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It is there again: the myth of the rogue shark…

All shark bites are incredibly sad for the people involved and their families. But is a reaction like the one in New Zealand of today the right one?

Husband and father of one Adam Strange died after being bitten by probably a great white shark, while swimming from Maori Bay around a headland into Muriwai, around 200m offshore.


The beach was closed, and police officers started chasing and shooting sharks, hoping to kill the shark involved. But does this work?

Movies like “Jaws” and historical accounts of attacks (like those in New Jersey in 1916) have given rise to the myth of the rogue shark. A rogue shark is one that decides for some reason that it really likes eating humans. It displays atypical behavior, appears outside its usual range, and makes additional attacks in the same area over the course of several days.

It is impossible to say that there are absolutely no rogue sharks — individual sharks may exhibit strange behaviors, possibly because they are sick or injured. Differing ocean conditions can send sharks beyond their typical range as they follow their prey species.

However, there is no evidence to indicate that sharks ever “develop a taste for human flesh.” Even if there is a series of attacks in one area, sharks tend to travel great distances in one day. That means the shark that made the first attack is probably hundreds of miles away when the second attack occurs. Scouring the area with fishing boats and killing sharks hours after an attack is unlikely to bring in the specific shark that attacked.

 

Social scientist Christopher Neff gave a TED Talk in Sydney about this fascinating subject, the misconceptions about shark ‘attacks’. You can watch it here:

 

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