Sharks: Friend or foe?

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Mention the word ‘shark’ and for many, a fearsome, man-eating beast is often the first thing that springs to mind. As a child in the 80s, I grew up watching the ‘Jaws’ film series which portrayed sharks in a less than forthcoming manner, as hunters of man, instilling fear into swimmers worldwide. But how fearful should we really be I ask?

This week a 50 year old man was attacked near Byron Bay (Australia) and killed, by what witnesses say appeared to be a “6 or 7 foot Great White shark.” This is reported to be the 3rd shark attack in Australia in 2014 with the other 2 attacks also proving fatal. At the start of the year Western Australia instigated a controversial shark cull after 6 fatals attacks were reported over a 3 year period. Any shark that was over 3 metres and appeared close to Perth’s most popular beaches was to be shot. This was controversial as it could include endangered species such as the Tiger shark and the Great White shark. The trial period showed that the majority of sharks killed were Tiger sharks. No fatal attacks from Tiger sharks have been recorded in the past 2 decades. Great White sharks attack humans more often however not 1 Great White was killed during the shark cull. This leads to questioning as to whether shark culling is the best approach.

Shark attacks are extremely rare. Sharks do not actively seek out human blood. Whilst most species are meat eaters, they prefer a diet of fish, sea lions, crabs, molluscs and even other sharks. They are inquisitive creatures and many shark bites are the result of the shark wanting to investigate the unknown creature that a human in their territory may present.

The most dangerous creature in the world by far is the mosquito. Mosquitos transmit a number of deadly diseases and kill around 750,000 people a year. Shark attack fatalities average at around 10 per year, yet sharks instigate a much greater fear in many humans than the mosquito ever will. Whilst the prospect of coming face to face with a shark in the ocean may be terrifying, it is vital to remember to put this into perspective. Encountering a shark in shallow waters is still extremely rare and if you do, it is unlikely to cause you any harm. The risk is certainly not great enough to warrant a widespread cull like the cull that is currently taking place in Western Australia.

Sharks are beautiful, majestic creatures. It is vital to remember that when we enter the water, we are entering their territory. They are creatures that demand respect and further study. Sign the petition below to end the Western Australian shark cull now!

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