Ila France Porcher
Why sharks with Ila France Porcher?
Ila France Porcher is a self taught, published shark ethologist. After university studies in chemistry, physics, math, and biology, she began as a wildlife artist, recording the intelligent actions of the wild animals she painted.
After moving to Tahiti in 1995 she focused on sharks, due to their intriguing and complex actions. It was clear that their behaviour was very different from the other wild animals she had known, so she began studying them intensively as animals and individuals in an attempt to learn what they were like.
Following the precepts of cognitive ethology, she systematically observed them underwater, and recorded their actions. Over many years she found the first evidence of cognition in sharks, which Arthur A. Myrberg, formerly of the University of Miami, presented at a symposium on cognition at the Max Planck Institute in Germany in 2003.
Her finding of the gestation period of the Blacktip Reef Shark was published in the journal Marine Biology.
She became a pioneer in the battle to protect sharks when the hundreds of sharks she was studying, along with shark populations on island reefs throughout the
country, were finned. She wrote down their story in the book “The Shark Sessions,” first published as “My Sunset Rendezvous” in 2010.
Since then she observed tiger sharks and lemon sharks underwater in the Bahamas and wrote “The True Nature of Sharks”, a full scale presentation of wild shark behaviour, which was published in 2017.
Her book about sea turtle behaviour, based on observations of four green sea turtles she rehabilitated and released in Tahiti, entitled, Merlin, The Mind of a Sea Turtle, was also published that year.
She was a co-author of “The role of learning in shark behaviour” published in 2009 by Tristan Guttridge in “Fish and Fisheries” and has published a variety of articles on animal behaviour and intelligence over the years. She is a contributor to LiveScience, and X-ray International Dive magazine.
Reiterating her commitment to raising awareness and improving the understanding of the role of sharks in guardian the marine balance, Ila France integrates the SEI’s Board as our Shark Behaviour Specialist Advisor.
I had been observing wild animals all my life as a wildlife artist when I first encountered sharks. After observing bears, racoons, mountain lions, and the other large mammals of North America, I was not expecting to see much of interest in such an ancient line of animals, but was intrigued to find strong signs that sharks were using cognition (the word used for thinking in animals), and were more alert and quick-thinking than people. Faced with an unanticipated richness of community into which the sharks had accepted me, I spent all my free time with them for nearly seven years, writing down everything that they did and everything that happened, following the precepts of cognitive ethology. It was they who convinced me that animals have unknown capacities, understanding, and intelligence (each species in its own way) that has been overlooked for too long in this world that exploits them. And when they were finned, I wrote down their story. Thus my first book was The Shark Sessions (2010).
It was soon followed by The True Nature of Sharks (2017), which presents blackfin behaviour in the wild and includes what is known about the behaviour of wild sharks generally.
But I never forgot all of the sharks I had known and lost to the shark fin trade, and, with co-author Professor Brian W. Darvell, published a review of the global status of sharks in the Journal Sustainability, entitled Shark Fishing vs Conservation: Analysis and Synthesis.
It establishes for the first time that the advocates of sustainable shark fishing (who pretend to be conservationists) are not protecting sharks against unsustainable shark fishing, but against effective protection for them. In other words, it is shark fishing that they want to sustain. In spite of the decline of sharks and rays to 3 – 6% of their former numbers, to the degree where those accessible to fishermen are threatened with extinction, there are still shark “scientists” who continue to advocate the shark fin trade. They will denounce conservationists as failing to understand shark conservation while using the terminology “sustainable use” in purely anthropocentric terms, which deny the intrinsic value of biodiversity and the importance of the ecological health of the oceans. We are now in the sixth mass extinction, and in the ocean it has essentially been caused by industrial overfishing. Now, it is the shark fin trade that is driving shark fishing by making them the most lucrative targets (along with tuna).
Other scientific articles include my 2005 finding of the gestation period of blackfin reef sharks, https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s00227-004-1518-0 a Commentary on emotion in sharks, https://brill.com/view/journals/beh/159/8-9/article-p849_7.xml a rebuttal of a paper promoting the shark fin trade, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.marpol.2019.02.058 and a paper on the behaviour of blackfin reef sharks.
I have published four other books about wildlife intelligence.
Merlin: The Mind of a Sea Turtle (2017) presents the story of four sea turtles I rescued in Tahiti. Those exquisitely designed marine reptiles were able to act against their instincts, plan, and use deception—each was an individual whose interests very much mattered to him.
The Spirit of Wild Ducks (2019) is the story of the individuals in a hunted flock of wild ducks living upon a poisoned river in France, and their remarkable behaviour.
Outwitted by Chickens: The Bird Who Killed the Tiger (2020) is the story of two flocks of junglefowl, one of which lived in my garden in Tahiti, the other in the wild, set against the background of a culture that continuously stole and fought the best males to death. Some of their actions revealed them to be extremely intelligent, more so than ravens, yet because we use them as food they have been systematically belittled like so many of the other animals we use.
Birds are Impossible: The Supernatural Ways of the Fliers (2021) is about the birds I got to know while rehabilitating seabirds in the South Pacific. It discusses not only their behaviour but other findings about birds, and how their abilities transcend ours in many ways. It also delves into the science of consciousness and how it is clear that animals share it with us—that the mind / body problem concerns not just humans but all living things.
I have contributed a variety of articles on sharks to X-ray International Dive Magazine, Live Science, and others, and spend my time writing, to help get the sentient, conscious nature of the life forms that share our planet to be better accepted. For humanity will not triumph over its current problems without understanding that we are only one life form upon a delicate planet, and that all of them deserve our respect.