Does the picture below offend you as much as it did me? Ever since the 1916 New Jersey shark attacks and surrounding media frenzy, fear of sharks has become a global phenomenon. But whatever the cause of the fright, what does ring true is that people fear what they do not understand. Despite the low incidence rate of shark attacks, people are still afraid to enter the water. However, the reality is that humans pose a far greater threat to sharks than they ever will to us. This year, there have only been 6 deaths due to sharks. Contrastingly, 100 million sharks are killed every year by humans. One is more likely to drown or be caught by a riptide, than attacked by a shark. Further, sharks are not the only marine dweller of which humans need to be cautious. And while the number of shark attacks per year may be growing, it is not because shark populations are increasing. Quite the contrary. A third of open-water species, including the great white and hammerhead, are facing extinction.
Over the past year, Western Australia has had four shark attacks. In WA’s search to deal with these attacks and prevent the occurrence of future ones, the state’s government is looking to instate new measures, one of them being shark culling. Culling has been shown to not only be extremely expensive, but also ineffective. The theory behind these nets is that they will reduce the number of sharks visiting that area, and therefore reduce the risk of attacks. However, this is not true; killing a few specimens is not likely to prevent future attacks. Shaun Collin, a professor at the Western Oceans Institute (University of Western Australia) points out that there is no data to suggest that shark populations off Western Australia’s coast are increasing. Instead, the data shows that the average number of shark attacks per year have remained fairly constant, with an average one per year over the last 50 years. Comparatively, in 2008 there were 315 drownings and 694 people killed on Australian roads (Sea Shepherd). Moreover, these nets don’t discriminate; they also kill seals, dolphins, sea turtles, non-predatory sharks, and even whales. Shark researcher Barry Bruce argues that localized culling is an ineffective measure due to the migratory swim patterns of Australian sharks. There is also no way to know if any of the sharks caught by these nets would indeed be culprits of future attacks. And while shark attacks are tragic occurrences, they are indeed rare events. Thus, shark culling is not the answer. Instead, educating people and surveillance measures such as spotter planes and patrol boats would be a lot more effective in reducing future attacks. “Shark nets are simply a false security blanket for the public. The majority of sharks that are caught in the nets are on the beachside on their way back out to sea. They simply don’t work” (Sea Shepherd).
I spent last summer in Mossel Bay, South Africa doing research on great white sharks. As an intern for Oceans Research, I helped assist with genetic sampling, and record visual data and take photographs of dorsal fins, pigmentation, and other distinguishing features of resident GWs. While observing these awe-inspiring creatures, what amazed me the most was how non-violent they seemed to be, even when approaching our bait heads. Many were more inquisitive than anything. They are not the human-eating machines that we make them out to be. I think it is important to remember that we are entering their environment, and it is our behavior that is wrecking their homes, and not the other way around. Sharks are apex predators that are vital to preserving the oceanic ecosystem.
“We share the oceans with these animals. The notion that we need to kill any animal that might place us at risk when we enter the water, is a totally unacceptable attitude in the modern world” (Professor Mike Barker from New Zealand).
Please sign this petition to PREVENT Western Australia’s sharks from being CULLED!