Shark- human holistic research and Knowledge system​

(SHHRKS)

A methodological approach 

The lives and oceanscapes of sharks are highly threatened. The present way of creation and dissemination of knowledge is not having an effective impact on shark conservation initiatives. Consequently, in this proposal, I plant the seeds of Shark- human holistic research and Knowledge system approach (SHHRKS) a transdisciplinary, transmodal, tranceknowledge system multispecies approach in education, creation, analysis, and dissemination of shark knowledge and its application in policy. I explore the need for such an approach, the methodological considerations, and how can such an approach be beneficial. Furthermore, I propose examples of how such an approach be implemented through examples of a tentative curriculum.

 

Operational definitions:

SHHRKS:  Transdisciplinary, trans-modal, trance- Knowledge system multispecies approach in education, creation, analysis, and dissemination of shark knowledge and its application in policy.

Data: Unbiased (or closest thereof) quantitative/qualitative/ sensory information collected with the intent of creating Knowledge through the process of analyses.

Bibliography of human shark research.

In the spirit of creating a collaborative research platform, and the deep belief that this knowledge should be available to anyone that is interested. I am crating a dynamic bibliography of literature which investigates human-shark interaction from natural sciences, social sciences and law and other fields. Considering the lack of direct resources, I am considering all literature which directly or indirectly investigating the interaction. I will be updating the list as and when I get new literature. I encourage scholars to use this resource, and contact me to update any new research. 

An invitation

The lives and oceanscapes of sharks are highly threatened. The present way of creation and dissemination of knowledge is not having an effective impact on shark conservation initiatives. On that note, this is a brief conceptual road map to my global colleagues for collaboration on a new human-shark research approach SHHRKS- Shark- human holistic research and Knowledge system approach.  

Need to rethink shark research and conservation efforts

Why do shark research in the 21st century? There could be several reasons, firstly, ‘Because it's there’, or in other words, human inquisitiveness. Secondly, to better understand certain material resources humans possess or can exploit. Thirdly, to mitigate Human-shark conflict. Finally, for shark conservation. If the last is the argued primary case, data indicates that the contemporary approaches of shark research and conservation efforts are not working. Sharks and rays of the open ocean, estuary, deep sea, and freshwater are in decline globally. At least 67 species are critically endangered or endangered (Simpfendorfer et al., 2011). The global abundance of oceanic sharks and rays has declined 71 % since 1970 (Queiroz et al., 2019). This calls for an urgent need to rethink their research and conservation efforts.

Shark-human holistic research and knowledge system (SHHRKS)

I am defining SHHRKS as a Transdisciplinary, trans-modal, trance- Knowledge system multispecies approach in education, creation, analysis, and dissemination of shark knowledge and its application in policy. “Transdisciplinarity occurs when two or more discipline perspectives transcend each other to form a new holistic approach. The outcome will be completely different from what one would expect from the addition of the parts.” (Caldwell, 2015). At the same token, SHHRKS will aim at transcending the discipline, modality, and knowledge system boundaries to create a holistic look at creating, sharing, and implementing shark knowledge.

Objectives

  1. To train new scholars in holistic human shark knowledge creation strategies.

  2. To support the creation and sharing of holistic knowledge about sharks and their connection with human societies.

  3. To demystify sharks and create a favorable image.

  4. To initiate policy change for shark conservation.

Cornerstones

  1. Shark- demystification

  2. Multispecies approach

  3. Trans-disciplinary approach

  4. Trans-knowledge-system approach

  5. Trans-modal approach

  6. knowledge creation- analysis- dissemination in the same continuum.

Demystification of a hyperreal monster

Before progressing with any other strategies of shark knowledge creation and education- we have to address the image of the sharks prevalent in the public imagination. The present image that general people are aware of is hyperreal, that is, the image of sharks like the Great White sharks are grander than the actual fish(Aich, 2021a, In press). These images are sabotaging conservation initiatives since the proliferation of such images harms the interest in legislation that might help increase shark numbers in the oceans. Hence there is an immediate need to challenge these hyperreal and negative images of sharks in the public imagination. There are two general ways of achieving this. Firstly, through direct exposure with them in the marine environment, secondly, through spreading objective positivistic knowledge (Apps et al., 2016, 2018; Dobson, 2007). For direct exposure, in most cases, people who dive and intentionally encounter them in the marine environment are predisposed to have a more positive attitude towards them than the general population (Aich, In press). As for Objective knowledge and demystification, did, mere dis-information create this image? If the image was not created from misinformation, how do we expect merely information to change it (Aich, 2021a)? If it is argued we want to conserve something that we love, is love related only to the data and information we have about something/someone? Or is it related to our emotional connection with them, often beyond objective reasoning? The shark was merely the right vessel to commodify our primal dread of the unknown, hence it had such a long-lasting cognitive effect in mass consciousness. Consequently, there is a need to understand and acknowledge the deep-rooted reasoning of our fear of them, and from that create a culture of dialogue to heal our scared minds. Share our stories and images of them emphasizing their beauty, and our love, admiration, and cultural relationships with them and the marine environment. There is also a need for immediate accountability from the media, at the end, if the proliferation of such images causes such devastating effect on the lives of fish like sharks (often apex predators)- which in effect has serious implications for the marine environment- why is there not enough call for censorship or some kind of disclaimers when the hyperreal images of sharks are shared (Aich, 2021a)?

A multispecies approach

From a species conservation and human-shark interaction (positive or negative) perspective, studying sharks in isolation does not give us a holistic perspective of our relation with them, and the conservation hindrances. Hence, there is a need to create immediate knowledge about them not only from the ecological dimension but also from the dimension of their relationship with human communities they are closely related and explore how both the species have significant agency in shaping each other’s lives. In classical social scientific research and ethnographies dealing with human- non-human animals, the focus has been on the human dimension of the discourse, only humans were considered to have significant agency in shaping the interactions and the lifescapes (Aisher & Damodaran, 2016). There has been a recent shift in contemporary ethnographic investigations of human-animal relations, with an emerging dialogue of a continuum of agency among humans and non-humans with scholarly approaches like Multispecies Ethnography (ME) (Dashper, 2020; Ellis et al., 2018; Gannon & Gannon, 2017; Gillespie & Narayanan, 2020; Hohti & Tammi, 2019; Kohn, 2018; Kirksey and Helmreich, 2010; Mason, 2016; Satsuka, 2018; Sepie, 2017; Vanutelli & Balconi, 2015; Wilkie, 2015). ME is ethnographic research and writing with a more than human perspective, challenging the classical tradition of human exceptionalism and presenting them as separate from other life forms and having exclusive agentive impact in shaping the political, socio-cultural, and economic environment of the lived worlds we are all part of. Though there have been investigations with many species including domesticated and agrarian animals, and other wild animals (Andrews, 2019; Baynes-Rock & Thomas, 2015; Fuentes, 2010; Locke, 2013; Radhakrishna, 2018), the focus on ‘slimy’ animals like fish and aquatic environments is still limited (Bear, 2011), and sharks and humans have been considered in different epistemological paradigms.

In my previous research, I had argued for a multispecies ethnographic perspective of shark research (Aich, 2021b, In press). However, on deeper reflection, it is apparent to me- such an approach is not always suitable in the case of animals like sharks (Aich & Chakraborty, 2022). Because of the complexities of shark research, elusiveness, environment, ethnographic investigation with them is often not possible, even if the intention is to do so. Furthermore, when the term ‘ethnography’ is used, automatically there is a preference for social sciences, especially anthropology. I would argue that there is a need for an epistemological alteration in human shark education, research, and knowledge dissemination informed by a multispecies, post-human approach- which creates a platform for all the different perspectives to work together as much as the consideration of humans and sharks in the same continuum.  Hence, taking a pragmatic philosophical world view- there is a need to promote scopes of marine anthropologists/ social scientists working with ecologists, ethologists, biologists, artists, and policy experts- in investigating related lives of humans and sharks- through the creation of transdisciplinary human-shark research labs, and university curriculums training students in ecological sciences as much as social sciences for human-shark research, policy, and art, and training in the proper use of various tools and approaches necessary in marine expeditions.

Trans-disciplinarity.

The first hurdle to overcome is the lack of disciplinary integration between various deciplinary paradigms like natural sciences, social sciences, art and legal sciences. Social sciences have focused on humans, while biological sciences have focused on sharks. In biological let alone social sciences; shark research has been historically limited. Sharks are elusive, often large, fast-moving, far-ranging fishes, in a vast marine environment, hence there are significant methodological and logistical challenges in studying them. The 20th century saw the rise in shark biological studies and the last few decades saw an increased interest in scientific research because of shark fisheries and military interest (Castro, 2013). Natural sciences provide data about ecological, ethological/ behavioral knowledge about the sharks. This knowledge is significant to know about their behavior, where they are living, how the marine environment is affecting them, and more. Social sciences are significant to bring sharks into the purview of anthropological and ethnographic investigations to create a fuller view of the network of physical and symbolic interaction among humans and sharks. Furthermore, art helps not only to create but share knowledge that is often not accessible through merely verbal communication which will be significant to communicate shark knowledge to the general population through linear and nonlinear communication. SHHRKS is not only interested in the art that is from the community, but indeed in the reflexive art of the ethnographer. Disciplines like media studies help investigate the lay of the mediascape in the context of changing shark images. Finally, disciplines related to policy and law will be significant to address concerns with fisheries, shark human-conflict resolution, and other conservation benefits, and create strategies for media accountability.

Trans-knowledge-system approach

There is a lack of integration of various knowledge systems to create a more enriched knowledge base. Often science experts, consider knowledge emerging from fishers and other local knowledge experts as insignificant or unscientific, overlooking the decades they spend in the water with them, hence significant data can be lost in the process. There have been some recent initiatives to challenge this ( Aich, & Chakraborty, 2022; Crawford, 2017). However, there needs to be a more sustained effort through this approach.

Trans-modality

There is knowledge and emotion that cannot be communicated to others and ourselves through only verbal communication, that is why they are expressed through art, abstract, and sensory expressions. Multimodality is important because otherwise there is a lot lost in translation when one is trying to communicate something verbally, that was not perceived and imagined verbally, and the other way around (Aich, 2021c). A Multimodal approach is significant to connect and share shark knowledge and our sensations about them and the natural environment we share with them in marine and symbolic contact zones.

Knowledge creation and dissemination integration

Often there is little integration of shark knowledge creation and dissemination, and its relationship with policy. There is important knowledge being lost in translation between the creation of certain experts, and its expression by others, and its communication to policy experts by yet other groups. Furthermore, there is a gap in integration in the creation of knowledge and what is being shared with the public, and not just a handful of ‘experts’ in the field, creating a more unidirectional flow of knowledge and distance between the science experts and the general population, and observing real-life tangible effects. This has to be remedied in SHHRKS.

Challenges of the approach

This is a huge multi-prong endeavor, but to cause real change in shark conservation- we must start somewhere, and in my humble opinion this is the way forward. There is need to fine-tune the methodology. There is a need for funding and a university/ research organization to support the project. Finally, and probably most importantly, there is the need for the right team, with experts all united in the cause of deeper understanding of human-shark relations and shark conservation- hence this letter of invitation.

To conclude

The global shark population is dwindling. The mere creation of isolated strands of natural or social knowledge about them is not enough to create sustainable conservation efforts, hence there is a compulsion to focus on a new form of research platform to create and share knowledge about them and their connection to human societies. There is a need to emphasize objective scientific data as much as sharing personal emotional connections and imbibing cultural, local, and native knowledge expressed through art, sensory expressions, and fables. We shall be part of a new transdisciplinary team who are aiming to bring a new methodological and epistemological paradigm shift and create holistic research by bringing in the social sciences, natural sciences, law/ policy, and art to create a holistic approach to creation, contemplation, and dissemination of trans-modal, trans-knowledge system human-shark knowledge. Lately, I have been presenting this concept at various global universities and invited talks, and I have a tentative course structure and research strategies for such an approach- this letter has been merely an invitation to my global colleagues for collaboration. I welcome experts from social sciences, natural sciences, art, law, conservation, and others to get in touch and collaborate and take this discourse ahead.

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It has been a pleasure to introduce my new human- shark research methodology I have been working on for the Blackpool and The Fylde College.