ENTANGLED VOICES OF THE SEA OF CORTEZ:
EXPLORING THE USE OF VISUAL ANTHROPOLOGICAL METHODS TO
STUDY SHARKS AND SHARK FISHERS
KRISTIN MARIE PATERAKIS
B.A., Duke University, 2010
A thesis submitted to the
Faculty of the Graduate School of the
University of Colorado in partial fulfillment
of the requirements for the degree of
Master of Arts
This thesis for the Master of Arts degree by
Kristin Marie Paterakis
has been approved for the
Marty Otanez, Chair
Amanda D. Concha-Holmes
November 20, 2015
Paterakis, Kristin Marie (M.A., Anthropology]
Entangled Voices of the Sea of Cortez: Exploring the Use of Visual Anthropological Methods to
Study Sharks and Shark Fishers
Thesis directed by Assistant Professor Marty Otanez.
This thesis sets out to interrogate current representations of sharks and shark fishers
by calling for a reexamination of how sharks and shark fishers are portrayed in media and
academic narratives. Popular media historically presents sharks as brainless human eaters that
roam the seas bringing danger to coastal communities. To defend sharks, fishers have been
targeted in films and in conservation academia as the "real villain, blaming them for the severe
decline in shark populations. I have come to dedicate my research to understanding the
nuanced relationship between sharks and fishers and the structures that perpetuate the
demonization of both in the media and in conservation discourse. This thesis is inspired by
theory of multispecies ethnography and visual anthropology to question how sharks and fishers
are represented and uses visual methods to explore new ways to illuminate the lived realities
experienced by fishers and sharks.
Baja California Sur is one example of where human livelihoods and the marine
environment coexist where environmental degradation means degradation of the
oceanculture. It further illuminates how the larger social forces driven by the demand for shark
products constrain livelihoods far removed from the point of consumption. To support this
thesis I produced two short films showcasing visual anthropology and its potential to change
the conservation conversation (http://tinyurl.com/oskv657], I advocate to include the voices of
marginalized human and non-human others who are often spoken for or about and rarely given
the opportunity to speak for themselves, nor a platform to be heard. This thesis pushes the
boundaries of anthropology with aims to increase awareness among social scientists and
conservationists, and engage these audiences by sharing personal realities of those most
directly affected by the decline in shark populations. I hope to inspire others in wildlife
conservation and human rights to search for new ways to bring about awareness and create
change by questioning how to include the voices of marginalized others.
The form and content of this abstract are approved. I recommend its publication.
Approved: Marty Otairez
DEDICATION AND ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS
This thesis is dedicated to the memory of Rafe Sagarin and the many professors that
came before and after him inspiring myself and other students to not only be better scientists
but better people. To my big fat Greek family who is responsible for my insane love for the sea
and who have supported me throughout my crazy journey: with love.
The research for this thesis was approved by the Colorado Multiple Institutional Review
Board protocol number 14-1802 and by the Comite de Etica sobre Salud y Poblacion de El
Colegio de la Frontera Norte protocol number 032-26-11-14.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
The Sea and Us............................................................3
Shark In Peril............................................................5
II. MEDIA AND LITERATURE REVIEW..............................................10
Many Faces of Sharks and Fishers...................................11
Conservationists Strike Back.......................................13
III. METHODS: APPLYING VISUAL ANTHROPOLOGY....................................25
IV. ANLAYSIS AND DISCUSSION..................................................45
Finding the Theory in Visual Anthropology................................45
Coming to Know a Subject of Inquiry......................................47
It was the spring of 2013 and I was brainstorming ideas for a project in my seminar
class in Anthropology and Community Based Participatory Research (CBPR) at University of
Colorado Denver. The instructor (Dr. Otanez) assigned a digital storytelling project for the
students to apply CBPR to a social justice issue. Being a naive graduate student, I ambitiously
planned to create a digital story, proposing to collect images and information over spring break
on the complexity of shark fishing in Baja California Sur (BCS), Mexico told through the voices of
fishers. I made a Skype call to Jose1 at Iemanya, a nonprofit organization based in La Paz
working on community conservation with sharks and rays, to discuss the possibility of me
coming for the week to gather some ethnographic and visual data of shark fishers. The
conversation did not go as I had hoped. I wasnt sure if it was a language or culture barrier that
prevented understanding, but the main point was made crystal clear. These fishermen are
delicate; they have been wronged and Jose is very protective of the individuals Iemanya works
with and who they introduce into the fishing communities. Though I personally understood the
reasoning for calling fishermen "delicate, it was something else to hear someone put it into
words. This was something that I immediately felt needed to be shared with the general public.
Why were these shark fishers labeled as fragile and delicate? What was happening that made
them feel this way? Why and how are sharks no longer the only ones needing protection?
With a background in marine ecology and having participated in shark conservation
projects in Bahamas, South Africa and Mexico, recognizing the misperception of sharks and
feeling the constant need to defend sharks is not foreign to me. However, it was a first for me to
feel a need to defend the fishers that are most often blamed for the degradation of shark
populations. I have come to dedicate my research to understanding the nuanced relationship
1 Pseudonym used to protect persons.
between sharks and fishers and the structures that perpetuate the demonization of both in the
media and in conservation discourse.
This thesis situates fishers and sharks in the framework of structural violence and uses
visual anthropological methods and theory to analyze existing visual representations to explore
how methods in visual anthropology can be used to resist dominant narratives. I take the
definition of structural violence provided by Farmer which states,
Structural violence is violence exerted systematically- that is, indirectly-by everyone
who belongs to a certain social order: hence the discomfort these ideas provoke in a
moral economy still geared to pinning praise or blame on individual actors. In short, the
concept of structural violence is intended to inform the study of the social machinery of
oppression. Oppression is a result of many conditions, not the least of which reside in
consciousness. (Farmer, 2004a]
Within the framework of structural violence both fishers and sharks are subjected to
suffering. I explore through visual anthropology how the fishers and sharks are marginalized by
the oppressive forces represented in popular media and conservation discourse. Visual
anthropology is a subfield of anthropology where theory is embedded in the methodology of
decoding or analyzing images and encoding or enabling the production of images (Hockings et
al. 2014], This work serves as a "visual intervention that is theoretically inspired by visual
anthropology examining the ethnographic, methodological, and theoretical contribution of
visual anthropology beyond academia (Pink 2009],
In my efforts I attempt to include the voices of the marginalized others including shark
fishers as well as the sharks. This follows the emerging genre of multispecies ethnography,
which examines "the host of organisms whose lives and deaths are linked to human social
worlds, and explores "humans entanglements with other kinds of living selves (Kirksey and
Helmreich 2010:545], As part of the "species turn I examine how sharks are represented and
how these representations place real lives of humans and non-humans in dire circumstances. I
attempt to find a more ethical and holistic way to include the voices of the sharks to provide a
better understanding of the diversity of identities shark hold. By using multispecies
ethnography interlaced with new methods in experimental film, I provide a new approach to
wildlife conservation that continues to question and answer "who should be speaking for other
species? a question posed by multispecies ethnographers (Kirksey et al. 2014:3], Further
exploring if and who should be speaking for other species, I question how others should speak
for other species including how to best represent individuals.
This thesis will begin with an overview of the current global decline of shark
populations and the global forces and local effects in fishing communities in Baja California Sur,
Mexico in Chapter I. In Chapter II, I will provide an analysis of current conservation discourse
and media tactics that often stigmatize sharks and fishers as evil. Chapter III will then place Baja
California Sur in the context of this argument by bringing awareness to complexities of what it
means to be a fisher in a location where shark and other marine resources are being depleted. I
provide alternative visual media methods of digital storytelling and what I term multispecies
storytelling and give a brief analysis of why these techniques are useful to provide counter-
narratives to those in popular media. I will end the thesis examining the two digital videos I
produced for this thesis explaining the methodology and process of each and reflecting on the
challenges faced conducting ethnographic and visual fieldwork. Each video provides support on
how to resist the trend of current conservation media and dialogue by bringing new voices to
the center of the story.
The Sea and Us
"No Blue; No Green. No Ocean; No Life. No Ocean; No Us"Sylvia Earle (BLUE Ocean Summit 2014)
As much as we fear sharks, we are dependent on them. Humans rely on the health of the
ocean to survive, and sharks hold a necessary position in maintaining and conserving ocean
ecosystems (Gallagher and Hammerschlag 2011], It is difficult to estimate and compare past
abundance levels of sharks and other marine life since exploitation of marine resources has
occurred since the beginning of human existence without record of exact numbers. However,
studies have been able to show that even "light fishing pressure" by artisanal and subsistence
fishing can sufficiently cause "dramatic declines in populations of sharks, specifically large
coastal sharks (Ferretti et al. 2010], Furthermore, theoretical and empirical studies advise this
decline of large sharks can affect mesopredators, marine mammals and reptiles inducing
cascading and detrimental effects in some ecosystems, which makes ecosystems less resilient,
especially in todays climate crisis (Ferretti et al. 2010],
In my definition of conservation goals I focus on the restoration of ecosystem
encompassing the populations of sharks, but also the cultures and livelihoods, both human and
non-human, that depend on a healthy ecosystem. It is important to question how the decline in
shark populations is affecting the environment and also influencing the individuals who are
dependent on a healthy sea. Included in this is how marine policy, such as the creation of
marine parks and regulations on fishing practices, often forces small-scale fishers into
unemployment or illegal practices to continue fishing. One billion people worldwide, largely in
developing countries, depend on fish as their primary source of protein (Dent and Clarke 2015],
A study in 2010 by the Fisheries and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations found that
fish provided more than 2.9 billion people with almost 20% of their intake of animal protein.
For these people, finding a way to fish sustainably is a necessity, not just a smart idea. The
alternative is economic collapse, poverty and hunger (Food and Agriculture Organization 2010],
Overfishing and illegal fishing threaten livelihoods and food security worldwide (Food and
Agriculture Organization 2010],
The data are there; the reality is that sharks are worth more alive than dead, generating
hundreds of thousands of dollars in tourism in countries such as Bahamas, Mexico, South Africa
and Australia (Gallagher and Hammerschlag 2011], Yet shark fishing, and more significantly the
demand for shark products, is still detrimentally alive.
Sharks in Peril
An understanding of shark-human relationships is critical as an estimated 100 million
sharks are killed each year for reasons including climate change, habitat destruction, by-catch
and shark finning (Baum 2003; Clarke et al. 2006], As of the last meeting of the Convention on
International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora CoP16 in 2013, eighteen
species of sharks and rays (subclass Elasmobranchii] are now protected, showcasing the
extremity of the situation (www.cites.org]. The shark fin trade is the primary cause for the
recent and drastic decline in global shark populations (Clarke 2004], The fins are used as an
ingredient in shark fin soup, a delicacy in Chinese culture that is consumed throughout the
world including where I live in Denver, Colorado. Shark fin soup is one of the most expensive
seafood items in the world, costing up to USD100 a bowl and USD1,300 per fin (Neville 2014],
The booming economy in China added with the growing interest from the US and other foreign
countries for this luxury soup is detrimental (Clarke 2004], The shark fin trade is an
international multibillion-dollar business that is forcing sharks to the brink of extinction (Platt
2010], Small-scale fishers worldwide are experiencing a shift in their economy and livelihoods
due to changing global demands-as shark fins are not consumed nationally, but internationally
Baja California Sur is one example of where human livelihoods and the marine
environment coexist-where environmental degradation means degradation of the oceanculture.
It further illuminates how the larger social forces driven by the demand for shark products
constrain livelihoods far removed from the point of consumption. I employ BCS as an example
of how methods in anthropology can help combat misrepresentations of sharks and fishers.
Physical Geography of Baja California Sur, Mexico
The state of Baja California Sur occupies the lower half of the Baja California Peninsula
and is notorious for Los Cabos, where tourists flock each year for a vacation of partying, fishing,
and relaxing on the beach. BCS gained popularity after World War II as a tourist destination for
sportsmen to hunt dove and fish, specifically for large marlin weighing up to 500 pounds
(Porter and Ketelhohn 2008], Just two hours in a car ride north and one is surrounded by arid
desert and beautiful coastline highlighting the unique geography and diversity of this region.
The peninsula is bounded by the Pacific Ocean to the west and the Sea of Cortez (Gulf of
California) to the east. Its unique geological features of mountain ranges are found not just on
land, but also in the surrounding waters attracting a diversity of marine organisms. This is a
prime fishing location for the hundreds of species of fish, including sharks, which frequent these
Economies Built of the Sea
La Paz and Loreto are both cities found on the southeastern coast of the Baja peninsula
and are the main sites of this study. Tourism is popular in both cities but when visiting Loreto
you feel you take a bigger step back into time. The way of life is even slower than that of La Paz;
the SUVS of snowbirds from the USA and Canada are misplaced upon the cobble stone roads
and old cars blasting ranchero music.
The unique location of Loreto is situated so that cold currents from the northern part of
the Gulf of California intersect with smaller volcanic islands to produce a funnel like
phenomenon that generates high primary productivity bringing blue whales, fin whales, whale
sharks and dolphins to the area (Bermudez 2007:68], Loreto Bay National Marine Park houses
one of the highest levels of biodiversity in Mexico with more than 300 species of fish, 1,500
marine invertebrates, 250 species of algae and over 30 species of marine mammals such as
dolphins and 5 species of whales and 40 species of sharks (Bermudez 2007],
Both locations are historically known as fishing towns, Loreto notably for the chocolate
clam (Megapitaria squalida) (Ivanova and Cota 2007] and La Paz for pearl oysters (Chenaut
1985], However, overfishing has led to a decline in abundance of pearl oysters and over the past
few decades these bays now attract adventure tourists seeking a vacation involving activities
such as diving, kayaking, hiking, and camping. Commercially speaking, the decline in the pearl
fishery led to an increase in fishing for sea turtles and sharks (Chenaut 1985], which now face a
Shark Fishing Past and Present
Traditionally, sharks were fished in Mexico for the consumption of their liver oil, hide
and meat that is marketed fresh, frozen, smoked, or dried and salted (U.S. Department of
Congress 2012:84], Ethnographic research including participant observation and living in these
communities (discussed in more detail below] revealed insight into old fishing practices and
traditional customs that still exist. Shark fishing, on the artisanal small-scale level, took place on
wooden pangas, or small uncovered boats usually under 30 feet in length. Pangas are still used
today to fish for sharks, but they are made of primarily fiberglass, which is much lighter than
the wooden models. Individuals in BCS still use shark liver oil (Figure 2] collected from certain
species of baby sharks, for a traditional remedy for asthma, bronchitis and other lung related
illnesses and is used by rubbing the oil on the chest. The dozens of almost identical shops found
in Loreto and La Paz have been selling the teeth and jaws of sharks as souvenirs since tourism
began. These items reach upwards of USD100 per item, such as the hammerhead in Figure 2.
Shark meat, often called cazon, can be found at many super markets for around USD2, and as
locals told me "real cheap and is not a desired meat. However, recent reports have shown the
demand for shark meat has increased 42% between the years of 2000 and 2010, with the
biggest market demand coming from Brazil and Korea and Mexico being a big exporter (Dent
and Clarke 2015],
Figure 2: Uses of shark products. Heads and jaws of sharks (left] sold in souvenir shops in
Loreto. A jar of shark oil (middle] used for traditional medicine to treat lung ailments. A fin from
a shark that will be sold to the market and made into shark fin soup (right]. Photographs by
There has been a shift in Mexican shark fishers to accommodate for the global demand
of shark products, especially the fins. During this study I did not find any restaurants serving
shark fin soup and participants said that they sell their fins to someone who eventually sells to
Asia. However, not all fins are valued equally. Oftentimes, one can find caudal fins on beaches
left as trash since the pectoral and dorsal fins are the only ones with value due to their more
fibrous texture. The valuable fins are dried and stored until an individual collects enough to sell
as bulk. The bigger the fin the more money the fisher will make. The direct evidence of where
the shark fins caught in BCS are exported (in transit and final] is beyond the scope of this study.
Instead, what is essential to understand is the consumption of fins in Mexico (locally in BCS and
regionally throughout] is not historically or culturally significant. Participants recall a change to
supporting what they believe to be an Asian delicacy in the seventies. The increase in fishing
sharks, specifically for their fins to support the global market, has since been affecting local
economies and cultures despite the absence of shark fin soup on local menus. Over the past
couple decades, Mexico has become a significant supplier of shark fins, particularly to the USA,
but also to Asian countries such as Hong Kong, Singapore, Thailand and Taiwan Province of
China (U.S. Department of Congress 2012:116],
Despite the fear of sharks that persist among many social groups, it is essential to act
now in order to conserve this species that humans depend on, especially those whose lives are
most directly impacted by the decline in shark populations such as fishing communities in BCS.
The environmental, cultural and economic importance of sharks is only just becoming
recognized beyond academia. Media and popular academics hold a responsibility to protect our
environment, but should also hold a responsibility for protecting the people that depend on the
sea for food, resources, and cultural importance. The next chapter will look at the complexities
arising from current conservation dialogue and media tactics; problematizing how sharks and
fishers are portrayed in media (both made for entertainment and documentaries that aim to
promote awareness and change] under the framework of structural violence.
MEDIA AND LITERATURE REVIEW
I will start out with an analysis of visual representations of sharks and fishers found in
popular and conservation media that lead to the stigmatization and marginalization-or
structural violence. This framework helps to understand the layers of forces that play into how
the perilous decline of shark populations rose, inclusive of the reasons driving the exploitation
of sharks and how media and conservation discourse frame shark conservation. Finally, I
includes questioning who and what information is silenced by these dominant narratives,
including the diversity of livelihoods at play and the struggles as well as joys included in the
identity of a shark fisher.
In the framework of structural violence sharks and fishers are placed as victims in
which their suffering is "structured by historically given (and often economically driven]
processes and forces that conspire-whether through routine, ritual, or, as is more commonly the
case, the hard surfaces of life that constrain agency (Farmer 2004b:40], Nancy Scheper-Hughes
(2004:14] defines structural violence as "the invisible social machinery of social inequality and
oppression...that reproduces pathogenic social relations of exclusion and marginalization via
ideologies and stigmas attendant on race, class, caste, sex, and other invidious distinctions. In
fisheries dialogue there exists an "overwhelming impression that fishermen are members of
low-status, marginalized households, which, "eventually led to the equation
fisheries=poverty (Bene 2003:955], A report by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the
United Nations (1994:7] highlights how "marine fisheries typically are the employer of last
resort. Fishers who do not own the boats on which they work are reported to feel a general
sense of hopelessness and despair regarding opportunities for upward mobility. Feelings of
hopelessness are exacerbated (primarily unintentionally] when individuals part of non-profits
or marine biologists enter communities to study shark fisheries. Survey questions directed at
learning about shark fisheries often leave fishers feeling guilty and hopeless. Furthermore,
fishers often feel outsiders coming into their community act as if they know more than the
fishers who live there creating conflict.
Many Faces of Sharks and Fishers
This section explores the various perceptions and stigmas that are attributed to sharks
and fishers via conservation dialogue and media. I question how such popular images have led
to a collective fear of sharks and shark fishers that prevents an understanding and respect for
the lived realities experienced by the individuals most directly impacted by the growing shark
trade. Visuals of large sharks jumping out of the water perpetuate misrepresentations and
continue to erroneously engrain sharks as man-eaters in our social memory. Jaws (Spielberg
1975] is notorious for its being the first film to cause damaging reputation to sharks and
current films such as Sharknado, Sharknado 2 and Sharknado 3 (Ferrante 2013, 2014, and 2015]
and Deep Blue Sea (Harlin 1999] continue to remind society of the demon-like qualities some
sharks hold. Furthermore, shark attacks and deaths become popular headlines in newspapers
throughout the world. Governments such as Australia go to extreme measures of culling sharks
after attacks and setting up shark nets, which further defines sharks as enemies and species
that humans are unable to harmoniously live with.
A study titled "Australian and U.S. News Media Portrayal of Sharks and Their
Conservation investigated the social framing of human-shark interactions through content
analysis of 300 shark-related articles from January 2000 to December 2009. More than half of
the articles surveyed covered shark attacks on humans, while only 10 percent of the articles
sampled were on conservation and only 7 percent of the studies focused on shark biology or
ecology. Shark attacks were "reported at least 5 times more than conservation concerns or any
other shark-related topic(Muter 2012: 194], Furthermore, this study found that sharks
associated with "attacks on humans such as the great white shark, tiger shark, and bull shark
(the biggest and scariest looking sharks] were mentioned in over fifty percent of the articles.
Other species that are endangered, but not associated with "attacks, were only cited 19 times
in the study sample. "These numbers highlight the disproportion of framing between species of
conservation concern and species potentially dangerous to humans (Muter 2012: 194], This
helps explain why society is still afraid of sharks, because the ones we see are big, scary looking,
"man-eaters. It leaves one asking why other species of sharks are not represented in media and
why conservationists, entertainers and reporters silence the over 500 other species that
deserve equal representation and protection.
Daily Telegraph f g. s
When sharks are eating
people, it's time to cull
O August 12,2015 fcSSpm
x Laura Banks Ttw Daly Telegraph
Seech closed: We must legalise the klhng of the shafts that ton us, says Laura Banlo.
Figure 3: Visual representations of sharks presented in film and news including an image from
Jaws, Deep Blue Sea and headline from the Daily Telegraph (Banks 2015] in Australia.
Conservationists Strike Back
To combat the villainous stereotypes of sharks and prevent governments from culling
sharks, conservationists have strategically begun to focus the blame, or the fear, onto humans.
Tactics are switching the villainous image away from the shark and towards the person
ultimately the fisher (the one killing the shark) becomes the point and image of hate to any
shark loving people. Shark documentaries such as What Shark Finning Looks Like (Arauz 2010),
Sharkwater (Stewart 2006), and Unnatural Selection-Shark Finning on the Frontier (Heinrichs
2010) rely on strategies of shark conservation that involve visually disturbing images to call
urgent attention to the killing and international trade of shark fins that is depleting the global
shark population, further endangering the health of our oceans. The practice of shark finning
has been criticized as wasteful, inhumane and hazardous to the environment (Neville 2014).
Fishers are depicted pulling sharks into their boats and cutting the fins off the animal as the
shark fights for life, then throwing the shark back into the ocean to die. Other images include
hundreds of bloody dead sharks piled on top one another baking in the sun on a beach or in a
market. But ultimately, "finless, the sharks will bleed to death or, as they are unable to swim or
defend themselves, be eaten. The barbaric process rivals any 'Shark Week attack we see on TV
(McAuliffe 2015). Memes are found on Facebook (Figure 3) highlighting this shift in focus.
Know Your Villains:
SHARKS kill 12 PEOPLE per year.
PEOPLE kill 11,417 SHARKS per hour
This is the most dangerous animal
in the world. It is responsible for
MILLIONS of deaths every year.
By its side, a great white
Figure 4: Memes from social media sites depicting various representations of sharks. (Image on
the left found on Shark Defenders Facebook page, posted on February 28, 2014. Image on the
right found on Memey.com, accessed July 2015).
This tactic of using disturbing imagery to ignite conservation change in wildlife is seen
in other species facing extinction or animal cruelty including dolphins in Japan. In the popular
award-winning documentary, The Cove (Psihoyos 2009), ocean conservationists spread
awareness of the cruel and unnecessary dolphin hunting practices in Japan to advocate change.
In The Cove, hidden cameras were used to obtain images of a dolphin slaughter, which leaves a
large cove in Japan red with blood. The film is critiqued for its bias, viewing the film to be "a
form of propaganda: low in meaningful content, but high in bias and misinformation (Flores
2012:1). It is also critiqued for its secret filming and its portrayal of the Japanese people (Flores
Suen (2012) highlights the complexities of speaking for non-human others, as noted
above, but also relates conversations and media representations of sharks and fishers in a
racialized manner. She analyzes animal advocacy in popular culture and examines racist
discourses arguing, "The Cove employs the typical racist tactic of dehumanization in order to
racialize and marginalize the Japanese dolphin-hunters. Ironically, this tactic of dehumanization
involves dramatizing the linguistic differences between the dolphin-rescuers and dolphin-
hunters. As a result, The Cove unwittingly invokes the human-animal dichotomy in its dolphin
advocacy (Suen 2012:10). Images of "savage looking men, shirtless and speaking a language
that is foreign to audience, with large machetes only shows one part of a larger process.
This approach ignores an analysis on an individual level neglecting the structural
positions a fisher is placed into along with his or her agency and the decision, or lack there of,
for killing sharks. Furthermore, it decreases the ability to comprehend the shark fin trade on a
cultural and not just ecological level. The tactics of The Cove, SharkWater and other films are
one-sided and are able to make convincing arguments. It regards the "inhumanity and the
human dangers of the dolphin hunt, but the opposition is never given a chance to respond
(Flores 2012). Applying methods in visual anthropology helps to recognize and discover new
ways to give the "opposition or people involved, the ability to speak and acknowledge the
benefit and the lifeways of their perspectives and experiences without limiting their inclusion
just as villains. Visual stories allow this chance for the opposition to provide an alternative
narrative, or better yet an additional narrative to the stories being told by popular media.
Since media and the people, or characters, they portray have an impact on public
perception of sharks, it holds a powerful position to influence our thoughts and therefore our
decisions regarding sustainability. Representations that label sharks as victims, gruesomely
being killed or as villains threatening humans only showcase the extremities of what is a
spectrum of visual representations of fishers and sharks and relationships of and between
them. It is a privileged position that I at one point also had, to say killing sharks is wrong and
that such an action signifies a person as evil. Through an anthropological mindset and
methodologies that force you to ask and listen rather than preach and critique. I was able to
understand that this is not a decision that can change with ease, nor a profession that should
label someone as good or evil. Furthermore, I was able to understand that there exists a joy in
shark fishing that was only realized after spending days listening to stories and participating in
fishing activities. It takes living in the environment and learning the options (or lack there of)
for individuals living in fishing communities that are experiencing the decline in marine life and
Muter et al. (2012] discuss the threat sharks face and highlight the documented benefits
that ensue when an identifiable victim in risk is used in communication campaigns. Muter et al.
(2012:194] support my argument that, "social framing of sharks as either victims or
perpetrators may lead to assumptions about policy prescriptions (e.g., help the victim,
persecute the perpetrator]...if sharks continue to be framed primarily as perpetrators of risk,
policy responses will likely remain unfavorable to shark conservation. In this analysis, the
apparent damage of negative imagery and representation can have for sharks is clear and
therefore I will explore ways for the visual to better represent individuals.
In this chapter I will start with a brief discussion on the definitions and history of visual
anthropology leading into a visual analysis on shark conservation. Visual anthropology can be
described "where three-dimensional objects or else images made on paper or on film by a
photochemical process are being interpreted and understood using a centurys theoretical
developments in our global study of cultures and societies (Hockings et al. 2014:436], Visual
anthropologists attempt to make meaning of visual representations and through the practice of
creating and/or conducting visual representations generalizable knowledge is produced
(Hockings etal. 2014],
Some of the first examples of visual anthropology are found in the form of ethnographic
film and photo compilations. Nanook of the North produced by Robert J. Flaherty in 1922 is
known to be the first documentary. What defines this piece under the category of anthropology
is the ability of the film to transport a viewer to a different place and expose a foreign culture.
Typical techniques found in early anthropology films include voice overs or subtitles and an
observational perspective with intentions to remain as objective as possible despite the
underlying conflict in the amount of bias that takes place.
Another piece produced by Flaherty, appropriately surrounding shark fishing
perceptions, showcases visual anthropologys evolution from a practice set to romanticize
foreign cultures into a practice that works to creating social change. Man of Aran is a "fictional
documentary (ethnofiction] in which Flaherty actually creates the custom of shark fishing as a
central theme of the film to fit the romanticism of the time. Like many feelings fishers currently
have towards documentaries on overfishing, the islanders "bitterly resent the film, and many
believe Flaherty included sequences depicting them as savages (Messenger Jr. 2001:363],
Flaherty also accentuates the dangers of fishing for "primitivist and "artistic reasons; he even
imported Scottish shark fishermen to show locals how to fish for sharks in a different manner
and with different types of gear than they were accustomed to (Messenger Jr. 2001:363).
Flahertys scene featuring the shark hunt was criticized to be a fictional component of the film
chosen to appeal to the popularity of romanticism of the period and its influence on filmmakers
(Murray and Heumann 2014:73).
The early works of David and Judith MacDougall included collaboration and
participation with individuals in the community setting a precedent for the future of visual
anthropology. Such movement away from observational film to participatory film was
influenced by the feminist movement and the idea that women could tell their stories for
themselves (Grimshaw et al. 1995) to learn about a different kind of human experience. The
MacDougalls methods in Africa including participant observation and conversations with
community members experimented with the possibilities of representing cultural resistance
and asked novel questions such as "who has the right to make representations about cultural
politics and who can be identified as doing injury? (Grimshaw et al. 1995:46). In films such as
To Live with Herds (1968) and the Turkana trilogy (1974) they work against seducing "the
audience into the experience of an all-seeing, all-powerful, notional observer (Grimshaw et al.
1995:31) but instead show the fallacies in such thinking and illuminate the producers efforts to
make sense of complex events.
Hockings (2014:437) describes the role of visual anthropologists as "constructing the
relatedness of an image to all other objects and ideas with which it is associated-in the
experience of the social group which produced it and also of the scholars who are interpreting
the meaning with the input from their own ethnographic knowledge. In this regard, my
journey set off to explore the meaning embedded in the visuals I was constantly confronted
with provided by dominant narratives of popular media and conservation dialogue. Looking at
the "social groups (human and non-human] and their lived experiences that are hidden from
such a public display became pertinent for me to illuminate to others. I found the visual to be a
way to unearth a fuller story to be available for people to consume, digest, and respect.
Showcasing the various stories of the individuals involved could help improve how institutions,
academia and the public perceive content that is unfairly biased. It allowed the audience to
engage on a different level that encouraged feelings of empathy rather than blame. Stadler
(2003:88] explains film as a means to engage "us physically as well as intellectually in acts of
perception, attention, imagining, perspective taking; in the experience of empathy and
imagination, in resistance or responses to others that are felt bodily.
Certain elements in academia continue to seek community approaches to conservation,
and are learning to respect the knowledge of fishers. However, improvements should be made
in respecting fishers intellect and cultural rights to the fullest. Fishers are misrepresented
sometimes simply because most research studies do not have the necessary resources and
support to allow for in depth investigation for reasons ranging from time allotted for study, lack
of qualitative training, lack of resources including translators, or lack of money to support the
study. It may be easier for academics to speak for the fishers they study, however, it is
important to attempt to enter fishing communities and give them the tools to speak for
themselves and platform to be heard.
Commonly in visual anthropological studies, research is conducted and then theorized
after the collection of data and images. Hockings et al. (2014] describes it as looking through
the dustbin; searching through the images and figuring out the theory that lies within.
Therefore, I will continue the discussion on visual anthropology theory in Chapter IV. First, I
will discuss how visual anthropology works to resist structural violence and then explain the
research methodology, process and products that were created from this masters thesis.
In many policy and awareness endeavors found in media (discussed below] fishers are
often silenced and overrepresented by authoritative voices that ignore the power relations
(Gubrium et al. 2014] that influence fishers decisions to kill sharks. It is important to recognize
the structural forces and the fishers agency in order to deconstruct perceptions that may
erroneously define them as violent individuals conducting inhumane actions. Visual
anthropology helps to resist structural violence through participatory efforts that are becoming
an essential component of visual anthropological work. The images discussed in Chapter I and II
embody the oppression and complexity of communities that are composed of sharks and
Applied visual anthropologist Perez works towards helping others to "understand other
peoples experiences in the production of knowledge. Her work fights against the visuals that
perpetuate inappropriate stereotypes, specifically pertaining to HIV communities, but has a
similar goal as my own; to bring "awareness of the everyday lives of those who reside in
marginalized urban areas and also engender empathy among the wider population that has no
contact with this social group (Mannay 2011:767], In my efforts, I hope the empathy to wider
populations becomes inclusive of non-human animals such as sharks. The videos created during
my study illuminate the lived experiences of marginalized populations that are experiencing the
burden of global forces and changes that directly and indirectly link to shark trade. I further
take the notion of structural violence and apply it to multispecies ethnography.
Multispecies ethnography centers on how a multitude of organisms livelihoods shape
and are shaped by political, economic, and cultural forces. This emerging practice focuses on
"species that often appear on the margins of anthropologyas part of the landscape, as food for
humans, as symbols in an effort to place them at the center or on an equal level as humans in
anthropology (Kirksey and Helmreich 2010:545], The non-human other, including commodities
such as sharks fins, should not be thought of as solely "good to eat as Marvin Harris describes,
nor only good to view or good to fear. Instead animals must be recognized as what Donna
Haraway (2008] refers to as entities and agents that are good to "live with. By questioning the
livelihoods of what humans are killing, trading, and eating, the perception of sharks as man-
eaters can be changed through an empathetic way. Multispecies ethnography helps include
sharks as individuals and not simply as numbers and statistics. Like the fishers who are being
spoken for, conservationists are attempting to speak for sharks. The fishers and sharks are
subjected to an unfair system that reduces them to numbers when instead analysis on an
individual level should be taking place. It is important to understand how the well being of
sharks and fishers depends on one another and conversations ignoring this entanglement are
doing an injustice.
In the short histoiy of multispecies ethnography, little research has been published on
sharks, and unfortunately what does exist seems to further stigmatize sharks and strengthens
the dominant narrative that humans and sharks are unable to coexist. Haraway (2008] touches
on an aspect of sharks and National Geographics Crittercam in her book When Species Meet.
This work is significant in two parts, first, that it is one of the first publications including sharks
in a multispecies ethnography and secondly, that the analysis includes the use of crittercams, or
small image recording devices that are attached to animals to take the audience into the animal
world. I appreciate her theoretical perspective that includes Bruno Latours actor-network
theory, examining the different relationships between humans, non-human animals and non-
human inanimate objects of technology. She shares the story of a diving biology graduate
student and filmmaker and his longing to become a remora, a species of fish that is often found
swimming alongside big predators such as sharks and rays and even sucks onto the occasional
scuba diver. Being a remora would allow him to enter into the world of the shark and in this
sense he places the remora as an informant; an informant whose identity he wishes to steal -
not as one he wishes to learn about. Haraway uses the term "body-snatching but says his
desire to become a remora is "more promising than the "body-snatching of a crittercam in an
entangled-species world (Haraway 2008], However, I see this as ignoring the essence of
multispecies ethnography, which strives in "becoming with not just "becoming animals we
encounter. Having studied marine ecology and having been part of various shark internships I
was disappointed to see how sharks were further misrepresented in the anthropology
community. Haraway writes in a fashion that voices her opinion as fact, not as what it is her
own thoughts and assumptions. She states,
Clearly, the swimming sharks and loggerhead turtles are not in a companion animal
relationship to the people, on the model of herding dogs or other critters with whom
people have worked out elaborate and more-or-less acknowledged cohabitations. The
camera and the remora are more about accompanying than companioning, more about
riding along with rather than cum panis," that is, eating bread with. Remoras and
Crittercams are not messmates to either people or sharks; hey are commensals, neither
benefactors nor parasites but devices with their own ends who/which hitch a ride.
Haraway unfortunately contributes to the oppression of sharks by presenting false
information regarding the relationship between remoras and sharks as well as through her use
of language that seems all knowing describing "clearly and "not and "companion. Possibly of
most significance, this is grounded in a statement that is in fact untrue. With a little research
one can find that the relationships between sharks and remoras is also complex. Not all sharks
host remoras and not all their relationships are the same. Studies have found a diversity of
relationships between sharks and remoras. In all cases the remora benefits from at least one of
two ways: 1] sucking onto the shark to reduce energy expenditure in transportation and 2] eats
food found on the sharks dermal denticles (like scales for sharks]. The relationship with the
shark is mutualistic if the "food contains organisms that are parasites to the shark, commensal
if the shark receives no benefit or harm, and finally parasitic if the remora harms the shark in
feeding or free-riding process. All three associations have been recorded in shark-remora
relationships (OToole 2002; Brunnschweiler 2006],
The second issue with Haraways analysis is how she frames sharks as not being capable
of having a companion relationship with humans. Haraway alludes to the importance of
different recording techniques behind the filming for the Crittercam show, such as the majority
of the visuals are not actually from the Crittercam footage. Most scuba divers and freedivers
that swim with sharks, like myself, know that it takes a great deal of understanding and trust on
each side to get to the point of safely approaching and tagging a shark (or in this case attaching
a crittercam-era], I would argue that the methods of obtaining data through these encounters,
or "becoming with nature, are where the significance lies in understanding human-shark
relationships. Researchers, tourists, and even fishers have to have a level of knowledge,
understanding, and trust with sharks in order to closely (and safely] encounter them. Maybe if
humans understanding of sharks explores our companion-ness with intimate encounters that
we both risk to experience, we will be able to more aptly represent them.
Suen (2012:6] explores how given the "typical rhetoric ofgiving a voice to the voiceless
in animal rights discourses, it is important to examine the implications of speaking for animals;
in particular, we need to ask in what sense animals are voiceless, and more fundamentally,
what it means to have a voice. I identify myself as a privileged individual who is able to witness
and be a part of animal encounters that most are unable or unwilling to experience. An image of
a man killing a shark or of a shark (looking docile or threatening] can be given a multitude of
meanings. Thus, it is important to question how to represent individuals and maintain a degree
of objectivity while recognizing my own bias in the production.
Suen argues the act of speaking for others can be categorized as a form of violence.
Although ones intentions may be to promote sustainability of resources, "it is hard to listen
when we are too busy speaking. And it maybe difficult to appreciate silenceto see that silence
is already pregnant with meaningwhen we feel compelled to give voice to the voiceless
(Suen 2012:21], I visually explore a way to more justly "give a voice to the voiceless, by first
arguing that the use of terms such as "give and "voiceless are acknowledging marginalized
fishers and sharks as either being without a voice or needing something that we have to give-
when instead it is we that must listen. I further question why individuals are deemed
"voiceless to begin with, and whether it is that people and animals are voiceless or rather that
they are silenced. To resist the silencing I work towards creating a platform for people to share
the stories that are important to them by advocating the use of digital storytelling (so others
can speak for themselves] and multispecies storytelling (so others can witness and make
judgments on their own].
The use of visual anthropology to promote social change dates back to ethnographic
films created by Jean Rouch and David and Judith MacDougall. Rouchs notion of a "shared
anthropology foregrounded the role film can play in the collaborative production of
ethnographic knowledge (Rouch 1973], To successfully conduct a shared anthropology
receiving feedback became fundamental to prevent one voice (or perspective] from dominating.
David MacDougall wrote about participatory cinema advocating for collaboration and joint
authorship in ethnographic film to "address conflicting views of reality in a world in which
observers and observed are less clearly separated and in which reciprocal observation and
exchange increasingly matter (MacDougall 1998:138], An applied anthropology is increasingly
emerging to include collaborative or participatoiy methods which serve to "transform the
community from object to be known to a subject that can control (Chalfen and Rich 2009:68],
Though multispecies ethnography is still emerging and gaining acceptance in the academic
community (within anthropology and beyond] I argue that theory embedded in visual
anthropology has similar roots as multispecies ethnography. As humans are generally unable to
understand or "hear the voices of non-human species, when creating an ethnography of sharks
it seems it would be essential to include the visual and sensory components to further enforce
the phenomenological realms we are entangled in with other species. These participatory and
collaborative modes will be discussed in an applied fashion in the following chapter.
METHODS: APPLYING VISUAL ANTHROPOLOGY
Participants were not sought out or selected but rather introduced to me and through
casual conversation and gaining of trust over the months of August 2013 to April 2015. The
individuals represented in these stories evolved organically from living in La Paz and Loreto. I
visited BCS a total of 11 times during this period and cumulated just over 200 days between La
Paz and Loreto. The first year and a half consisted of conducting preliminary work and
developing relationships with community members including fishers, scientists, nonprofits and
sharks. During this time I participated in various activities to improve my knowledge and
understanding of BCS culture, language, people and animals by taking Spanish lessons at Se
Habla Language School, helping start El Sueno La Paz Hostel, participating in research surveys
with Pelagios Kakunja and serving as a temporary research assistant for a PhD student studying
socio-ecological impacts of chocolate clams in Loreto Bay. Institutional Review Board (IRB)
approval was received on January 22, 2015 and thus I initiated my thesis investigation. The
months of involvement with the community prior to approval of my IRB was invaluable in
directing the purpose of my research as initial ideas of doing a general study of shark fishing in
BCS evolved into a desire to create short films resisting the dominant narratives that
demonized sharks and shark fishers.
Figure 5: Image of recording with hotel owner and informant in Loreto, BCS. Authors dog, Lyla,
was a success in gaining rapport in the community.
Some people were very open about talking with me, while others showed obvious
hesitation when I introduced myself and explained my project. It is difficult, yet essential as an
academic, to deem my work as ethical before conducting research. Protection of human subjects
is something that filmmakers such as Louis Psihoyos and Shawn Heinrichs (discussed above]
bypass as they openly brag about their covert tactics to expose evil behavior with the purpose
of shaming others. The process of receiving approval to conduct ethnographic research in a
country that requires a petition to the University of Colorado Denver took over four months, but
ultimately was needed in ensuring the protection of individuals I worked with in the field.
However, this approval that necessitated signed forms of consent (especially for photos and
videos] unfortunately did not translate well with all participants. Working with a community
that is stigmatized presented me with many issues when asking for consent, especially with the
sharks as diving with lots of bubbles coming out of my scuba regulator frightened them away
from coming close.
The process of consent further unveiled structural violence, as members of the community
were afraid to speak because they had heard or had been part of an interview before which
ultimately hurt them. Niparaja is a nonprofit based in La Paz that multiple participants said
collected data under disguise and published information and images that shamed fishers. This
misrepresented individuals and furthermore made them feel guilty of their profession.
I also found in my "recruitment for participants a similar difficulty with sharks. Despite
the dominant narrative that presents sharks as dangerous, anyone that wants to scuba dive
with sharks will tell you that it is actually difficult to find sharks to dive with. Shark diving
operators (especially with great whites] have to go out of their way to attract sharks with bait,
chum, and sometimes machines that mimic struggling fish (Nestor 2014], I feel a similar
encounter when approaching these individuals as I did with the fishers. We are both curious of
each other, unsure of the others intentions, purpose and agenda. Both are usually the subject
and rarely seen as a participant or co-creator in the creation of visual knowledge and
representations. I feel a similar shyness when approaching individuals and peering through my
lens to capture an image. The flash triggers a reaction of disproval and usually ends in crossed
eyes from humans or thrust of the tail from the non-human counterpart, both seeking escape. I
feared my presence when conducting research not because a shark would eat me or a fisher
would get annoyed and hook me, but because I didnt want to hurt their feelings or frighten
them. Though it would, and will, be a struggle to learn how to get sharks to take images at
least there was a solution for my work with the fishers-just give them the camera.
Digital storytelling is a popular method and process in anthropological studies among
marginalized communities experiencing health and other social disparities. Digital storytelling
is defined as "a method and process for individuals to narrate, share, and archive health
experiences using accessible video editing applications and social media platforms" (Otanez and
Lakota 2015:119], Though digital storytelling did not develop under the discipline of
anthropology or in connection with ethnographic filmmaking, it emerged because of
anthropologists and other social scientists (Otanez and Guerrero 2015], The term digital
storytelling is not restricted to anthropological use, therefore it is important to distinguish the
applied and academic visual methodology versus how the general public may call an uploaded
blog a digital story. Digital storytelling in the anthropological definition embodies visual
strategies pertaining to self-reflection on the "politics of representation and imbalances of
power in the construction of images of nondominant cultures" (Otanez and Guerrero 2015],
El Pescador (http://youtu.be7443Cpdmdk90] is a hybrid-digital story co-produced by
myself and a fisherman from Loreto, Paulino Martinez Castro, for this thesis to illuminate the
potential digital storytelling in small-scale communities facing environmental injustices. The
stories I heard during my time in BCS of the changing environment included a degree of how the
fishes voices are becoming silenced among development initiatives that favor tourists, wealthy
people, and Id even argue now the voices of the sharks over the fishers. I propose a new way of
examining conservation issues that recognize the entanglements of the human and non-human
fisher and shark who are both experiencing injustices of misrepresentation furthering the
decline of the conservation of their species and culture. I focus on the tools Ive learned from
studying digital storytelling in regards to health disparities and use them to shed light on a new
way to tell and hear the stories of some of the stigmatized individuals who fish sharks.
Components from StoryCenter (previously named Center for Digital Storytelling] based
in Berkeley California guided my research in developing a process of facilitating a co-produced
digital story. Under the definition of StoryCenter, digital stories are self-revelatory, personal
stories (usually told in first person voice] about a lived experience. They are composed of a
written script put to the motion of photos, moving images, and a soundtrack or soundscape all
within a length of 3 to 5 minutes. StoryCenter states that "inherent in the individualism of
citizen democracy is that every story matters...one small story in the form of film has totemic
power for the storyteller. The story allows some shifts in perspective about the events in our
lives, and we believe that those shifts are particularly useful to work in identity (Lambert
2013:12], The StoryCenter model "appeared to derail practices that insufficiently interrogated
meanings of cultural representation and how ethnographic visual practices perpetuated a
western festishization of marginalized cultures (Otairez and Guerrero 2015:60], In my thesis
research I promote story sharing and begin to work as a facilitator to help others tell their story.
The model for the StoryCenter usually consists of a facilitator-run, three-day workshop where
participants create digital stories during this time cumulating in a public screening of stories.
They start out with story circles to discuss and reflect with other participants then participants
receive instruction on script writing, image and music selection and video editing (Lambert
I use the methodology of digital storytelling under the framework of structural violence
from Gubrium et al.s (2014] Hear Our Stories: Diasporic Youth for Sexual Rights and Justice
which explores the experiences of young parenting Latinas embodying subjectivities of
structural violence. Although the subjects of young mothers and shark fishers are on the surface
dissimilar, this project parallels my own in numerous ways. Both showcase instances of
structural violence and how digital storytelling can be used as a tool to provide a platform for
people to share stories, and ultimately contribute to policy decisions and empowerment.
Gubrium et al. (2014:340] explored how the project might "provide a model for rendering
relevant forms of local, subjugated knowledge that are typically discounted and drowned out by
authoritative and erudite forms of knowledge. Specifically, how do the voices in young mothers
own stories modify how they are seen and see themselves? Both young mothers and fishers
are portrayed, and often sensationalized or dramatized, on TV leaving one little room to take
the time and question the individualized experiences behind dominant narratives.
Otanez and Lakota highlight the strengths that are found in types of visual anthropology
that will help to deconstruct misrepresentations such as the fishers who are usually shown as
beasts-similar to the Japanese fishermen in The Cove that are racialized and not given a chance
to speak their feelings. Digital storytelling provides a way to give back power to those
marginalized others that are often spoken for to tell their own story and be heard.
Researchers and community leaders have come to recognize that digital storytelling is
not about making videos about other people or creating a documentary report on
neighborhood concerns. Rather, this type of storytelling is a method and process in
which co-facilitators with psychological knowledge and expert knowledge of narrative
making and story sharing construct a platform for individuals and groups to publicly
disseminate their personal experiences through video. Individuals are drawn to video
storytelling because the process is fun and can be therapeutic, providing a fresh outlet
for sharing an old memory. The difference between digital storytelling and ethnographic
and documentary film is the production process; individual storytellers in a group
setting make their own videos on the stories that they wish to share, and in this setting
they have greater control over their story and the sharing of their story. (Otanez and
This model works towards a collaboration between those who hold the skills to produce
and spread videos via academic worlds and social media, and those that are often seen as a
collective group with equal sentiments, desires, and options for change. The process of digital
storytelling allows for the individuals to have greater control over their story and begins to
remove the power from those privileged to say what fishers are doing is wrong (that is to fish
when resources are depleted is wrong and as some believe immoral) and allow him or her to
explain how the situation is personally affecting his or her life.
Because of the novelty of such type of work and time and financial constraints in the
scope of my planned fieldwork, I took an alternative approach to the model set forth by
StoryCenter. The one-on-one approach has been used in previous research when the traditional
workshops are not compatible to the community (Otanez and Guerrero 2015). The workshop
format is not compatible with fishers work schedule, which is dependent on weather, tourist
demand, and often takes the entire day from dusk to dawn. Such workshops are also difficult to
conduct in communities where populations have minimal education. Additionally, I discovered
that shark fishers (and fishers in general] are not the homogenous group depicted by media and
as represented in academic studies. Instead, they should be viewed for their individuality as
they hold different views on the changing state of their environment and profession.
Management efforts seemed to have placed fishers against one another as competition for food
resources, but also for fishing and boating permits have scratched at the unifying structure of
what it means to be a shark fisher in BCS. I foresaw conflict that may rise within a workshop
and decided it best to do a one-on-one approach before attempting a group workshop to help
me learn the process of facilitating digital stories. The barriers and challenges that emerged in
this prototype project would help influence the construction of potential workshops. Though an
interesting topic that I hope to explore further, it is beyond the scope of this study.
Since I am not completely fluent in Spanish I enlisted the help of Carlos Rafael Sandoval
Cervantes, a friend and local from La Paz, and Kristine Gilbertson Torres, a fellow anthropology
student at UC Denver, who is fluent in Spanish. The script was a collaborative effort as it seemed
unreasonable to ask Paulino to spend time away from his profession and family to write his
script without the ability to pay him. This was successful as the meetings were enjoyable and it
took away any burden from Paulino having to miss work or family responsibilities. Interviews
were conducted mainly at the hostel where I was staying, Paulinos home, and on his panga at
Paulinos Story: "El Pescador"
It was not obvious at first that Paulino would be the (or even one of the] individuals I
would work with to co-create a digital story as he believed that since he was no longer a shark
fisher, he would not be able to help me much in my research. Despite this fact, and the fact that I
presented my work as wanting to learn about the lives of shark fishers, I interviewed him and
learned more about who he is. He was charismatic and kind and I was inspired to listen to his
stories. During our second interview/meeting it became apparent that he would be a great
person to work with because he had a long history of fishing in Loreto and personal knowledge
and experience on traditional ways of fishing for sharks. During the fourth interview his passion
about creating change in his community became more evident and it was clear that he was the
ideal participant for creating a digital story. In this interview he talked about the upcoming
election and how he hopes by the next election (2018 and 2021] himself or a friend will run for
office so that the voices of the fishermen are better heard. I discovered that behind this modest
face, he was a true leader that was igniting change. The reason why he was no longer a shark
fisher was because of the changes in his community that prevented him from fishing sharks not
just as a profession, but a hobby and experience that was part of the identity of being a
Loretano. He had a story to share, and he wanted others to listen.
He was more than willing to participate and was even excited about what product
would come of this project. He introduced me to other fishers, that would otherwise not have
spoken to me, and he coached me on making sure to present myself as an anthropologist
because marine biologists and ecologists hold a bad reputation in the community, as they often
do not ask the kinds of questions I had been asking. Furthermore, their questions also tend to
be specific to shark conservation versus livelihoods and can unwillingly leave the fisher
participant feeling guilty and hopeless. He said I would become quite popular with the
fishermen because no one asks how fishers are affected or feel about changes in the
environment and government and he can see I care to understand and make visible these social
Almost every visit I had either Carlos or Kristine with me to mend any gaps in my
comprehension. I first explained-with the help of one of my translators- the idea to create a
digital story, a personal short film about shark fishing. The only restriction was that it had to be
about shark fishing-but I explained that the purpose was for the video to be about something he
wanted to share and that he thought was important. Since he was a shark fisher, and still is a
fisherman whose income relies completely on the presence of fish (and therefore sharks], it was
safe to assume, and he confirmed, this was something important to him. Then, as is guided by
digital storytelling facilitators of StoryCenter, I presented some prompts as ideas for the story
to blossom-such as tell me about the first time he saw a shark, did he encounter a shark in a
dangerous manner, your first time catching a shark-and the last one became the start of his
story. He wanted to share his excitement of fishing with his father and catching a shark when he
wasnt expecting to. The rest of the script was guided by previous conversations we held prior
to co-deciding on co-creating a digital story, such as his history of shark fishing and how
political, technological, social and environmental changes have transformed the livelihoods of
I introduced topics that we had discussed in the past and asked Paulino what he wanted
to include and what was not as integral to the story. For example, it was extremely interesting
to learn about how they used to catch sharks and how much it has changed with the
introduction of new materials and even refrigeration so they no longer had to salt the sharks to
preserve them. However, he decided that it wasnt the story he wanted to tell this time (but
maybe in a second story]. Topics such as how the government silenced the voices of the fishers
were more important to Paulino. In the digital story he hints at the failed promises of the
government, but did not go into detail because of the time constraints of a digital story and his
preference for including some of the struggles (such as with government policy] but also the
joys (fishing with his father],
To end the digital story I pressed Paulino on thinking on a deeper level about what he
said -to reflect on the content and memories he shared and begin to make sense out of his
experience. What was the bigger meaning? How do these experiences relate to others-possibly
others that will be watching this film later? I suggested tying the story back to the beginning
and thinking of his family-who are a huge part of his life and who opened their home to me with
open arms. It seemed clear to think about how his childhood experience and joy was not the
same anymore, he wouldnt be who he was if he was born today-embodying some challenges
future generations face.
He wished to share with people the joy he felt on that day and I found it significant to
share a story of a young boy who experienced a life altering moment filled with fear yet
excitement and happiness. A narrative of fishing, therefore killing a shark, that when hearing
him narrates illuminates the innocence in the action.
El Pescador Script [English]:
One day when I was 12 years old I went fishing with my father and his friend, George. We were fishing and the
man gave me a line and hook for me to use. Suddenly something grabbed my hook and I was very excited, very
excited I caught something. The man wanted to take the line from me, but I said, "No, I can do it! I can get the
fish!" Finally he let go of the line and after some time I knew I had caught something very large. I did not know
it was a shark at the time...it was a shark! When we put the shark in the boat I felt very happy and was very
excited at my ability to catch something so large. I had never caught one, I was so excited. I felt amazing the
whole day speaking about the shark I was able to catch. Because of this moment my love for fishing sharks-and
all types offish-was born. Now, I am a fisherman.
I grew up on a ranch in the mountains of San Javier. When I was 8 years old I moved to Loreto with my aunt
to begin primary school. My father joined us after to being work as a fisherman. Every morning we woke up
before the sun rose. We spent all day fishing just to have a "cacique" that determined how much money we
would bring home. These days we earned 3 pesos per week. During this time, it was good money-now you
cannot survive on 3 pesos alone.
In one day we caught more sharks (than today), about 15 ranging from 20 to 100 kilos in size. There was
much better pay for fish and much more respect for the men that worked on the sea. Now, being a fisherman
is much more complicated because there have been many changes in technology, infrastructure,
government, laws, less fish in the sea and more foreign competition. I led a group of fishermen that decided
to create a national park in Loreto Bay. We changed from commercial fishing to sport fishing for tourists
because it was better pay and to reduce the amount of animals captured.
Therefore, in this manner, there is a double benefit-the National Park continues to conserve fish and the
fishermen can provide for their families. Although we were successful in creating a national park, there have
been many broken promises and many problems were created for the fishermen of Loreto. Furthermore, it is
very difficult to receive a tourism permit ant to learn how to communicate with tourists, especially if you do
not speak English. The voices of the fishermen are not being heard for this reason we need to unite for
I have only completed primary schoolmy classroom was the sea. But I have read a lot of books on political
science and thanks to this the government cannot fool me anymore. Id like to gather a group of fishers and
work towards putting one of us in the government so our voices will be heard. We are not against anyone;
wed like to work in a good manner with the government to better the future of Loreto and of Mexico. I no
longer can experience what I felt that day I caught a shark when I was 12. For Loreto, including the people
and the animals of the sea, to improve we must listen and respect the knowledge of all.
Figure 6: Stills from ElPescador
El Pescador Script:
Un dla cuandoyo tenia 12 anos voy a pescarcon mi papay un senor se llama Jorge. Estamos pescando, y el
senor me dio una piolay un suelo parayo pescaba tambien. Entonces del pronto algo mordio mi anzueloy
estaba muy emocionado muy emocionado pescando animal. Y el senor me queria quitar la piola y no, no,
no no-yo lo puedo pescar! Por fin el senor este me dejo libre con mi piolay al tiempo de subir un animal muy
grande- no conociera tiburon. Era un tiburon. Al tiempo que lo puso en la lancha estaba muy contento muy
emocionado por pesca algo tan grande y que nunca habia pescado. La emociony el orgullo que send por
tener la habilidad de pescar un animal tan grande que me produjo esa captura se quedaria conmigo toda mi
viday es la que me haria decidirme que en queyo tenia que ser un pescador. Entonces me dijeron que un
tiburon. Emocione muchisimoy estaba emocionado todo el diay hablando de tiburon. Que habia pescadoy
entonces por aliinacio el amor de ser un pescador de tiburony de todos los clases de pescado. Ahora soy un
Creci en un rancho en las montanas de San Javier. Cuandoyo tenia 8 anos me mude a Loreto con una
tia para iniciar mis estudios primarios. Mi padre nos acompano despues para ir a trabajarya que el decido
hacersu vida como pescador. Solia levantarme todas las mananas antes del amanecer. Pasamos todo el dia
pescando solamente para entregar lo que pescamos a un cacique que determinant lo que ganamos para
llevar a casa. Ese dia generaria tres pesos a la semana que en ese tiempo era buen dinero pero ahora tres
pesos ni te da para comer tu solo. En un dia pescamos mas tiburones como 15 de tamano a 20-100 kilos.
Habia mejores pagos por la pescay mas respeto hacia los hombres que laboraban en el mar. Ahora ser un
pescador es mas complicado porque ha habido muchos cambios en la tecnologia, infraestructura, gobierno,
leyes, menos peces para pescary mas competencia foranea. Yo junte ungrupo de Pescadores que decidimos
crear un parque nacional en bahia de Loreto. Convirtiendonos de Pescadores comerciales a Pescadores
turisticosya que la pesca deportiva es mucho mejor pagada que la comercialy la cantidad de animales que
se capturan por viaje es mucho menor, entonces de esa manera se obtiene un doble beneficio, el parque
nacional sigue conservando e incrementando su vida marinay nosotros los Pescadores mas recursos para
poderle dar una mejor vida a nuestras familias.
Aunque tuvimos exito en crear el parque marino nacional, hay muchas promesas que no se cumplieron y
estan creando mas problemas e inconformidades para los Pescadores de Loreto. Ademas, es muy dificil a
obtener un permiso para dar el servicio a turismo de pescay a aprender como a comunicar con turistas,
especialmente si no hables ingles. Las voces de los Pescadores no estan siendo escuchadasy por esta razon
nos debemos unir para cambiar estas cosas aqui. Solo tengo estudios primariosya que mi escuela era el
mar, pero he leido mucho acerca de ciencias politicos y sociales y gracias a eso el gobierno ya no me puede
engahar tan facilmente. Me gustaria juntarme con todos mis companeros Pescadores para meter a alguno
de nosotros al gobierno para ser mejor escuchados. Nosotros no estamos en contra de nadiey nos gustaria
trabajar de una buena manera con el gobierno para darle un mejor futuro a Loreto y a Mexico.
Ya no puedo tener la experiencia que tuve aquel dia pescando tiburones cuando tenia 12 anos, por los
cambios que ha habido. Para que Loreto, e inclusive la gentey los animales del mar progresen, debemos
todos escucharnosy respetar el conocimiento de todo
While discussing ideas for a digital story, he spoke of how he thought hackers would
find the video and it would be sent around to everyone. Fearing concern over security, I
explained how the files and information would be protected and encrypted. I further explained
how he would hold the power to decide where the digital story would be accessible and what
personal information would or would not be included. However, he stated his interest in
someone hacking into my computer not because he was afraid, but because he was excited
about the potential to share his story with others. He wanted someone to hack into my
computer, for his story to be heard and for him to be famous. He knew his story was important
and he wanted it to be heard, to bring about discussion of change in the community.
Difficulties arose when it came time to recording since Paulino, who generally is a
gregarious, talkative guy, was not used to reading out loud and it took about seven hours (with
a two hour break in between] to record the script as he was not used to reading out loud from
paper. Using editing software Audacity, I was able to record paragraph by paragraph and put
the final audio together deleting pauses. Paulino had asked if it was okay he didnt read exactly
what was written-and I agreed thinking he meant changing a couple words, but when I hit
record his drawn out verse spent about two minutes on just the first two paragraphs. However,
this beginning improvisation about Paulinos first time catching a shark and how it inspired him
to be a fisher was important to record with emotion and with his authentic voice, so instead of
re-recording I decided to keep in this adlib for the final production. However, because digital
stories are generally about three minutes and at this pace the film would be an hour in length,
for the rest of the script we recoded sentence by sentence.
My limited time in Loreto as well as Paulinos priorities of his profession restricted the
ability for me to spend time teaching Paulino how to use Adobe Premiere, the editing software
used to create El Pescador. The selection of images for the digital story was also more difficult
than I foresaw. When I first asked if he had any photos from his youth or the old days of fishing
him and his wife both laughed-as did others in the area, cameras were not an item individuals
had in the 70s in Mexico. Now, though most people in Loreto dont have air condition or fully
functional cards, phones equipped with cameras seem to be a regular. I gave Paulino my
camera, a canon DSLR, and asked him to take photos of anything he found important to him or
significant of his story. He took pictures of his family and one day we went out to the islands in
Loreto Bay to capture the places he called home during his days of shark fishing. Temporary
shelters for the fishers that would stay on the beaches for days and weeks at a time were razed
to the ground and only remaining artifacts were a few bricks that served as the foundation for
the shelters and the Virgin Guadalupe adorned with artifacts from the sea and fishing days. I
included images I shot from scuba diving in Loreto Bay and some scenery images around Loreto
since Paulino was unable to take more time off to take photos with me.
Phase of Story Content Conveys
Memory First time catching a shark A new way to see a shark fisher-not as an evil heart killer, but a young boy enjoying this experience with his father. Feeling pride and enjoyment of finding love for the sea with this memory
Personal history Small town, few opportunities, father a fisher Background to help others understand where he comes from
Self Reflection Insight into life of a fisher- Comparison past to present Understanding of changes through the years, conflict faced
Moment of change Changes forcing him away from traditional fishing and into fishing for tounsm Difficulties and complexities that are involved in solving conservation problems, inclusive of inequalities for fishers.
Summary/Why his story matters What he hopes to see Despite constraining structure, ability for fishers to maintain hope and working towards fighting to help make better future for fishers, as well as the animals they rely on.
Table 1: Table highlighting the phases of the hybrid-digital story
It was encouraging to see the excitement Paulino and his family felt while viewing the
digital story and seeing his transformation is inspirational for the many digital stories that are
out there on the sea waiting to be seen, recorded, and heard. Paulino spoke of how he and other
fishermen used to spend the days fishing and spend nights at a time to reduce amount of fuel
wasted going back and forth to the mainland. The government has now made it illegal for the
fishers to have fishing camps on the islands in Loreto Bay and they mostly return their catch to
shore for processing. It was a sunny day and the water was as clear as ever, but the mood was
clouded by a sense of loss-this emotional energy was strong-as we climbed our way to check
and see if the virgin Guadalupe still was there, beaten from the harsh winds of past hurricanes,
surrounded by shells colored of the rainbow. I asked Paulino how he felt coming back-he
responded slowly and emotionally-"triste, muy triste sad, very sad because he misses the days
coming here and living with his friends and being one with nature.
At this point, the start of the summer of 2015 and the end of my field research, I felt
what most ethnographers do a sadness as well because this phase of my research was coming
to an end and I feared the possibility of being unable to return and continue to work with
fishers to tell their stories. However, I still had the daunting task of producing another visual
piece, a multispecies story collected from still and moving images and soundscapes to invite
viewers into exploring another lived experience, part-me, part-fisher, part-shark. It was time to
return home to Colorado and search through the "dust bin of visuals I had recorded and search
for the multispecies story, inclusive of non-human voices and current shark fishers.
Digital storytelling has its limitations, specifically within multispecies ethnography, as
there are complications with asking animals to attend a three-day workshop and create a digital
story. Until sharks are able to communicate with humans, digital storytelling does not serve as a
viable alternative for resisting structural violence and dominant narratives that misrepresent
sharks. I produced a second digital video to showcase a new way to perceive and portray
sharks. Pez to Pescado (www.youtube.com/watch?v=a0G01nRF6cs] is inspired from a
multispecies ethnographic perspective to situate the viewer in the reality of shark fishing and
shark livelihoods. It explores the entangled identities of sharks as free, then as a possession of
humans, still struggling for a chance at life, to the moment the shark is apportioned marking the
moment life transforms into a commodity; or using the linguistic terms of Spanish when "pez
(fish in the sea, alive] becomes "pescado (fish that is consumed, dead]. This work presents an
alternative view on the shark trade that is void of a plot, a climax, and an ending message, but
instead a visual representation of the collective experience of sharks and fishers.
Kirksey et al. (2014: 3] encourage a "critical scrutiny should be redoubled when
anthropologists speak with biologists, nature lovers, or land managers about the creatures they
represent. It is important to be careful not to misrepresent sharks when defending them, but to
acknowledge them for what they are; including the unsettling reality that some species, though
only a small percentage of the over 500 species that exist, are powerful beings harnessing the
ability to bring harm to those that make the conscious decision to encounter them. Others, like
the whale shark and basking shark, are filter feeders and therefore unable to "attack humans
despite their large size reaching upwards of 70 feet. Furthermore, it is important that while
defending sharks, that the marginalization and stigmatization of others, such as shark fishers, is
Using visual practices to explore multispecies ethnography will parallel the work seen
in ethnographic films such as Sweetgrass (2009] produced and directed by Ilisa Barbash and
Lucien Castaing-Taylor and Leviathan (2012] produced by Lucien Castaing-Taylor and Verena
Paravel, both at the Harvard University Sensory Ethnography Lab. Much of the films are taken
with GoPros with underwater housing to protect the camera from water and other
environmental elements. The GoPro is strategically placed in areas where a human isnt able to
physically go and to portray a scene without influence of a human holding and interacting with
a camera. Pez a Pescado features long segments of otherwise boring activities, similar to
Sweetgrass and Leviathan, to show the lived realities experienced by players often not included
in conservation dialogues or seen in popular media. This approach "challenges such
stereotypes, facilitating a movement away from a limited rhetoric toward the fuller engagement
with particular examples of practice (Grimshaw 2011:255], Ultimately, this leads to a product
that does not privilege or assume the centrality of humans (Grimshaw 2011],
Arjun Appadurai (1988] discusses the problem of voice, where one is "speaking for and
"speaking to and intersecting this is the problem of place (speaking from and speaking of]. I
remain aware of the potential to abuse my power in the effort to speak for or about others,
especially marginalized communities that dont share the same language or ability to
communicate. Speaking/or sharks and fishers has the potential to further misrepresent
individuals. Therefore, visually voicing, inclusive of imagely and soundscapes of sharks, in an
anti-climatic nature is important in my endeavors of sharing shark narratives to reduce this
power imbalance. Photographs and video, though restricted by myself as the ethnographers
gaze, illustrate a story that is rarely seen. Camera placement and angle are thoughtful methods
to portray human lives and interactions with sharks. Be it of placement into their lives or via
angle of camera that positions the viewer in the place of the shark and underwater photography
to include intra and interspecies interactions.
Fijn (2012] takes a similar desire of including multispecies etho-ethnographic
approaches to filmmaking. Fijn faced difficulties of traditional observational style films that
called for showing an objective lens, which necessitated an avoidance of direct contact with the
animals in question. As many animals, especially sharks, are curious beings, it is important to
recognize they "do not live in an enclosed wilderness, isolating themselves from other beings,
but inhabit a diverse, multi-species world, which includes contact with humans (Fijn 2012:73],
Therefore, I include visuals from my own encounters with sharks and with fishers without
pretending to be omniscient of how sharks behave.
I use the broadened definition of voice provided by Gubrium et al. (2014:338] to
consider "visual and sonic elements, such as still photos, video, and sound effects, key sensory
elements of digital stories to give heightened sense of feeling that is blind from written script
or spoken word. I explored this in El Pescador and now in Pez a Pescado bringing emotion and
feeling through sensory mechanisms entangling the use of sound, stills, video, and introducing
various players such as myself, the fishermen, the by-catch, the seagulls and the small panga,
where the five of us spent 24 hours together.
Through visual placement of the camera and absence of voice over, the audience is
intended to experience and relate to my story as a fisher and the story of the shark. To obtain
such perspective I include visuals attempting to show the sharks perspective, as pez and as
pescado. Segments include scenes from shark diving in Mexico and Costa Rica-though the visual
is to highlight voices of the Sea of Cortez, the dire situation of shark populations have made it
near impossible to encounter schools of hammerheads that once were a common encounter in
the 1960s, but no longer are found. The visuals I include were to represent the species of
animals that used to be in greater abundance. Great whites have also been cited in the Sea of
Cortez; however, it is theorized to be a nursery and not much research is done on this extent.
Other visuals were recorded during visits to fishing camps where I placed the GoPro in the sand
to bring about the perspective of the shark and ray-now commodities being scavenged by sea
birds after the fishers cut the meat and fins (the only valuable parts] from the animals. This is to
stimulate viewers to develop their own perspective on the shark trade, without including
generalizations of the issues and without being told how to feel. The idea is similar to current
observational filmmaking frameworks that reject subtitles with "an absence of explanation or
extended conversation, and the creation of a rich soundscape that both recontextualizes human
voices and highlights their function as vehicles for the communication not of information but of
feeling (Grimshaw 2011:254], I decided to include a brief voice over in the beginning to
contextualize the piece for viewers, but after my final word the film is narrated by only images
and ambient sounds.
Included in Pez a Pescado are short clips, most that contain only ambient sound and
leave the viewer attempting to understand what might be dialogue going on in the background.
This stimulates the sensory perspective of a shark, both in and out of the water, in a transition
between life and death. Some images continue to victimize the shark, a lifeless body being
pulled out of the water, while others include images of sharks that bring fear when watching
(and definitely fear when I was filming!]. Unfortunately, it became difficult to show shark
fishing in a positive light through this methodology as I show shark fishing in all its glory and
grit. I realized without a soundtrack directing the mood or my own opinion on what was going
on in the visuals, it is near impossible to project fishing a beautiful creature as joyful. The point
is not to defend a lifestyle, but is to show a lifestyle, not to tell people how to feel when
watching it, but let the images and video allow one to feel on his or her own. I show sharks
through various perceptions-provoking fear, sadness, maybe even peace-thats up to the viewer
Figure 7: Screen shots from Pez a Pescado.
To avoid further stigmatizing fishers, I use photographs and videos of myself taken from
a day of shark fishing off the coast of Loreto in April 2015.1 do this knowing I take a risk of
being criticized by the community at large as videos show me holding dead sharks, but in
conducting research I analyzed the question of how other videos are on these boats are hidden-
othering the fisher, and place myself in the frame to attempt to understand the problem on a
personal level. Instead of enforcing the differences in identities we hold me, a shark
conservationist and strict vegetarian, and those that depend on extracting animal resources
from the sea. On my journey I experienced the difficulties of being a fisher, especially a female
fisher, having to spend over 24 hours on a small boat with no shelter or privacy. Challenges
included: the early mornings waking up, the hours spent preparing the boat the night before-
tying each hook and making sure it was strong enough to hold a shark, the hours gathering bait
and cutting it a mundane process that leaves you drenched in fish guts and scales cutting your
hands....the hours we spent awake all night, freezing, but no where to go until the sun rises,
fearing the worst a boat might come up trying to steal our gear or pirates. So the next morning
-after all that hard work and preparation and fear, I found myself actually excited to see if any
sharks caught onto our lines. I still felt a ping of sadness, especially when recognizing some
sharks were pregnant. But I didnt feel hate especially not towards my fellow fishers. We were
a unit now, at sea and protecting each other and helping out. I felt I was still proving myself to
them, that I could handle the sea -nothing scared me, and what does scare me makes me want
to know more about it and thats why I was there.
This anthropological take also allowed me to experience the joy of being on the ocean
watching the sunset, having talks with the others in this small boat and the thrill of waiting to
see what we caught just a taste of the wonders that exist below our silent boat. The feeling of
pulling on the line each inch awaiting what is on the other side-laughing at the crazy stuff we
catch, an eel or sea snake that nearly made me jump off the boat or trying to look like I knew
what I was doing and ignoring the fish scales cutting my hands like paper. At the end of the trip,
I was praised for my strength and hard work that matched my teachers, I learned a lot from
them that I never would have known if I had approached them and immediately started
pointing out what was "bad about their profession, imposing any of my thoughts and
assumptions on who they are. Just in this small boat I learned about one man who had never
been outside of BCS and is a loving father that patiently educated me on the proper ways to cut
bait and fish. Another hated being a fisherman, but it was the only thing he knew, it was just
another way to pay the bills-and important in dissociating any romantic feelings I had
beforehand that all fishers enjoyed fishing. By becoming entangled with the fishers and sharks I
learned the personal stories of who they are and began to piece together a joint narrative they
hold. A story of struggle and survival, but also one of simplicity and joy, what has and what will
come with the changing state of our seas.
ANALYSIS AND DISCUSSION
Finding the Theory in Visual Anthropology
After conducting my fieldwork I looked through the "dust bin of knowledge I had
collected but found it difficult to place the tangible data and the knowledge gained into a theory
that was full of terminology and abstract thinking that I found to embody the weakness of
conventional academic writing. Instead of subjecting my "data, being the images and the
stories of lived experiences I had collected, into a preexisting formula, I took a risk. Just like the
risk of approaching shark conservation through methods in anthropology versus marine
science and policy, I took the risk of using theories in visual anthropology. I soon found that
there is no set theory for visual anthropology, which leads to uncertainty of its identity in the
discipline as a whole to the point that there has been debate if there is even theory in visual
anthropology. Little has been written about the role of theory because there is no consensus
about what is and what is not visual anthropology. How does one define and theorize about a
field with unclear boundaries (Hockings et al. 2014)? Many authors I read mentioned
theoretical frameworks of visual anthropology, but seemed to avoid spelling out what these
frameworks were. Have visual anthropologists been using theory in visual anthropology
without even knowing what that means?
I hoped to find answers to help me describe visual anthropological theory in the article
titled "Where is the Theory in Visual Anthropology? (2014) a piece in which Paul Hockings
compiles responses of seven visual anthropologists that attempted to answer the question
posed by Hockings, "is there a real theoretical underpinning for visual anthropology? Or are we
just borrowing theoretical concepts, as needed from other disciplines? (Hockings et al.
2014:436) Alas, I found the answer! But after reading and re-reading, I was still unable to write
a concise paragraph defining theory in visual anthropology, which one could easily do for the
theory of gravity or evolution. Like authors in the article, in order to talk about theory in visual
anthropology it seems necessary to relate it back to the importance of the methods and
processes in visual anthropology. Although it cannot be easily defined, and there are not a
predetermined existence of words and terminology to guide one through using this theory in
the work, I will, like others before me, argue the importance of visual anthropological theory
through an exploration of ideas that were unearthed during my process of conducting research,
co-producing visual material, and analysis after the work was done.
This question became important to my own work when determining what makes my
approach defined as anthropology and questioning its position in a field that traditionally
centers on academic writing versus media and humans versus sharks. Analyzing the theory
behind visual anthropology helps serve an understanding of why I find an anthropological
approach aids conservation efforts and in return how my use of theory and methods in an
untraditional field can spread light on the importance of visual anthropology as an applied
academic discipline. This work is meant to influence the world of conservation as well as
anthropology. Though my methods were influenced by anthropological studies I had learned
about, theorizing about these methods was not an easy task. Instead of trying to place my work
into a theoretical formula guided by traditional anthropology, I seek to question and answer
where the theory is in visual anthropology and specifically multispecies visual anthropology.
The reading left one still a little uncertain, considering a publication with the title asking
a question should clearly state the answer or make it known why there is not an answer and the
significance of that. However, the article neither defined nor explained why they didnt define
theory in visual anthropology. In a response to the collection of responses in Hockings et al.
2014, Silverstein (in Piault et al. 2015] summarizes that Ruby and Tomaselli (in Hockings et al.
2014] argue visual anthropology is more a methodology and critiques MacDougall for providing
a "disappointing response. Silverstein argues that we have been preoccupying ourselves "with
a vague and distant thing we can label as theory we miss out on the richest contributions of
visual anthropology (Piault et al. 2015:176], Instead of looking "too hard for theory Silverstein
suggests following what MacDougall left out of his response but stated before, that the benefit
of visual anthropology lies in what "we come to know ourselves through relations with things
mediated through the dialogic camera; a way of coming to know a subject of inquiry through a
different means, and on different terms (Piault 2015:176],
To look back at my work and attempt to attribute a certain theoiy to generalize my
findings would be a disservice to my work and almost hypocritical. To take work that was
inspired by including voices of others and to put it into terms and formulas that only a select
group of individuals understand erase the work I attempted to do by limiting the "findings to a
privileged group. Instead, I hope to draw from methods and practices from visual
anthropologists and multispecies ethnographers to help create a platform for marginalized
individuals to be seen and heard. I embrace the uncertainties that lie in using visual
anthropological theory and use Ingolds critique of theory to describe it as "an activity,
something we do(Ingold 1996:3],
Coming to Know A Subject of Inquiry
My perceptions and opinions of sharks and shark fishers have evolved through my
academic pursuits and cultural immersions and taking an anthropological approach allowed me
to viscerally explore a topic that was once just a topic I read on paper. Working closely with a
few individuals and listening to their stories gave me the capacity to understand and feel
empathy for those who struggle daily with the negative changes of our environment on a direct
level. Individuals I once read about under a lens of environmental management pointed fingers
and name called fishers as greedy, evil-hearted and selfish. Ethnographic methods and visual
practices helped to record and theorize what I saw as truths before and what I came to know as
truths through my personal experience encountering fishers and sharks. Diving face-to-face
with the worlds most feared animal of the oceans brings a similar feeling. I am not 100%
comfortable with each dive or each encounter, but there is a sense of peace and ease with each
encounter as I learn more about each individual and they learn about me. They are not beings
that should be feared or blamed for "human attacks or exploiting the seas. I jumped in and took
a risk to learn about others in order to learn more about the issues they face.
Other academics have experienced similar transformations when entering a community
with preconceptions of a community and ideals of trying to stop them. In a travel blog, by Duke
University Nicholas School of the Environment graduate student, Lindsay Gaskins expresses her
transformation of feelings towards fishermen. Gaskins had previously studied policy around
shark and ray fishing in Baja California advocating against shark fishing-but during this trip led
by Xavier Basurto, she began to "humanize shark and ray fishers.
Its easy to villainize people who fish sharks if youve never met them and have no
connection to them, but when you shake their hand and look them in the eye, and have
the ability to put yourself in their shoes, suddenly that all goes out the window.
Honestly, I just wanted to hate them for catching the animals I was working to protect,
but I couldnt. If I could go back and rewrite my shark policy project, I would approach it
completely differently. Oddly, I would actually work to legalize shark fishing so that it
would be possible to regulate it, and get a sense of catch rate at the very least before
making any moves to change the regulations associated with it. In addition, I dont want
fishermen who are simply trying to feed their family to be concerned about getting
caught doing something that should not be illegal. I never expected to be emotionally
overcome by anything on the course in the way that I was, but Im so glad to have seen
and learned everything that I did. Im hoping that in the future, my work with sharks
and rays will help give back to the fishermen who educated me and changed my
thinking. (Gaskins 2014]
Gaskins expresses how she was "emotionally overcome by her interactions with fishers
and getting to learn about who they are versus "fishers from simply catch numbers in
spreadsheets into real human beings trying to put food on the table (Gaskins 2014], This
highlights the potential digital storytelling and experimental film can bring -especially to those
that are unable to visit the place and experience what I did through living among fishers and
spending days with them on and off the sea.
To further engrain the level of injustice that happens through labeling fishers as the
problem, I will highlight one of many examples found on social media. The Instagram account of
Nakawe, a non-profit with a mission is to bring awareness and educate people about
environmental destruction-particularly shark fishing in Cocos Island, Costa Rica, a place I
recently visited and that is featured in a section of Pez a Pescado. I took a screen shot of this
image and the following comments, which ranged from anger to amusement. Within 14 hours,
this post received over 1,000 "likes (my phone being in Spanish "Me Gusta translates to
"Like] and ignited users worldwide to express their feelings through words and emojis.
1,096 Me gusta
nakawe project Thanks for all the support on our
crowd founding to our first expedition to Cocos
Island to save shark populations !! You are amazing !!
If you want to help us (or need more info) you can
donate in the link in the bio JL thanks!!
1,096 Me gusta
nakaweproject Thanks for all the support on our
crowd founding to our first expedition to Cocos
Island to save shark populations !! You are amazing !!
If you want to help us (or need more info) you can
donate in the link in the bio thanks!!
Gracias por todo el apoyo en nuestra recaudacion
para nuestra primera expedicion en la Isla del Coco
para salvar sus poblaciones de tiburones. Sois
increibles !! Si quieres ayudarnos puedes informarte
mas sobre el proyecto y/o donar en el link de nuestra
descripcion gracias !!
ver lor. 258 comentarios
What a hell is this?
That idot should get his limbs hacked off!!
Yfxi are fucking stupid and cruel!! I wish i
could cut off your body part when you still alive
see how you feel ass holes
But look the shark is dead andhe feels nothing
but it isn't nice
PLEASE no stupids..
Just shot up don't say something like that that
you will cut the body from them probably they
don't know it better
Why did u cut oft its fin?....
- - nr
A<^ieqa un comentario...
- - - = too far
Are these people using these animals for food?
It's not that I don't think animals have right, but
I think it gets a little messy when one culture
can tell another culture that they cannot have
access to a certain food source.
Como para cortarle los brazos a esos carajos
con el mismo machete
I FEEL SO SORRY FOR THE SHARK :(
Hay gente tan mala en este mundo
Ohh nooooo!!!! Please don't hurt him
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Heart breaking to see this photo..
Fils de p**e !
What a scum bag!!
Good facts... Not .. I couldn't give 2 shits of
what you have to say ^ Sharks are getting
culled and thats good in my eyes and its my
opinion not yours ...so you can all have a little
bitch on the Internet over these "poor" sharks
Yeah it's so terrible -/ .. Such a
complicated issue tho.. Shame it cant be easily
stopped. One day hopefully @
Figure 9: Screen shots taken of the public Instagram account of the Newaka Project highlighting
the complexity and range of emotions that are experienced and shared among viewers. There
were a range of genders and languages, but because of the nature of Instagram exact data on
who contributed to these talks was impossible to obtain.
This is an example of how the importance of ethnography and visually representing
sharks and fishers in a more just way is crucial to how I approach shark conservation. I question
what good is it to frame these individuals as villains to ignite passion -this just replaces one evil
with another. Why do we as society find a need to put blame on someone? What one would
likely learn about the individuals in the photo is that they come from poverty and have a low or
no level of education beyond primary school. They have families that they are trying to support
and they are supporting them by the one profession that is available to them -possibly because
it is all they know. Most likely they will love to fish and to be on the sea, although not all fishers
share this love as some of my interviews led me to realize. It may be true that the fishers
depicted in this image, which shows them with a shark they killed-did enjoy the experience, and
for that reason I myself in the past once thought of them as bad people for being able to kill such
a beautiful animal. But as I experienced in my study-I learned about what goes along with being
There is still much to be researched in multispecies ethnography, including how to
better portray sharks to keep people from wanting to eat or kill sharks-maybe if perceptions
change in what we think about sharks we can change how we interact with them. I argue that it
is small acts of resistance, like my own and like Paulinos, that will inspire a change in how we
perceive and eventually how we act on the emotions garnered from viewing innovative
productions such as digital stories and experimental films.
Using anthropology to examine the complex entanglement surrounding shark fishing
has allowed me to explore new dimensions and methodologies that are not as often included in
the typical academic training of students pertaining strictly to environmental policy and
management or marine conservation biology. Telling subjective stories may in fact be more
ethical and illuminating than attempts to remain objective and only relying on numbers from
data to make policy changes. Furthermore, anthropological visual methods can embody a
collaborative and accessible strength that written documents fail to obtain. The research
conducted for this thesis and the production of El Pescador highlight the possibilities that exist
with digital storytelling for wildlife conservation. The process and product were successful
beyond my expectations. After hearing of the tension that exists between ecologistas and the
fishers, I feared my attempts would be futile. However, I believe it was my anthropological
strategies, methods and theoretical thinking that allowed me not just access into a marginalized
community of fishers, but co-produced a powerful piece that I hope inspires others.
Sharks and fishers are placed under a structure of violence as they are being portrayed
unjustly in media and conservation dialogue. Shark populations are threatened and humans
must learn their importance before it is too late. Those that hold a more direct relationship with
sharks such as the fishers whose lives and livelihoods depend more directly on the health of
our oceans are experiencing the largest burden of shark depopulation and at the same time
are being demonized by media and conservation dialogue. Perceptions of sharks are beginning
to change as victims of fishers "brutality yet are still perpetuated in social memory as vicious
New approaches in anthropology allow for these marginalized others to resist
authoritys silencing and for their stories to be told and heard. The use of digital storytelling, a
novel method in the field of wildlife conservation, has been used in a variety of marginalized
populations with health disparities and environmental injustices. Paulino and other
participants expressed their excitement of this project and despite the challenges that are
created when doing self reflective work, it is a start at showing the wealth of benefits that can
come with using anthropologically based methods in conservation. Deconstructing
misrepresentations of sharks via multispecies storytelling holds more difficulties, as there
exists the problem of representing non-humans who we are unable to communicate with.
However, it will be a continued and worthwhile effort in visual anthropology to continue to
explore how to best benefit sharks. It is worth a continued exploration to resist dominant
narratives and include experimental methods, which place the viewer in a multispecies
dialogue that does not favor the human voice nor narration.
Those who hold the privilege to speak for others through academic and media platforms
must find a way to conserve our resources and enjoy them. We must ask how can we galvanize
together to make a large change? To start to answer this question we should look at the issue of
structural forces and how dominant narratives represent sharks and fishers. As academics and
conservationists hold a sort of power of ability to be heard, we must not undermine the
expertise of those less "qualified. This form of anthropology helps include the voice of others
that we often consciously or not, silence. Multispecies ethnography includes bringing the voice
of the non-human other into the conversation. Trying not to speak for them but to visually and
acoustically share their story-one that is a counter narrative to what is often seen in traditional
films where sharks are vilified. In this way it is possible to resist the representations that are
constructed by media and to work towards a common goal of stopping injustices above and
below the surface.
In order to create the necessary change that needs to occur in our communities further
research and work should be done in the realm of visual storytelling. I look forward to scaling
up the level of this research to include groups of fishers and see the beauty when a group of
individuals gets together to create powerful and meaningful pieces. Further work in
experimental film, especially multispecies film with submersed animals, should be further
explored and methods on capturing the view from below are most certainly to be expected as
This thesis is the beginning of a new dialogue that needs to be held of and between
species. The reflections and contemplations presented in this thesis and the accompanying
visual stories bring awareness to the complexities of shark conservation. It builds on innovative
approaches of visual anthropology and multispecies ethnography including individuals whose
stories are buried beneath heated debates about shark conservation, fin soup, and global
regulatory instruments to protect sharks. A new lens is needed in the realm of environmental
and social justice. The erroneously termed villains must take back the power that media often
abuses and share the truth through their stories. Digital stoiytelling, experimental film and
multispecies ethnography mark an important step in revolutionizing the future of educational
and activist filmmaking. We all have a story to tell, we all have a story that can be visually
represented, but most importantly we all have a story to share. So lets watch and listen.
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