Sharks play an essential rol in the health of our oceans

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Are sharks the problem? Or are we?

In Australia, South Africa and other places, people often have impression that the number of sharks and shark ‘attacks’ is on the rise. Every encounter with a shark is called a ‘shark attack’.  There is often a demand for shark ‘control’.  But shark culls and hunts can never be a solution. Should we kill every creature that could possible hurt us? Or should we respect wild places and their predators? There has never been any evidence that something like a ‘rogue shark’ exists, and going out to kill one seems to be a political policy. During the latter half of the twentieth century, shark culling was carried out in an attempt to make the waters of Hawaii safer. From 1959 to 1976, the state of Hawaii culled 4,668 sharks (at an average cost of $182 per shark), including 554 tiger sharks, in a series of shark control programs. In spite of such efforts no significant decrease in rate of shark attacks was ever detected.

On Réunion, with its steep volcanic slopes scoured by deep ravines, it had long been folk wisdom to stay out of the water after heavy rains, when murky freshwater plumes into the ocean. Bull sharks are attracted to that turbidity, to murky waters for the cloak of invisibility.

Bull shark, picture by Peter Verhoog, Dutch Shark Society

The surf break is out in front of the entrance to a small boat harbour with commercial and sport fishing boats, that will have fish heads, fish entrails, etc in its waters when they return and clean their catch. The small stream/river can have small dead animals, fecal matter etc, the kinds of things that attract sharks to an area.  All good conditions for bull sharks, that regularly swim upstreams. And there is even a fish farm close to a popular surfing spot. Still… many surfers chose to surf here because of the great waves, and after a number of incidents, they demanded shark culling.

Circumstances here are roughly about the same as in Port St Johns, the small South Africa village that saw a series of similar incidents. Both locations, and other locations in the world, are famous for their great waves… and shark encounters.

Reunion Island surfers and ocean goers gather to demand that something be done about the recent shark attacks. Photo: Blivet

Recently, there have been shark incidents in West Australia. Again, there was a demand for shark culling.

John West, curator of the Australian Shark Attack File at Taronga Zoo, Sydney, attributes the increase in shark attacks in Australia, over the past 20 years in particular, to more people going into the sea.

According to estimates by Surf Life Saving Australia, the number of people visiting Australian beaches grew by a massive 20 per cent between the 2008–09 season and the 2009–10 season alone.

According to Rory McAuley, a great white shark specialist at the Department of Fisheries Western Australia, the growth in coastal populations is clear, both in the statistics and to anyone familiar with the city. “If you look at Perth from the water at night, when you can see the lights of the suburbs, you see that it now reaches over a huge stretch of coastline, further than you can see in the north and the south.”

 

Busy Australian Beach, picture by Steve Ferrier

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Every death in this regard is tragic, but the ocean is an animal kingdom where predators reign. The sea covers 70% of our planet, provides 50% of the oxygen in the air we breathe and governs our climate. It is a finely tuned ecosystem within which sharks play a crucial role in maintaining balance, yet it seems that we will easily sacrifice this balance to go and play in the waves.

 

Read more at

Tiger Shark Research Program Hawaii: http://www2.hawaii.edu/~carlm/

Farewell to Sharks (And Yes, That’s a Bad Thing): http://www.time.com/time/health/article/0,8599,2081466,00.html

Fatal shore: Why so many shark attacks?: http://www.australiangeographic.com.au/journal/fatal-shore-why-so-many-shark-attacks.htm

Be Shark Smart when going into the ocean: http://www.dpi.nsw.gov.au/fisheries/info/sharksmart 

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