Two weeks ago, tragedy struck in New England as a boogie boarder was killed by a great white shark. Though shark bites* in general and fatal shark bites* specifically are incredibly rare (Mr. Medici was the first person killed by a great white shark in Massachusetts waters in 82 years), emotions are running high. Some Cape Cod residents are explicitly calling for a cull (targeted killing) of great white sharks.
Such a cull would be devastating for a recovering but still protected shark species, has been shown not to effectively reduce shark bites, and is opposed by shark experts around the world, but what, if anything, should local governments do instead? I’ve written in the past about alternatives to lethal shark control here and here, but not every solution is applicable for every location; local oceanographic conditions vary, as well as local laws and cultural norms. I reached out to three experts to ask what, if anything, they think should be done here. Here’s what they had to say:
2017 was… yeah. Of all the years I’ve lived through, 2017 was definitely one of them. Anyway, some interesting things happened in the world of shark research. Here, in no particular order, are 17 amazing and important things that scientists discovered about sharks and rays over the last year.
1 Sharks can switch between sexual and asexual reproduction. We’ve known that several shark species can reproduce asexually for over a decade now, but this year, Dudgeon and friends showed an individual shark switching between sexual and asexual reproduction for the first time!
Noteworthy media coverage: CNN, National Geographic, Gizmodo
Prof Colin Simpfendorfer is the Director of the Centre for Sustainable Tropical Fisheries and Aquaculture at James Cook University. He has more than 25 years of experience in researching sharks, and has published extensively in the scientific literature on shark biology, ecology, fisheries and conservation. He is a graduate of James Cook University where he undertook both his undergraduate and postgraduate training. After completing his PhD he worked on shark fisheries at the Western Australian Fisheries Department before moving to Florida to work at the Center for Shark Research at Mote Marine Laboratory. He returned to JCU in 2007 to lead the Fishing and Fisheries Research Unit, where he has helped build a research group focused on improving our understanding of sharks and how best to conserve and manage their populations.
Call it a shark cull, shark control or bather protection, for decades governments have been trying to reduce the risk of humans being killed by sharks – by killing sharks. New South Wales, Queensland, KwaZulu-Natal (South Africa), Hawaii, Dunedin (New Zealand), Hong Kong, Somalia (during the US military intervention) and now Western Australia have, or had, shark control programs to reduce the risk of human-shark interactions.
Western Australia’s new program has sparked huge controversy, with many calling for the government to stop and pursue alternatives.There have been a range of claims that there is no science to support shark control. Many of these have been based on the effects of removing large predatory sharks on ocean ecosystems or that there is no evidence that shark culls reduce the risk of attack.Both of these are valid scientific considerations and need to be taken into account. However, neither addresses whether there is some scientific basis to shark control programs.
So here I would like consider whether there is a scientific basis to shark control programs. To do this I’ll look first at the theory, and then if there is evidence to support it based on analysis of data from the programs in KwaZulu-Natal and Queensland.
The government of Western Australia recently announced a plan to kill great white sharks that come close to popular swimming beaches, resulting in justifiable outrage from the scientific and conservation communities. I’ve written before (here and here) about why this is a bad idea that will harm a species in need of protection without making the ocean significantly safer for humans, and won’t rehash the details here. Instead, I want to focus on a claim recently made in support of this plan by Paul Mulshine, best known for taunting environmentalists by stating that shark fin dumplings would taste better if only more sharks were killed.
In a recent blog post on the subject, provocatively titled “Aussie’s common-sense approach to great white sharks has shark huggers’ jaws flapping” , Mulshine makes a lot of wildly inaccurate claims about great whites, shark attacks, and shark conservation.
A few weeks ago, I wrote about a proposed shark cull in Western Australia and asked for your help to oppose it. By the end of the Support Our Sharks anti-cull campaign, the petition had almost 19,000 signatures from dedicated shark conservationists from around the world, including many of our readers. After some initial anti-shark coverage in the media, the Support Our Sharks team was able to utilize public pressure and expert opinion to change the tone. The result was some excellent pro-shark and pro-science stories (see here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here and here for examples).
In response to the media campaign waged by Support Our Sharks, Western Australia’s Department of Fisheries issued a press release today:
” the State Government did not support beach netting at this point in time…consideration of other strategies had ruled out a major cull of white sharks to reduce numbers.”
In other words, the cull of great whites and other sharks is no longer being considered by the Western Australian Government! Thanks for all your help, everyone, and congratulations to Support Our Sharks!
Great White Shark. Image courtesy animals.NationalGeographic.com
Last week, I wrote about three current shark conservation issues, including a proposed shark cull in Western Australia. Barbara Wueringer was able to deliver her letter to Western Australian government officials on Friday, and thanks to your help, it was signed by more than 100 scientists and conservationists from all over the world.
Yesterday, however, another swimmer was killed by a shark in Western Australian waters. George Thomas Wainwright, 32, was a native of Texas who had been working on a boat in Australia. This attack, which is the third in the last two months, has resulted in renewed calls for a “shark cull”. The proposed plan would involve both an attempt to kill the specific shark responsible for killing Mr. Wainwright and a more general killing of all the sharks in the area. It is believed that the shark that killed Mr. Wainwright was a great white shark, also known as a “white pointer” in Australia.
While we can all celebrate the recent passage of California’s shark fin ban, sharks still need your help! The government of Western Australia is planning a “shark cull”, intentionally killing large numbers of threatened species to reduce the probability of shark attacks. The Marine Stewardship Council is considering granting “sustainable” status to a fishery with huge shark bycatch issues (an issue we originally covered last year). The European Union, one of the largest shark fishing entities in the world, still has large loopholes in their shark fishing policy. In the past few weeks, I’ve been contacted by conservation organizations working on these issues, and they need our help! Please consider signing the petitions listed below, and please consider telling interested friends and colleagues. As I’ve written many times before here on Southern Fried Science, I don’t support just any petition, but these are all from legitimate people and organizations and I have chosen to sign all three.