Wild Things

Rosie O’Donnell, New Co-Host of The View, Killed an Endangered Hammerhead Shark

It’s just fishing!

Photo illustration by Slate. Photos by Michelle Shephard/Toronto Star via Getty Images, Daniel Boczarski/Getty Images

After controversial anti-vaccine activist Jenny McCarthy was let go from The View, the producers were presumably looking for someone with less of a history of being on the wrong side of public policy. In Rosie O’Donnell, they made an awful choice. O’Donnell killed an endangered hammerhead shark for fun, bragged about the experience, and insulted conservationists who were upset at her actions.

O’Donnell has been a frequent customer of “Mark the Shark,” an infamous shark hunter—that is, one of the few charter boat operators in Florida who doesn’t practice catch and release when fishing for sharks. He claims to have personally killed more than 100,000 sharks. Mark the Shark’s website, which features a photo gallery of scantily clad women lying on top of dead fish, includes warnings like “photos on this site may not be suitable for children, the faint-hearted, or PETA members,” and “We DON’T fly release flags, but we DO hang fish upside down.” I met him once, and the picture you’ve probably formed in your head from reading the description above is pretty accurate.

On one trip, O’Donnell and her family caught and killed a great hammerhead shark and then posed for a picture next to their “trophy.”

Though many species of sharks are in trouble, hammerheads are in particularly bad shape. It is illegal for fisherman to kill great and scalloped hammerheads in Florida state waters, though that wasn’t the case at the time O’Donnell caught this shark. Both species were already considered Endangered by the IUCN Red List, and both had suffered severe and well-publicized population declines due to overfishing. The Florida ban went into effect shortly after O’Donnell’s trip. Scalloped hammerheads sharks recently became the first species of shark ever listed on the U.S. Endangered Species Act.

When this story broke in January of 2012, I joined many in the marine science and conservation Twitter community in criticizing O’Donnell and asking for an apology and a promise never to kill an endangered animal for fun again. She mocked our concerns, insulted us, and refused to apologize. She made nonsensical claims such as “chill, my family fishes,” and “it wasn’t endangered 11 days ago.” As I explained to her at the time, I am not opposed to recreational fishing; I’m opposed to killing endangered species for fun.

In a time when a teenage hunter posting photos of endangered land animals is considered so offensive that Facebook removed her photos, one of the most-watched and most-honored talk shows in the country should not give a voice to someone who did the same thing with an endangered ocean animal.