Commentary by Sea Shepherd Founder, Captain Paul Watson
Shark attacks are on the rise and the reason for this is entirely the fault of humanity.
Shark attacks are relatively rare. From a population of 7.5 billion people, there are between five and 10 fatal attacks each year.
More people are killed by bees, mosquitoes, elephants, hippos, crocodiles, horses, ostriches, snakes and dogs, but these species don’t get the bad press that sharks receive.
And this bad press comes from television shows like those featured on Shark Week, by horror movies like Jaws, and by the general ignorance of people when it comes to oceanic eco-systems.
It is in fact more dangerous to play golf than it is to surf or scuba dive, because statistically more golfers die each year from lightning strikes than people die from shark attacks.
But it also a fact that shark attacks have increased over the last few years, although the fatalities still remain relatively low – and this is surprising considering just how many millions of human beings surf, swim and dive in the sea.
The reason for this relatively minor increase in the number of attacks is entirely the fault of human beings.
To start with, we are diminishing bio-diversity in the ocean. Overfishing has removed 90% of large, predatory fish – critical to oceanic ecosystems – from the sea since 1950. Every single commercial fishery is in a state of decline. This is not just bad news for humans who eat fish, but it is very bad news for sharks, orcas, whales, seals and dolphins who have no choice but to eat fish. In other words, starvation is a very big motivation for opportunistic attacks.
Secondly, most shark attacks appear to be cases of mistaken identity. Surfers on their boards look like seals from the underwater point of view of a shark. Rarely is a person actually eaten by a shark. It tends to be an exploratory bite followed by rejection, although admittedly that exploratory bite can turn out to be fatal to the victim.
Another type of human victim is the spear fisherman. The logic of why they become victims of shark attacks is simple. Spear a fish, spill blood in the water and you attract sharks. The miracle here is that, despite the millions of spear fishermen in the world, such attacks are also relatively few.
Off Western Australia, where there is a state of near hysteria over shark attacks from some politicians and the media, there is another factor that heavily contributes to the problem: the live transport of animals by ship from Australian ports to Asia, and especially to the Middle East because of Halal demands for live animals. Hundreds of thousands of cattle and sheep are packed onto ships like sardines and transported, and this presents two sources of shark attraction. First the bodies of animals that die are thrown overboard, and secondly thousands of tons of animal feces and urine are dumped into the sea, representing a very large dinner bell to the sensitive olfactory senses of sharks.
Shark drumlines, meant to discourage sharks from approaching beaches, actually create another attraction. Sharks and other creatures become snared and entrapped and they die; this in turn attracts more sharks, bringing them within close proximity to the beaches.
Climate change, ocean acidification and pollution are other factors affecting the migration patterns of sharks.
Killing sharks is not the solution, unless people believe that there should be a final solution like extermination. However, extermination of sharks will contribute to irreparable damage to oceanic eco-systems that will affect all of humanity in far more destructive ways than an occasional fatality.
Sharks are the apex predators of the sea. They have shaped evolution in the ocean for hundreds of millions of years. The camouflage, the behavior, the speed, the wariness of fish are all traits literally adapted in fish because of the existence and predatory behavior of the shark.
Destroy the shark and we destroy a harmonious ecological partnership between aquatic species.
For those who believe that sharks are a danger to humanity, the solution for them should be simple – stay the hell out of the water. The ocean is no place for the ignorant, the arrogant and the craven.
And we need to look at it from the point of view of the shark. The ocean is their home. We are stealing their food. We are trespassing on their territory and we savagely slaughter 75 million sharks each year, much of which goes to make a soup that has absolutely no nutritional value.
When we look into the eye of what we perceive to be a savage monster, we see the reflection of a much more destructive monster – ourselves.