When you hear the word, “shark,” you might initially imagine screaming beach-goers, the “Jaws” soundtrack or your terrifying first trip to the aquarium. However, while sharks may frighten you, they are Erika Wunch’s greatest passion – and she’s determined to save sharks from harmful stereotypes and hunting.
She is the Vice President of Shark Allies, a nonprofit organization that strives to protect sharks and correct dangerous shark stereotypes and myths. Wunch also creates films that educate people about wildlife and the importance of conservation. Furthermore she has made conservation fashionable by designing a jewelry line called Stick Sand Bones, which mixes prehistoric fossils with precious gems and metals. All of the proceeds are donated to shark and ocean conservation efforts.
How did she go from Cali girl to conservation expert? What should you really know about sharks? And how can you get involved in saving sharks’ lives? ENTITY sat down with Erika Wunch to find out those answers and much more!
Can you tell me a little bit about your childhood, your parents and their influence on you, especially as a conservationist?
I was raised in Huntington Beach, California. My dad grew up very poor on a farm in Kansas. Everything he has in this life, he’s earned himself. He had his first job at age five when he sold candy bars to soldiers during World War II. Nothing came easy in his life, and through his influence, I was taught responsibility and work ethic. He always told my sister and I that no matter what job you have, you do it to the best of your ability. Dad also taught us to have respect for our things, that taking care of our belongings and surroundings would essentially keep them alive, and you never know when you may really need those things.
My mom was a happy-go-lucky surfer girl, born in Burbank, California, but spent a lot of her time in Huntington Beach where my grandfather lived. She has always appreciated the outdoors and animals and spent her childhood camping in the woods and relaxing at the beach. Mom always was eager to go on road trips, and as we drove, we would stare out the window trying to spot animals out in the wild. Whether it was a coyote or bunny, the search for wildlife would often be more exciting than our actual destination. My parents’ split when I was eight-years-old; however, I was fortunate to continue to have incredible relationships with both of them.
My grandmother, a nature-loving Scandinavian, was also a huge influence on me. She taught me a lot about wildlife and flora, especially in the mountains. Grandma explained that every creature is necessary to keep the balance of nature. Whether you like that animal or not, it is part of the web and you must respect that. This little token of wisdom has always stuck with me. Every one of our actions has consequences, whether it be a positive or negative outcome.
You’ve been described as a “lifelong animal lover and conservationist.” Where did this passion for animals and conservation come from?
I grew up with every pet imaginable: dogs, cats, hamsters, fish, birds, reptiles and even a tortoise at one point. If there was any stray animal in the neighborhood, it would find our house and we would take it in. So, yes, I was raised to respect and appreciate animals, but I do believe some people have a stronger natural connection with animals, and I am definitely one of those people. I spent a lot of my childhood out in nature and I always felt honored if a wild animal would let me get near it without running away.
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