Great white sharks are found all over the world and live up to 30 years and grow up to 6 metres in length. Feeding primarily on fish and seals, they are one of the majestic masters of the world’s oceans.
Sparked by recent spate of fatal shark attacks, Western Australia’s Premier recently gave the green light to cull sharks more than 3 metres in length out at sea in 2013. The Federal Minister for Environment Greg Hunt gave Barnett special permission to ignore the national protected status of the great white shark. So the catching, shooting and dumping of these endangered species started last week.
Our obsession with killing the world’s most spectacular predators
It’s actually humans who pose the most environmental risk to the ourselves. Numbered at around 7 billion, humans are destroying all competing predators at an astonishing rate. From wolves, to bears, to lions, to sharks, we have either directly or indirectly contributed to the demise of countless species on the earth. Great white sharks have been around since the time of the dinosaurs, yet because of humans they are now on the endangered species list.
Great White Shark Image Source
Not a hotel swimming pool
According to Tasmanian marine wildlife expert Chris Black ”The ocean isn’t a hotel swimming pool. It’s a wild place. We don’t have unassailable right to feel safe in the ocean. We can’t just exterminate every animal that we see as being dangerous.”
This is the sentiment of a growing number of Australians who are against the shark cull in Western Australia. A recent survey by Channel 7 in Perth showed that 95% of respondents were against the cull. Around 6,000 people turned out at Perth’s Cottesloe Beach, where the bait drums are floating off shore for the cull.
You are more likely to eat shark than be eaten
The United Nations estimates that 10 million sharks are killed each year for their fins in China and South East Asia. Shark fin soup is a delicacy enjoyed by millions.
A plea for the lives of predators is best articulated by a woman who was almost eaten by a crocodile in the Northern Territory. Val Plumwood lived to tell the tale. She later said of her ordeal:
”The outrage we experience at the idea of being eaten is certainly not what we experience at the idea of animals as food. We may daily consume other animals by the billions, yet we ourselves cannot be food for worms and certainly not meat for crocodiles.”
It’s not just environmentalists and scientists who are sympathetic to these majestic creatures of the deep, it’s also fisherman and shark attack victims too. Chris Black was one such fisherman who netted and killed a six metre long female great white in 1993. He had this to say:
”White sharks, particularly individuals as large and as potent as the 1993 specimen, are an important environmental factor in the regulation of the fur seal population. As such, their presence in the wild benefits fishermen, who often find themselves in conflict with seals that opportunistically compete for the catches in their nets. The removal of even a single sexually mature female white shark from the breeding stock is likely to have potentially serious ramifications for a species of such comparatively low fecundity. Unlike other shark species … Carcharodon typically bears litters of less than 10 pups, perhaps as infrequently as every three years.”
Shark fin soup Image Source
The risks versus reality
The risk of shark attack is incredibly low. Western Australia is dubbed as the most dangerous place in the world for shark attacks. And yet the odds of a fatal attack are To some extent, the high proportion of shark attack recordings in Australia, South Africa and the US stems from the fact that these are developed countries compared to Africa, South America and Asia. Therefore they simply have more documented shark attacks, rather than more attacks per-se.
Here’s an illustration that demonstrates the amount of shark attacks of the coast of Australia since records began in 1788.
Avoiding sharks at the beach
Just in case you’re still shaking in your boots about a shark attack this summer, here’s some preventative measures to reduce the likelihood of getting attacked on Australia’s beaches.
- Avoid dusk and dawn swimming, the peak feeding times for sharks.
- Avoid swimming in areas where the natural prey animals of sharks live, such as seal colonies.
- Avoid swimming in the ocean when you have an open wound, are menstruating, or have excessive bruising.
- Avoid swimming in areas that are frequented by sport or commercial fishermen, and especially where fishermen clean their catch into the open water.
- Avoid swimming alone.
- Avoid wearing shiny jewellery or wearing bright clothing as this may attract sharks.
What are the odds? Global statistics
- Death by the common flu 1 in 63
- Death by car accident: 1 in 228
- Death by drowning: 1 in 1,081
- Death by bicycle accident: 1 in 4,857
- Death by heat related illnesses: 1 in 10,643
- Death by lightning: 1 in 56,439
- Death by shark attack: 1 in 11 million
I originally wrote this article for Evoheat Australia.