guilty” plea in the U.S. District Court.
The fine actually is fairly modest, given that the reverend and his gang are believed to have grossed something more than a million dollars by capturing the baby predators and selling them to aquariums and “fish enthusiasts” throughout the U.S. and as far afield as the United Kingdom and Holland. A single shark reportedly yielded up to thirty bucks. Thompson’s gang consisted mainly of gullible teens, who worked the San Francisco Bay on his behalf. Each pup, as the baby sharks are known, runs around 10 inches. Fully grown, a Leopard Shark can be seven feet long and require at least 500 gallons of water to maneuver.
Credit for breaking up the gang and bringing the minister to justice goes to Special Agent Roy Torres of the U.S. Fisheries Office for Law Enforcement. Two years of investigation, requiring the assistance of Britain’s Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, went into the bust.
One report I’ve read says that Thompson’s motives were more complex than mere greed. This press release adds that the master poacher wanted to impress the Reverend Moon, who has assumed, among many titles, “King of the Ocean.” The Holy Spirit Association for the Unification of Christianity was founded by Moon more than half a century ago. The Moonies first became controversial in the 1970s and 1980s, when they were accused of using brainwashing techniques to attract and hold young adherents. The stories I’ve read don’t say if Thomson brainwashed his poachers or not.
Other reports estimate that the poachers captured more than 6,000 little sharks in the bay over more than a decade. Those recovered during the busting of the gang will not be returned to the city by the sea, but rather will be left where they are. Three shark dealers also were indicted; at least one has copped a “guilty” plea, like Thompson. I’m glad. These are mean people. Allegedly, some baby sharks were “ripped from their mother’s wombs.” Yuck!
An old joke asks, “Why don’t sharks attack lawyers?” Answer: “Professional courtesy.”
When I swim at the Shore, I don’t believe that for a minute. Still, when I learned of the saving of imperiled Leopard Sharks, I felt compelled to return the professional courtesy by reporting on it in this space. Who knows? Maybe the next time I’m flopping around in the surf, some cruising Tiger or Hammerhead or Great White may pass me up in favor of an accountant or a gym teacher or a truck driver.
A few weeks ago I reported to you that America is now blessed or cursed with about a million lawyers. No matter. A century and a half ago, the plains thronged with millions of buffalo. Look what happened to them, once our ancestors discovered they could be shot with impunity. I might be in danger of extinction too!


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