Edgar Becerril a marine biologist from Mexico. Edgar studys white sharks since 2012 and other sharks and rays since 2009 as a student in CICIMAR-IPN in La Paz, Baja California Sur. His research is focused on the white sharks ecology, behavior and the impact of ecotourism on the population of Guadalupe Island.
We were happy to meet Edgar on the Nautilus Belle Amie at a trip to the mega fauna of Archipelag Revillagigedo in June 2016.
Stop Finning DE: Where do you come from?
Edgar: I am from Mexico city, but I have been live in La Paz since 2009. I came to Baja for studying marine biology and of course sharks and rays.
Stop Finning DE: Are you a diver? If yes, how long for?
Edgar: Yes, I’m a scuba diver since 2009.
Stop Finning DE: Based on your relationship to the ocean do you eat fish or other kind of seafood? If not, why?
Edgar: Yes, I eat seafood. In Mexico, the people try to use all parts of the fish and this industry is an important part for the economy of my country. The fishermen try to do their best for their family and if they know how, for their (and our) environment.
Stop Finning DE: You work as a marine biologist with sharks. Can you describe your work in a few words and how long you work with sharks?
Edgar: Incredible, passionate, necessary, noble and beautiful. I´ve been working with sharks since 2009. I started as a volunteer in an important research center in Mexico with Dr. Felipe Galván Magaña (CICIMAR-IPN) and later with Dr. Mauricio Hoyos (NGO Pelagios Kakunjá).
Stop Finning DE: Is studying sharks your dream job?
Edgar: Haha, yes, it is. I study sharks because I think that they need it. In our generation, we can make the difference to save them or not. It´s our responsibility as humans to protect sharks.
Stop Finning DE: Why are sharks so fascinating for you?
Edgar: There are a lot of reasons. Their biology, the interaction with them, the mysteries that they still have in science and knowledge. There’s a world to be explored and the world of sharks is an incredible part of this world. Full of challenges, full of questions, of answers and satisfaction.
Stop Finning DE: When and with which kind of shark was your first encounter?
Edgar: My first encounter was on a small island in the Mexican Caribbean, called Isla Mujeres. I had a beautiful encounter with a nurse shark (Ginglymostoma cirratum) when I was 12 years old.
Stop Finning DE: How did you behave at your first encounter and how should it be in your opinion at the first (but also with all other) shark encounters?
Edgar: With the nurse shark everything was great, but not natural. My first time in the wild with white sharks was simply amazing. I was cage diving, but smiling all the time. It was the beginning of the dream of my life. After that I participate in a tagging project with bull sharks and I was snorkeling: the sharks suddenly got into a frenzy and I was kind of scared, but calm, and everything went well in this stressful situation. So, the first encounter? Be calm and enjoy it.
Stop Finning DE: What kind of memory do you have? Were you frightened?
Edgar: In all my interactions I think the same: “I will enjoy it, be calm and enjoy it“.
Stop Finning DE: There is the thesis that sharks, especially white sharks, confuse surfers with seals or turtles and this can be there reason for the accidents between sharks and surfers. Are you supporting this thesis?
Edgar: I think that sounds logical. If you consider the idea of being in murky waters, with object that share similar shapes, then an accident can occur.
Stop Finning DE: What is your favorite shark species and why?
Edgar: I can‘t say it with precision. I love all the diversity of sharks. The white shark (Carcharodon carcharias) is the one in my heart because all the lessons and knowledge that species gave to me. But I enjoy exploring the different roles and forms of all sharks. The tiger shark (Galeocerdo cuvier), the bull shark (Carcharhinus leucas), the hammerheads shark (Sphyrna sp.), the thresher shark (Alopias sp.)! All of them are amazing.
Stop Finning DE: When did you decide to use your time actively for the shark protection?
Edgar: Since I was a child. It was my dream to become a marine biologist and a shark expert.
Stop Finning DE: The problems with bycatch, targeted finning and industrial fishing with regard to sharks are well known to you. How important are you to the protection of sharks in comparison to other environmental or climatic problems?
Edgar: I think that all problems need special attention but with the correct justification. We need to remember that the environment is composed of a lot of factors, so we need to do our best in the different opportunities that we have as humans. Right now sharks and rays need urgent protection and special regulations. They are an important resource for families and economies around the world, but each country needs to create conservation programs, for its own benefits.
Stop Finning DE: Many more countries like Costa Rica, Taiwan or Spain are hunting for sharks or kill them as bycatch. Which countries are or already playing a major role in shark conservation?
Edgar: It is difficult to say, because I don’t have the knowledge of all the countries. What I know is that Mexico, for example, with the white sharks or whale sharks is making great efforts for the protection of this species. They also protect remote areas like Guadalupe or Revillagigedo (Socorro Islands) but we need to do more research for more conservation. The United States had made excellent programs and now they can see the results with all the recovered shark populations. And there are more examples like South Africa or some European countries.
Stop Finning DE: What do you think about shark conservation in Mexico, is there a problem with finning, bycatch or something else?
Edgar: I think that we are on the right path but we need to do more. The finning is not a significant problem in Mexico. At least it is something that is not usual for the Mexican fishermen. I have worked with these people in different parts of the country and in every place the fishermen try to use all the parts of the sharks. A lot of people are hungry in Mexico and they need to eat. They don’t waste the meat. There are people for example, in Baja or Mexico City which are using the skin, the liver, the meat, the fins and any part of the sharks. Also, they support the research with the sharks, even with the knowledge that if they participate they promote a possible ban of shark fishing.
Stop Finning DE: What do you think the Mexican government can do to protect the sharks?
Edgar: They need to promote science. We don’t know a lot about the basic biology of sharks and the fisheries are a good opportunity for the country to create knowledge for the world. In this way everybody can win because the fishermen get knowledge about how to care about resources and the same for the government. But in the first place they have to create scientific programs and train students. With these programs sharks have the chance to get the protection they need – but again with knowledge.
Stop Finning DE: You were recently in Bristol and have spoken to the European elasmobranch association. What did you talk about?
Edgar: I did a presentation about the white sharks and ecotourism. We show our preliminary results and demonstrate that there are no evidence of conditioning of the white sharks by the tourist boats. I also presented a poster about the ecology of the white sharks at Guadalupe Island.
Stop Finning DE: What do you think about shark nets and/or drum lines to protect beaches like in South Africa or in Australia? Is it established in Mexiko?
Edgar: It is difficult to give an opinion because I don’t know the situation with details. What I think is that they should try new methods for repeal the sharks without harming them. For example, with the shark repelling systems that create electric fields. About Australia I really don’t approve the lines for catch “dangerous” sharks. This doesn’t have an objective, real or scientific justification. Even more, they are not getting the objective or listening to the people around the world that doesn’t approve this method. The sharks are a treasure that they need to know, protect and conserve.
Stop Finning DE: In your opinion, there are better alternatives or these methods are not necessary?
Edgar: There are better alternatives that’s for sure. But all of them must be guided by the knowledge and education.
Stop Finning DE: What do you think is the most effective way to protect sharks and why?
Edgar: With knowledge. Knowledge is power! And with science you get the knowledge that you need for the protection of your resources.
Stop Finning DE: Can you name examples of your work that have contributed to shark protection?
Edgar: Right now I’m in the process of publishing my first papers. I have scientific notes with new records of white sharks, white tip reef sharks and the albinism of sharks in Mexico. In Revillagigedo (Socorro Islands) we have a project for describe the ecology of the sharks in Roca Partida and in Guadalupe we will publish the ecology of the white sharks in this ocean island and the effect of the tourism on this population.
Stop Finning DE: As a last question what is your advice? What can people do for shark protection?
Edgar: To contribute knowledge and education. Divers, scientists, boat owners, the media, government, fishermen, we are all one team. We have the same goal to conserve the sharks. We need to work together for this goal.
Stop Finning DE: Muchas gracias amigo. Greeting Manuel.
Edgar: ¡Gracias a ti! 😀