The Galapagos Marine Reserve has trouble with illegal shark finning and a couple solutions–namely decent laws and several individuals fighting the daily Galapagos grind to keep those laws intact and sometimes enforced. One of these individuals is Sean O’Hearn of Sea Shepherd International. And he was just thrown in jail for his efforts.
In 2000, Sean came to Galapagos onbaord a Sea Shepherd boat and decided not to leave. He had grown up in Puerto Rico and settled snuggly into the island life of Galapagos with his perfect Spanish and easy attitude. He was quickly nicknamed ‘leche en funda’ (milk in a bag) because of his white skin and less than upright posture (I know such details because I volunteered with Sean in 2001–we’re the gringos in the photo). Sean quickly gained stature in marine conservation and was pivotal in the capture and arrest of several illegal shark poachers (my first day with Sean in Galapagos included the incineration of 1044 illegally caught shark fins).
In 2006, after a few years of absence from the islands, Sean returned to Galapagos and revitalized the Sea Shepherd anti-shark poaching campaign. In June, Sean and the Ecuadorian National Police uncovered a ring of shark fin traders that led to the confiscation of nearly 20,000 shark fins and four arrests.
But the Ecuadorian shark scandal doesn’t stop there. Last week, the law that prohibited the export of shark fins from Ecuador was overturned. On Friday, Sean was working with the police in Manta, the shark finning capital of Ecuador when he was arrested. On August 4th, minutes before he was about to be illegally exported (having married a ‘Galapeguena’, Sean is legal resident of Ecuador and the Galapagos), the President freed him.
Though liberated, Sean must be disconcerted by the death threats he has recently received. For the sharks, death isn’t merely a threat.
Sharks finned and on the beach of Manta–the center of Ecuador’s shark mafia. I visited Manta in May 2006, when the export of fins was illegal but clearly still taking place.