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On Boycotting Montauk

I don’t know if I should officially call it a boycott, but I can say for certain that my tourism dollars won’t be going to Montauk this year. As a kid, I summered in Montauk a couple of times and prefered it to the Hamptons because it’s more rugged and untouched, and doesn’t even register on the pretentious scale.

And I was this close to spending a week there late in the summer, as my husband asked me to pick anywhere in the continental United States that I wanted to go–with him–and one of my top five was Montauk. This conversation was subsequent to the one where he said, "pick any place," and I chose Lake Como, at which point he apprised me of the abysmal exchange rate and revised his offer with the addendum about not leaving the country.

The one thing about Montauk that would be a problem for Dave is that the town’s culture centers largely around it’s tradition of fishing. Needless to say, it’s also an enormous problem for someone who dons a "Fishing Hurts" hat on her daily run through the tony town of Jupiter. Like me. What people in Montauk are clearly not aware of, is that being surrounded by people who happily reek of fish, and who glorify the slaughter of fish, is really creepy. It’s as if Montauk is stuck in another time, back when we didn’t have the evidence we now have that fish are more like us than we’d like to imagine.

A couple of weeks ago, protesters of Montauk’s Star Island Yacht Club’s annual shark hunt tried to stop the hunt, just as protesters down here (in Destin, Florida) tried–and succeeded–at stopping the annual carnage. They had the backing of the Humane Society of the United States, which the New York Times refers to as "a powerful animal rights group." (Someone ought to tell the NYT that the HSUS is most definitely not an animal rights group. It is a powerful animal protection organization, according to the HSUS site, and I don’t understand why journalists continue to get that wrong.) The NYT also reports that many in Montauk contend the hunt is good for the economy, and "expose people to animals they may otherwise never see up close and operate under government limits that are intended to discourage wholesale slaughter." What is a shark hunt, however, if not "wholesale slaughter?" That’s exactly what it is.

Evidently the townspeople are giddy with pride when each shark is slaughtered.

The crowds at Star Island cheer as each huge beast is hung by its tail and weighed. After a carcass is dumped on the dock, children poke at it, exclaim over its rows of fearsome teeth, and pose for family pictures as the animal is gutted, decapitated and sliced into steaks.

“It’s like a petting zoo,” said Richard Janis, Star Island’s general manager. “When else can a kid get close enough to a shark to touch it?”

Like a petting zoo? It’s like a slaughterhouse! Wait, it is a slaughterhouse–an open air slaughterhouse. How is that good for a child? How does that educate a child about anything but blatant disregard for suffering and for the lives of the sharks?

The protesters didn’t succeed, and sharks were slaughtered by people like Barry Steinberg, whose wife Laura said "has trememdous respect for sharks." I’m not sure if that was before or after killed a 253-pound one. I think I’m going to devote an entire post to hunters who claim to respect their prey. That’s an idea that needs to be deconstructed.

Once again, for me (who has no human children), the impact on the kids is most disconcerting. Like Michael Stickney, 8, who is oblivious to the controversy about the hunt. He "stood near a tractor full of fins, shark heads and body parts. ‘Cool,’ he said, taking home a shark fin in a plastic bag."

Not cool. Chilling.

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