Raising shark awareness?

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TROUTDALE - A high school science teacher from the Central Coast of California and a former student are bicycling across Kentucky and Virginia to raise awareness and money to end a fishing practice that threatens to turn the ocean’s top predators into endangered prey. Their first stop in Virginia is Troutdale Sunday, June 23.

Mark DiMaggio, who teaches in Paso Robles, located midway between Los Angeles and San Francisco, and Devon Lambert, a 20-year-old conservation biology major attending the University of California at Davis, call their campaign to end the slaughter of sharks Spinning to End Finning.

Their trek along the classic TransAmerica Bicycle Trail will take them from Louisville, Ky. through the hollows and hills of eastern Kentucky, across the Appalacians, the Great Valley and the Blue Ridge Mountains to Washington, D.C. between June 15 and July 9. DiMaggio and Lambert plan to give public talks along the route.

Gaylene Ewing, a Paso Robles High School biology teacher, will coordinate efforts for the cyclists from the team’s home base. Money raised will be donated to Pretoma, an award-winning organization supported by the Monterey Bay Aquarium that works to protect ocean resources and promote sustainable fisheries policies in Costa Rica and Central America, and ARCAE, the Costa Rican environmental and educational network.

“Our goal is to raise $10,000,” said DiMaggio, 56, of Cambria, Calif., a coastal community near Hearst Castle. “Every dollar raised this summer will go straight to shark conservation.”

This is the fourth year that DiMaggio has cycled on behalf of sharks, as he completes a goal of riding across the United States first begun in 2009. By the time Lambert and DiMaggio freewheel into the nation’s capital, they’ll have peddled 1,100 miles, bringing the total number of miles DiMaggio has traveled to end finning to about 4,500.

Shark finning is a practice where sharks are caught, their fins cut off and the living shark is tossed back into the ocean to die.

Fins are one of the most expensive seafood products in the world, fetching hundreds of dollars per pound. A bowl of shark-fin soup can cost up to $90. Finning is illegal in the United States, but only four states — California, Hawaii, Oregon and Washington — have outlawed the sale of shark fins.

“The growing demand for shark fin soup, considered an elite delicacy in Asia, has caused shark finning to occur in epic proportions globally,” DiMaggio said. “Sharks are the most dominant predator in the ocean and have existed there for 400 million years.

“Now, they are at risk of a global extinction, with an estimated 100 million sharks killed annually for their fins. If they disappear, the ecology of the oceans will be enormously disrupted.

“This would be a catastrophe of immense magnitude for people,” the conservationist said.

Most illegal finning occurs in the waters off Central America. During the past 15 years, Costa Rica-based Pretoma has fought finning by raising public awareness and advocating fishing policy reform.

“Some people may wonder why we’re riding so far from the coast,” DiMaggio said. “We think that finning is not only an ocean issue, it’s an Earth issue. While attacks on humans are exceedingly rare, people’s fear of these creatures are intense, often based on works of fiction like ‘Jaws.’”

“Shark attacks are rare. More people die from dog bites or eating hot dogs each year than ever do from an encounter with a shark, he said.

“We plan to deliver a series of slide presentations along the way,” he added. “We want to share understanding on the plight of the world’s sharks and the implications on the health of the world ocean, and to raise money to support Pretoma and ARCAE, two Costa Rican nonprofit organizations actively working to end finning off Central America.”

DiMaggio, who was named San Luis Obispo County Teacher of the Year for the 2007-08 school year, plans to continue advocating for sharks after Spinning to End Finning is complete.

“Our ride is not going to end the finning of sharks, but it’s going to help,” he said.

For more information, contact Mark DiMaggio at (805) 909-2066 or mdimagincambria@yahoo.com.

The duo plans to travel through Troutdale June 23 and Wytheville and Rural Retreat June 24.