Paso High teacher bikes across U.S. to protest shark finning

slinn@thetribunenews.comMay 7, 2013 

Correction: An earlier version of this story gave the wrong first name for teacher Mark DiMaggio.

Paso Robles High School teacher Mark DiMaggio is taking a stand for one of Earth’s most misunderstood predators.

This summer, DiMaggio and Devon Lambert, a 2011 Paso Robles High graduate, will complete a cross-country bicycling trip aimed at drawing attention to finning, the brutal practice in which fishermen catch sharks, cut off their fins and tails, and toss the bleeding animals back into the ocean, where they usually drown or are eaten alive.

“The vast majority of people (have been) really sympathetic to what’s going on with sharks,” said DiMaggio, who has taught earth and environmental science at Paso Robles High since 1986.

DiMaggio and Lambert will kick off the final leg of their trip with the benefit concert “Waves of Change,” Friday at Pomar Junction Vineyard & Winery in Templeton.

DiMaggio said he first became invested in the fate of the world’s shark population when another Paso Robles High science teacher, Gaylene Ewing, loaned him a copy of the 2006 documentary “Sharkwater.” Written and directed by Rob Stewart, the film focuses the “radically unsustainable” human practices that are putting the prehistoric predator at risk, DiMaggio said.

“It just completely changed my perspective on sharks,” said DiMaggio, reversing the views he’d formed while sailing and surfing. “I just thought, ‘I have to do something.’”

The avid cyclist dubbed his campaign Spinning to End Finning.

DiMaggio and another former Paso Robles High student, Justin Purnell, embarked on the first leg of the Spinning to End Finning bicycle trip in the summer of 2009 — hauling tents, sleeping bags and other supplies behind them in BOB trailers as they traveled from Astoria, Ore., to Missoula, Mont.

The teacher returned to Montana the following summer to continue the trip by himself, ending that leg in Pueblo, Colo.

DiMaggio took a break from Spinning to End Finning in 2011 to spend two and a half weeks in Nepal with his son. Then, in the summer of 2012, he returned to the road with Lambert enduring a heat wave and hilly terrain as they cycled from Colorado to Louisville, Ky.

DiMaggio, 56, and Lambert, a 20-year-old who is studying wildlife, fisheries and conservation biology at UC Davis, will embark on the final leg of their trip on June 15 from Kentucky.

By the time they arrive in Washington, D.C., slightly more than three weeks later, they’ll have peddled about 1,100 miles — bringing the total number of miles DiMaggio has traveled to 4,500 or more.

Although he initially planned to make Richmond, Va., their final destination, “We wanted to end in D.C. to make a bigger splash,” said DiMaggio, who hopes their visit to the nation’s capital will include a meeting with U.S. Rep. Lois Capps, D-Santa Barbara.

So far, he said, the people he and Lambert have encountered on their travels have been largely receptive to their pro-shark message.

“I was expecting that people in the Midwest would not be particularly sympathetic of what’s going on in the ocean or not even aware of it,” DiMaggio said, but the opposite has proved true. “People who I thought wouldn’t really care … really got it.”

All proceeds from Spinning to End Finning, including Friday’s concert, benefit Pretoma and ARCAE, two nonprofit conservation organizations in Costa Rica working to protect sharks.

To ensure that those donations go directly to shark conservation, DiMaggio and Lambert will shoulder airfare and other expenses themselves. Art’s Cyclery will cover the costs of shipping their bicycles to Kentucky and back from Washington, D.C., much like the San Luis Obispo company did last year.

DiMaggio, who was named San Luis Obispo County Teacher of the Year for the 2007-08 school year, plans to continue advocating for sharks after Spinning to End Finning is complete.

“This effort is not going to end the finning of sharks, but it’s going to help,” he said.

If you go ...

Help save the sharks this Friday at “Waves of Change.”

The all-ages benefit concert features performances by local bands Strato and Truth About Seafood, food and wine, a silent auction and $2,000 in raffle prizes including an Orbea road bike donated by Art’s Cyclery in San Luis Obispo.

The event starts at 5:30 p.m. Friday at Pomar Junction Vineyard & Winery, 5036 S. El Pomar Road in Templeton. Tickets are $16. For more information, call 909-2066 or visit

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