Sharks swim in human-infested waters. Our fair weather relationship with the sea, our disrespect for our marine environment and our fear of the unknown, fuelled by media sensationalism puts undue stress on all ocean-going creatures. More recently, sharks have taken the brunt of this issue*, to the point where we have started to appease swimmers with inhumane and unethical treatments of sea life, causing death, disruption and suffering. All this, despite opposition from marine biology experts.
Sharks do not represent a real risk to us; even when we swim in their habitat. Not a real risk. A quick browse of the The International Shark Attack File will show how small the risk really is. Not like driving a car or getting married (to someone who might kill or injure you) and certainly not like cigarettes or fatty food. The act of swimming in the ocean is more likely to kill you through drowning than shark attacks.
Killing sharks offers a visible reduction in their numbers and therefore a perceived reduction in the perceived threat. Rare, endangered species (such as white sharks) are actually targets of the programmes. It also reduces numbers of all animal “bycatch”. Sometimes more so than the target species, as recognised by the authorities that continue to implement the programmes.
Sharks are bioindicators (a living being, or group thereof, that signifies the health of an ecosystem). They eat dead matter in the oceans. They are incredibly diverse. They perform the tasks of an apex predator, keeping the species below them in the food web healthy and in equilibrium. Sharks are more useful than the credit they are afforded. Sharks are more important than I have space to write.
A recent study showed that sharks could be removed and released, safely and successfully whilst reducing shark attacks and eliminating the need for killing, inhumane or otherwise. The location of the study, Brazil, has one of the largest number of shark attacks in the world and this is a promising step in reducing shark attacks and respect for the life of our oceans.
We need sharks more than we realise, but perhaps more importantly, right now they need us. So spread the word about the low low risk of shark attacks. Sign petitions to stop the drumlines and write to your politicians about reducing the harm we are doing to the oceans. We will miss them if they go.
*Most of this research appears to be open access (which means you can read it for yourself) and I implore you to see what the scientists have to say on the issues addressed briefly here.
Hazin, F. H. V. & Afonso, A. S. (2014) Response: A conservation approach to prevention of shark attacks off Recife, Brazil. Animal Conservation, 17(4), 301-302.
House, D. (2014). Western Australian Shark Hazard Mitigation Drum Line Program 2014-17.
Meeuwig, J. J., & Ferreira, L. C. (2014). Moving beyond lethal programs for shark hazard mitigation. Animal Conservation, 17(4), 297-298.
Shiffman, D. (2014). Keeping swimmers safe without killing sharks is a revolution in shark control. Animal Conservation, 17(4), 299-300
P.S. I make no excuse for three marine-centric articles in a row. The saltwater portion of our planet is the most significant, the most endangered and the least known. Because we don’t live within its limits we are foolish enough not to protect it to the standards we should.