Sharks kill an average of five to 15 humans per year. Humans kill an average of over 100 million sharks per year. Those statistics contradict some of the common misconceptions about sharks that junior animation major Julius Echipare set out to dispel in his PSA, “Sea Monster.” From a young age, Echipare began watching nature documentaries as frequently as he watched his cartoons.
As he grew up, he was able to merge his passion for biology and art together. In “Sea Monster,” Echipare subverts the common narrative of shark attacks at the beach. The lifeguard, a great white shark, spots the sharp point of a fishing spear cutting through the water like a fin. A giant human shadow erupts from the sea, leering down at the sharks enjoying their beach day. The great white lifeguard squares up to defend his community from the giant threat, but the last thing the audience sees is the glint of the man-made spear in the great white’s eyes. Through his role-reversal of humans and sharks, Echipare inspires empathy for the demonized creatures of the deep.
“I wanted to make a fun little cartoon about it and decided that a role reversal would be a good idea. Believe it or not, the Earth is technically going through a mass extinction and it isn’t caused by a meteor or volcano, it’s sadly caused by humans,” he said. “Looking at the sharks yearly kills to humans … it made perfect sense for me to make [humans] the monster for a change. I mean there are fishermen that chop off all their fins and throw the helpless limbless shark back into the water just for some soup.”
Out of the 470 species of sharks we know of, 100 are in serious danger of going extinct. Their biggest threats are humans and shark-finning. After cutting off the shark’s fins, fishermen discard the limbless shark back into the ocean. While the 1975 film “Jaws” beguiles the great white shark as a danger, statistics reveal that humans are the real predators.
Sharks are apex predators, which means they are at the very top of the food chain. Being an apex predator comes with the responsibility of balancing their aquatic ecosystem. Sharks control the population dynamics and the spatial distribution of prey, preventing the monopolization of resources and increasing the biodiversity in their environments. They are essential in maintaining a healthy, biodiverse ecosystem where all marine life can thrive.
However, the rising demand for shark fins, as well as the poor management in fishing practices, has continued to put shark’s survival at immense risk. There is no way for sharks to replenish their populations at the same rate they are being fished at on their own.
While Echipare’s “Sea Monster” is not currently online, readers are encouraged to visit his Instagram @tsunderaptor and his webcomic “Anthropods,” which explores a post-mammalian society where insects have replaced humans. He would like the reader to note that he was so overcome with excitement when starting “Anthropods,” that “the quality is definitely better as it goes on.” Echipare aspires to one day make another PSA for an endangered species and continues to keep up with the news to find his inspiration.
Written by Brianna Harper