Roadside Distraction

Every year for the last ten-ish years, I have driven through Florida on vacation, and have noted garish billboards for a chain of gas station/tourist traps, which promise such inviting sights as jams, shell sculptures, and “gator heads”.  Previously I’ve successfully avoided stopping at one, but this year the car got thirsty and I ended up gazing at…probably not the most garish collection of tourist tchotchkes I’ve ever witnessed, but definitely one of the top five.

Amongst a mind-boggling array of products based on the loosely local products of rum, sea shells, and oranges, I found these sad little creatures.

dog sharks in jars

They appear to be juvenile dogfish sharks (a formerly reasonably common species which is becoming, for some reason, a tad overfished) and the word “SHARK” under them is the extent of their labeling, except for the price ($19.95) on a sticker underneath.  The jars are just jammed into those circles of styrofoam.  Educational?  Decorative?  Surely they are not meant to be gifts?

In trying to find the origin of the “shark in a jar” concept (what motivates this kind of behavior?), I note that this has been going on for a while, and is not an isolated phenomenon (although I am glad to note it seems confined to “tropical” locales).  In fact, if you for some reason need a jarred shark, you can get one online right now, in large quantities if need be.

Where are all these baby sharks coming from?  They are almost certainly a byproduct of another business, probably fishing the adult sharks for meat or research.  Should we be happy that we’re at least using all the parts of the sharks, even for a purpose this frivolous?  Or should we be terrified that we are processing so many of these sharks that we have this many — specifically juvenile, specifically this size — left over?  What is happening to the other non-meat bits of the sharks?  To the babies which happen to be smaller or larger than these jars?

Either way, I won’t be buying one for my friends back home.  If these are meant to be decorative, surely there is something else which can replace them on a shelf; if they are supposed to be educational, surely there is something more detailed and useful which can be used for reference; and, if they are meant as gifts, surely there is some other way to show affection.

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