Scuba divers may know how incredible sharks are, but many people see sharks only as food or as blood-thirsty, vicious killers. There’s one shark-tivist (shark activist) out there who’s delighting scuba divers and scientists alike with cartoons, while also helping change people’s misconceptions about sharks.
Meet Anju Sabu, the artist for “Oh, Dakuwaqa!,” a series of cute, shark-based cartoons which she draws as a creative outlet to educate people and show sharks in a different light.
How did your shark comics begin?
Anju: I’ve loved sharks for a long time. I watch almost all the documentaries I can and get all the books I can. I [even] watched “Jaws” and rooted for the shark, although I admit I was terrified at the end.
Were you always into shark conservation or did that come after you started drawing the shark comics?
Anju: [In the beginning,] it was more getting people to like sharks in general, to find them cute or not so intimidating. I didn’t know how much sharks were decreasing in numbers until I started the comics. The conservation overdrive started after. Healthy sharks, healthy oceans, healthy planet. Sharks are that important.
Where did “Oh, Dakuwaqa!” (the name of your web site) come from and how do you pronounce “Dakuwaqa”?
Anju: I heard it on [a TV episode] of “Bones.” In Fijian mythology, “Dakuwaqa” (da-koo-wa-qa) is a shark-god. I didn’t name my character after Dakuwaqa the shark-god, nor is it about the Dakuwaqa himself. I used the name because it sounds like an expression of exasperation in a way that is relevant to the theme of my comic.
Two of your biggest characters are “the Shark” and “the Human.” Do you consider “the Human” a cartoon version of you?
Anju: Well, both “the Human” and “the Shark” represent two sides of me. That’s why I haven’t been able to name the characters. I can’t decide how to separate them into their own beings.
How are sharks viewed where you’re from?
Anju: I live in the southern-most part of India, a place called Nagercoil. Sharks are viewed as food here, but they don’t [just eat the fins]. They eat the whole shark. Since I live near the coast, I gave a fisherman I know a list of endangered sharks and told him to let them go if he ever caught them. But I think he just thought I was crazy.
Did you coin the term “shark-tivist” or find it somewhere?
Anju: I didn’t find it anywhere, but would be surprised if I’m the first to use it because it seems like a term that should already exist!
Anju: I have engineering and MBA degrees. I’m the IT Manager in a hospital. It’s a flexible job and gives me the time and space to draw my sharks.
You have a few different shark conservation groups on your web site. Which are your top three favorites?
You mentioned Project Aware and you love sharks. Are you a scuba diver?
Anju: The last time I attempted to get certified, I tried to go to the Bahamas to swim with sharks. But Hurricane Matthew decided to get in my way. I was really upset about it. So to make up for it, I went to three aquariums in the States: Shedd, Mote and the Baltimore National Aquarium. Shedd Aquarium was the first aquarium I’d been to as a child as well and [I] loved the sharks then too.
Who makes up your fan base?
Anju: Conservationists and divers who tend to overlap [since] most conservationists I know seem to be divers. A few scientists [such as the folks at the] University of Miami. And quite a lot of people who just like sharks!
Anju: People keep asking me “why sharks?” like it’s so incomprehensible. I want them to see the beauty in how sharks swim and in their variety. Would people love sharks better if they were extinct like we seem to love dinosaurs? It’s a bit sad that we tend to like what we can’t really get back.
You can keep up with these delightful comics on Anju’s web site, “Oh, Dakuwaqa!” and through a wide variety of social media. She also sells cartoon prints and offers pieces on commission.