I happened upon an article on the BBC news website on The 7th of May 2014 that left me angry and ashamed. It would have been easy for this post to become a rant, but to be honest, that would be as futile as the act that was reported. So now that I have calmed down, I will give a more balanced approach. Let’s start with the news itself:After 6 people were killed in shark attacks, drum lines were set up along 7 Australian beaches. As result of this action, more than 170 sharks were killed, none of which were the great white sharks attributed to the attacks.
According to the BBC article Western Australia’s fisheries minister Ken Baston said “I think the strategy’s gone very well, bearing in mind that it’s a very broad strategy, and that’s basically to protect those people that swim in those popular areas,” I know what you are thinking, I’m thinking it too.
They have virtually no chance of catching the “guilty” sharks, and a lot of harmless species will have been caught too, right? So what’s the point? Surely this is a more a political action rather than a practical one.
But wait, there’s more Mr. Baston also said “While of course we will never know if any of the sharks caught would have harmed a person, this government will always place greatest value on human life.” It raises the question, would Mr Baston happily fish sharks to extinction to allow people to swim with confidence? I’d like to think not. But some people will be demanding action. So what else can we do?
The Cull divided millions of people and certainly stirred my emotions, but it also raised many questions.
People have a right to use Australia’s seas, so how do we keep them happy?
Well let’s look at the facts. Though a few species of shark can be potentially dangerous, the chances of being attacked are very very small. According to Bill Gates more people are killed by lions than sharks. Sharks have been here hundreds of millions of years, long before the age of the dinosaurs and therefore certainly long before man ventured into the water for leisure.
They have evolved to live in perfect balance with the ecosystem. The potential consequences of humans interfering with that balance are terrifying. Yet Sharks stir up fear like no other. We can thank Hollywood, newspapers and old fisherman’s tales for that.
Fear sells. The truth is it is impossible to make the oceans a risk free place. The seas can be dangerous. Risks come at us from many many places, you are more likely to be injured or killed on your way to the beach, than from being bitten by a shark.
We calculate risks in our everyday lives. Is it a good idea to cross the road at a busy intersection? No. Is it a better idea to find a quieter place to cross? Yes. We know this through education and experience.
So just maybe the better solution is to educate people. Not blindly fear one of nature’s most beautiful, brilliant and important creations. Look at the risks, make an assessment, either accept the very small risks, or move on. That way, maybe in the future, when another cull is proposed, we will have more people on our side. Because after all, we have a choice to enter the oceans, the sharks do not
By Steve Smith
You can follow Mr. Smith on Twitter at @ReverendBiz
****update***Thanks to Rod Foster-Hall for a twitter update “correct nos: 172 were caught. 50 > 3m shot. 14 < 3m found dead +4 too sick & killed (=68… So officially 104 were released alive. H/r some may not have recovered & died as a result (filmed evidence)”