Sharks — the ones in the water, not the courtroom — deserve stronger protections, environmental group says

COCOA BEACH – It starts with that ominous music by John Williams, as the woman swimming across the waters off the Massachusetts coast never senses what’s zeroing in on her, ready to attack … a classic cinematic opening that helped “Jaws” terrify audiences around the world.

Souvenir shark toys can be cute, but Shark Savers insist these items should be face a boycott until sharks get better protections.

That movie and others portraying sharks as deadly to swimmers may be good box office entertainment, but they also promote some very bad stereotypes about sharks, says Hannah Medd-Rutzen, who thinks people – swimmers and boaters included – should switch their motto from “Sharks are Scary” to “Sharks Need Friends.”

“When you say the word ‘shark,’ people flip out, but obviously not all sharks are dangerous to people,” said Medd-Rutzen. “When you talk about sharks, it brings to mind this media craze,” and she cited “Jaws” and other sharks-that-kill movies as prime examples.

“It’s fueled by these movies where the shark is actively hunting people, which is incredibly false,” she said.

Medd-Rutzen is a marine biologist with Shark Savers, a group founded in 2007 with a simple mission: to protect sharks that, Medd-Rutzen insists, are in far greater danger from humans than they ever will be to the people they get portrayed as preying upon.

Hannah Medd-Rutzen is a marine biologist with Shark Savers, a group founded in 2007.

Shark Savers is focused on promoting education about what people can do to help sharks, and raising awareness of the positive benefits of having them in the ocean.

Medd-Rutzen noted that sharks act as an “apex predator,” or the lead actor in the story of any natural habitat. The apex predator governs the balance of all species below it by keeping other species of fish in check, and ensuring that certain species don’t grow uncontrollably. The loss of an apex predator, she said, could leave behind havoc in an ecosystem that used to depend on it.

“Sharks keep the oceans healthy, and we really do need the oceans healthy,” she said. “Unfortunately, lots of shark populations around the world are in serious trouble.”

This shark lives in a tank at a Cocoa Beach resort.

That’s because sharks have what hunters – and, as it turns out, consumers – are looking for. Sharks make up a good source of the meat for expensive restaurants in Asian countries, she added.

Finning, or selling sharks’ fins, is a $500 million black market industry, Medd-Rutzen noted.

“Shark fins are extremely expensive,” she said. “It’s another form of caviar. Why are we killing 100 million sharks a year? Basically for a bowl of soup. It’s basically a status system, to provide you with a bowl of Shark Fin Soup, which is mostly sold in Asia.”

Hunters don’t even have to be targeting sharks to hurt the species, she noted.

“Fishermen say, ‘I’ll get a swordfish permit,’ so they go out fishing and catch one swordfish – and 40 sharks,” she said. “Sharks take a long time to mature. If it takes you until (age) 14 to get pregnant, you may or may not be able to replace yourself in the population.”

Shark Savers is fighting back, armed with education as their main tool. They’ve launched a “Just Say No To Shark Fin Soup” campaign in China and other Asian nations, and Medd-Rutzen said there are ways that Floridians can help sharks as well.

“Don’t be a shark consumer,” she said, and that includes buying anything containing shark fins, meat, or teeth, including jewelry and other souvenirs.

“Speak up for sharks,” she noted, by, among other things, urging your state lawmakers to pass legislation that protects the species in state waters.

“Make smart seafood choices,” she said, and learn more by getting Shark Savers’ Seafood Watch Card. The organization’s web site is

“During the time it took me to speed through this presentation,” Medd-Rutzen said, “6,000 sharks were killed.” Her presentation lasted about 45 minutes.

And what about if swimmers find themselves in a “Jaws”-like situation — if you’re deep sea diving and come face to face with a shark? Medd-Rutzen said her best advice, interestingly enough, is to act casually.

“If you don’t want to be prey, don’t act like prey,” she said. “Keep eye contact, and remain calm and keep low on the reef – become a part of the reef. And just don’t look edible, basically.”

More importantly, she said, it’s better to try and confuse a shark than antagonize one.

“The advice they used to give was if they attack, hit them on the nose,” she said. “But think about it – if you miss, your hand goes straight into their mouth.”

A better option: blow bubbles in their direction. 

“If it’s in an area where they’re very used to divers, they may be used to bubbles,” she said. “But it’s worth trying, because blowing bubbles is not something they normally see.”

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The Florida Tea Party targets free speech for political candidates

Peg Dunmire, chairman of the Florida Tea Party, says campaigning for Congress was a daily hassle.

ORLANDO – During its relatively brief existence, the Tea Party of Florida has championed constitutional principles like a balanced budget, limits on federal powers over the states, and low taxation.

Now the party’s new chairman is ready to add another cause to the list: freedom of speech, particularly when it comes to the campaign trail.

“I’m here to tell you that every day my First Amendment rights were challenged,” said Peg Dunmire. “We’re going to include this (issue) and go after First Amendment barriers.”

Dunmire was the Florida Tea Party’s candidate in the state’s 8th Congressional District, where she challenged incumbent Democrat Alan Grayson. Both candidates lost to the Republican nominee, former state Sen. Dan Webster.

Dunmire, who recently took over as party chairman from Fred O’Neal, said her campaign turned into an endless series of frustrations, since she often times found it next to impossible to actually meet and greet the voters, or even do something as simple as put up a sign promoting her candidacy – including on her own front lawn.

“We set a standard for Peg,” said political consultant Doug Guetzloe, who serves as an advisor to the Tea Party, “where if she didn’t get threatened with arrest, she wasn’t doing her job.”

Peg Dunmire wants to champion free speech for political candidates.

Dunmire said the frustrations started at her own home, when she put up a political sign – and was promptly told by her homeowner’s association that it had to go. Dunmire lives in the sprawling Hunter’s Creek development, where signs on front lawns are almost entirely prohibited — with one obvious exception.

“I was working with a homeowners association that prevents you from having a sign on your own lawn,” Dunmire said. “At Hunter’s Creek, only one sign is allowed, a For Sale sign. Sometimes you can also put up a little security sign. That’s ridiculous.”

 The next headache she encountered on the campaign trail, Dunmire said, was keeping up with the rules on where the Orange County Supervisor of Elections office would allow candidates to greet voters. Dunmire said she’d go to places she assumed were public property, only to find the property wasn’t so public after all – and her campaign activity wasn’t at all welcome or encouraged.

One good example: an Orange County public library that served as an early voting location.

“I go over there on the first day to greet voters, and I am threatened with arrest by the police,” Dunmire said.  The reason: the library was located in a shopping plaza.

“The public library is considered private property because it was in a shopping plaza,” she said. “If somebody objects, they call up security and they say ‘We’re sorry, but this is private property.’ And they kicked me out.”

Dunmire visited a community college in Marion County that was hosting a Jazz concert. She went there to shake hands with voters.

“I would say, ‘Excuse me, may I introduce myself,’ “ she said. “After half an hour of doing this, security people came up to me.”

She got a similar reaction while visiting the Fashion Square Mall, where she purchased every ticket available for a movie playing that night, and handed them out to voters in the mall. Once again, security intervened.

“They tell you that you’re somehow soliciting,” she said. “Free speech supercedes that.”

The 8th Congressional District includes parts of Orange, Osceola, Lake and Marion counties. No matter which county she went into, Dunmire said, campaigning was a hassle.

“I’m a property owner in Celebration, even though I live in Hunter’s Creek,” she said. “I went to one of their events, Oktoberfest. They threw me out.”

The biggest surprise, Guetzloe said, was when they got kicked out of a church.

The Tea Party couldn't even campaign outside a polling place held at a local church, Doug Guetzloe says.

“We got threatened with arrest by the pastor of a church which was a polling place,” he said, while Dunmire added, “I said to him, ‘Sir, you do get paid for having this be a polling place,’ and he reamed me out, saying it doesn’t even cover the cost of his electricity.”

“We ran into this everywhere,” Guetzloe said. “And I mean everywhere.”

Dunmire said she wants the Tea Party to go after restrictions that make it difficult, if not impossible, for candidates to shake the hands of voters.

“This is a big deal that I think all of our parties need to address,” she said. “Political candidates can’t be successful if they can’t get their message out.”

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Guetzloe keeps up the fight for free political speech

ORLANDO – Doug Guetzloe smiles when he notes that people think of him today as the guy who just went to jail.

Political consultant Doug Guetzloe says despite initial media reports to the contrary, he isn't going to jail anytime soon.

“I had people say to me in Publix last night, ‘Hey, I thought you were in jail,’ “ Guetzloe said.
In fact, Guetzloe never did go to prison, despite initial media reports indicating otherwise, and he doesn’t expect to, either.
“It’s because the media doesn’t follow up on what happens,” he said. Continue reading

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