They Wanted You to Bet on Sharks. The Odds Were Not in Their Favor.

Some bookies warn that you just’ll sleep with the fishes. But one oddsmaker wished you to wager on them as a substitute.

Last Wednesday, MyBookie, a web based sportsbook, invited gamblers to place wagers on the summer time migration patterns of 9 nice white sharks. The firm’s web site displayed odds on numerous facets of every shark’s journey itinerary, utilizing knowledge mined from Ocearch, a nonprofit that’s been monitoring the animals’ actions for years. An interactive map on Ocearch’s web site screens shark migration in near-real time, offering gamblers ample fodder for wagers — akin, maybe, to a digital horse race, performed solely at sea.

With most public sports activities out of fee due to the coronavirus pandemic, the betting market has been skinny in latest months. Wagering on sharks may give gamblers an outlet, and a few conservationists marvel if it’d outcome in constructive press for oft-maligned nice whites. But others fear concerning the moral implications of merging these two disparate pursuits — and a tumultuous week of conversations reveals that MyBookie might need bungled its first foray into shark speculating.

In an interview, Chris Fischer, the founding father of Ocearch, stated he was unaware of what MyBookie was doing till he learn a Forbes article concerning the occasion. Though MyBookie representatives had contacted the nonprofit by way of Facebook early this month, a proper assembly a couple of collaboration had but to happen when the digital sportsbook debuted the occasion, with out Ocearch’s permission or data.

Another online bookmaker, which is no longer in business, placed odds on 2007’s Great Turtle Race, a conservation event that followed satellite-tagged leatherbacks as they “raced” from Costa Rica to feeding areas south of the Galápagos Islands, said David Strauss, MyBookie’s head oddsmaker. (Mr. Strauss is his professional name; he asked that his real name not be used out of concern for his safety.)

With most sports left in a lull from the lockdown, Mr. Strauss took inspiration from 2007’s events, and began to trawl the internet for other tracked species. A cadre of sharks cruising off North America’s Atlantic coast, he reasoned, might provide a fun alternative to betting on pro table tennis or who would play the Penguin in the next Batman movie.

“With no sports running, we’ve had to get more creative than usual,” he said. “The shark is a good animal for this — it follows some of the same migratory patterns, so you can set odds on it. We kind of know where it’s going to go, but we don’t know when it’s going to get there.”

Though perhaps best known for their toothsome smiles, great white sharks are a fairly cosmopolitan bunch. Some embark on seasonal journeys that stretch for thousands of miles, likely in search of real estate rich in food and mates. But much about the sharks’ sojourns remains unknown — gaps that groups like Ocearch are trying to fill. Since its founding in 2007, the organization has outfitted more than 100 great white sharks with tags that ping their location to researchers whenever the beasts break the water’s surface.

Melissa Cristina Márquez, a shark scientist and founder of Fins United Initiative, said in an email that a betting campaign like MyBookie’s, while unconventional, could be a new way for the public to engage with sharks.

Others saw additional benefits to such a team-up. It could lead to an especially positive outcome if MyBookie “offered donations to shark researchers,” who work in a field that is often in need of more financial support, said Jasmin Graham, a marine biologist at Mote Marine Laboratory.

Mr. Strauss said that he had intended for MyBookie to offer Ocearch financial sponsorship, though he didn’t think shark betting — if it resumed — would pull in much profit for his own company. “We’re not hoping to make a million dollars here,” he said.

But Catherine Macdonald, a shark researcher at the University of Miami, isn’t so sure about the gimmick.

“There isn’t necessarily only one right way to care” about sharks, she said. But in an era in which franchises like “Jaws” and “Sharknado” still predominate the public’s conception of great whites, gambling could end up reinforcing the association between sharks and entertainment, perhaps “cheapening” the animals’ significance.

In the hundreds of millions of years that they have traveled the oceans, sharks have become linchpins that hold entire marine ecosystems together. “They have huge impacts,” Ms. Graham said. “They don’t get a lot of respect for all the work they do.”

Sharks’ lives should be seen as more than “a betting game,” Dr. Macdonald said. Even well-intentioned wagers could saddle the animals with a reputation that eclipses the “evolutionary marvels” they are.

Whether or not MyBookie poses that particular risk remains to be seen. In an interview on Thursday, Mr. Strauss said he hoped the event would be back up and running by the next day, two days after being put on hiatus. (As of June 23, the company’s shark betting site is still dormant.) Mr. Fischer stresses that Ocearch will need much more time to assess if MyBookie’s proposal is good for his organization as well as the animals it seeks to protect.

“We’ve never dabbled in this space,” Mr. Fischer said. But he noted that Ocearch’s brand had been “hijacked” before, including one instance in which a foreign company put several of the nonprofit’s tagged sharks up for paid adoptions. Any contenders for Ocearch partnership require “a fair bit of vetting,” he said.

Even if Ocearch doesn’t end up working with MyBookie, the idea of optioning sharks for the gamblesphere is “interesting,” Mr. Fischer added. “It would have been much more interesting if I had known who they were before they did it.”

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