Shark Week, Philanthropy Edition: Who's Protecting the World's Most Feared Fish?

Whether Shark Week infuriates or inspires you, we thought it would be a good time to highlight some foundations and their grantees out there working to protect the threatened, awe-inspiring creatures, year-round. 

While social media has thrust Discovery Channel’s annual Shark Week into a pop culture phenomenon, the infamous summer programming event has been around for 27 years. If nothing else, that shows the public’s endless fascination with the animals. 

Shark Week pisses a lot of people off for its sensational treatment of the endangered animals, and for its recent descent into broadcasting fake documentaries. And yet, people love Shark Week. Heck, people love sharks. And Shark Week even has its share of defenders working in conservation, who seize upon its virality to spread useful information. 

In that spirit, during the week of the year when sharks are everywhere you look, we’ve taken the opportunity to compile our own little philanthropy version. As big and bad as they seem, sharks need a lot of help, and there are funders putting tremendous resources toward protecting them. So we’ve highlighted five of the most active funders working to protect sharks and other large marine predators. Don’t be scared.  

David & Lucile Packard Foundation 

Packard is one of the largest marine conservation funders in the United States, so it’s no surprise the foundation of the computing pioneer made the list of shark-friendly outfits. For one, the funder’s flagship grantee is the Monterey Bay Aquarium, which has done regular research and education work on sharks, particularly Great Whites. Another big shark-related grantee for Packard is WildAid, which has received nearly $2 million since 2007 from the funder, specifically for shark conservation. WildAid runs an ongoing campaign to reduce trade and consumption of shark fins, which has decimated some shark populations.

Pew Charitable Trusts

 Pew is highly active in shark protection, with its Global Shark Campaign one of the priority programs of its oceans work. Pew is one of the conservation groups that embraces Shark Week, recognizing it as an opportunity to educate the public on the importance of the creatures to ocean ecosystems, common misconceptions, and the severe threats they face. Pew also works to establish shark sanctuaries globally. These days the outfit runs a lot of its own research and education programming, but they still are a major grantmaker. Examples of oceans grants include several million dollars in past support for the international group Oceana. Pew has provided ongoing support for Coral Reef Alliance's protection of sharks in Fiji. The organization started and coordinates the Shark Alliance, a coalition of more than 100 nonprofits dedicated to restoring shark populations. And Pew runs an annual ocean conservation fellowship program.

Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation

 This celebrity funder, which is actually housed within the California Community Foundation, has been stepping up funding for protection of wildlife in recent years. In 2013, Leo threw a huge celebrity art auction that raised $38.8 million to benefit his foundation. Since the auction, the funder made two, $3 million grants, the most recent to Oceana for work protecting marine species including sharks in the Pacific. The Oceana grant particularly focuses on banning drift gillnets, a fishing technique that indiscriminately catches threatened species such as whales, dolphins and sharks. DiCaprio’s foundation, which also runs public education campaigns, supported efforts in 2012 to ban the trade of shark fins. 

Save Our Seas

 This is a Geneva-based nonprofit that acts sort of like a conduit for funding of protections for sharks, rays and skates. It is a “pass-through” funder that raises its own money for a combination of its own work and for other nonprofits working in the area. That said, they are a major grantmaker for ocean work, and focus almost entirely on “charismatic marine megafauna” like sharks. The funder has worked in 42 countries, including four of its own international offices and two “Shark Centres.” Public education is extremely important to Save Our Seas, and a requirement in most of its grants. Amounts range from $5,000 to $100,000. 

Marisla Foundation

One of our favorite oceans funders, not the least because its donor is the heiress to the Getty oil fortune, Marisla has a very active marine conservation program, focusing on the Pacific. Based in Laguna Beach, most grantees are in California, and giving is largely orchestrated by the foundation’s executive director and public face Herbert Bedolfe. Marisla has been an ongoing supporter of WildAid’s shark protection work, giving annual grants of more than $225,000 in recent years. They’ve also backed Pew’s shark campaign, and the Mote Marine Laboratory in Florida for its work to protect sharks and rays.