President Donald Trump’s reported death wish for sharks has been a lifeline for charities that protect them.
Shark-related nonprofits have been receiving a steady stream of donations in the wake of Trump reportedly telling adult film actress Stormy Daniels, “I donate to all these charities and I would never donate to any charity that helps sharks. I hope all the sharks die.” Trump’s comments came to light in an In Touch Weekly interview with Daniels, who reportedly had a fling with Trump in 2006. Daniels said Trump was “obsessed” with sharks and “terrified” of them.
Since Trump’s strong anti-shark stance became public late last week, donations have poured in at the nonprofits Atlantic White Shark Conservancy and Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, their leaders told MarketWatch.
“It’s actually more dangerous to play golf than it is to go swimming in the ocean with sharks.”
“We have been receiving donations in Trump’s name since the story was published,” said Cynthia Wilgren, chief executive officer and co-founder of Atlantic White Shark Conservancy, based in Chatham, Mass. Most of the money has come from first-time donors, she added. “It can certainly be a challenge to raise money for a species that most people fear,” Wilgren said.
Captain Paul Watson, founder of the Burbank, Calif. based Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, said his group had received “quite a few” donations from benefactors who specifically mentioned Trump’s comments.
He and his fellow conservationists consider Trump’s comments “ignorant,” Watson said, but they’ve had a positive effect. “Anything that focuses attention on the plight of sharks worldwide is valuable, so I guess in that way the president did good service,” Watson said.
His group sends boats across the world to catch poachers who illegally kill sea animals. Some 75 million sharks a year are killed, often when their fins are cut off and they are tossed back into the ocean, Watson said. When their fins are removed, sharks are unable to swim effectively, so they sink down to the bottom and die or get eaten by other predators. Sharks are also killed to make shark leather shoes and belts, and for shark liver oil, which is used as a dietary supplement and in beauty products such as lipstick, according to Sea Shepherd Conservation Society.
The popular image of sharks as super predators is unfair, Watson said. While hundreds of millions of people swim in oceans every year, sharks kill only about five people a year around the world, Watson said. “It’s actually more dangerous to play golf than it is to go swimming in the ocean with sharks,” Watson said. “Quite a few more die from lightning strikes and bee stings while playing golf than from sharks.”
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Sharks are a critical part of ocean ecosystems and their fate is closely tied to the health of oceans as a whole. If they go extinct, humans wouldn’t be too far behind, Watson claimed.
The president’s hatred of sharks pre-dates his time in office, according to his Twitter history. Back in 2013 he said he’s not a fan of the animals. In November 2017, Trump drew the ire of conservationists after eating shark fin soup during a visit to Vietnam.
Shark charities and other nonprofits face an uncertain future under Trump’s new tax law. Some estimate that charities could see a $13 to $20 billion drop in donations because of changes in the tax code.