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:
Cynthia Wigren, Chief Executive Officer & Co-founder of Atlantic White Shark Conservancy
” In the aftermath of such a horrible tragedy — even one as rare as what happened over the weekend— there’s an understandable reaction to ask ‘what more can be done.’ We’ve spent the last five years working to facilitate the study of white shark behavior in their natural habitat and to share that research with public safety officials so that policies or measures considered are based on sound scientific understanding.We don’t take this situation lightly. We, our family and friends, go to Cape Cod beaches impacted by the presence of white sharks. This is not just where we work, this is our community.”
– Cynthia Wigren
Dr. Gavin Naylor, Director, Florida Program for Shark Research, Florida Museum of Natural History
“The best solution is the long term solution: We need to invest in public education. We also need to invest in infrastructure to monitor shark activity so we can provide efficient responses when required.
(1) The public needs to understand when it safe to venture into the water and when it is not.
(2) The public needs to be made aware of the value of having healthy steady state populations of sharks, seals and all of the unsung organisms lower in the trophic hierarchy.
(3) Resources need to be made available to monitor shark activity (Some have suggested a system of statically tethered weather balloons with CCTV cameras constantly transmitting images to monitor when sharks are in the area)
(4) There needs to be training and coordination among emergency responders, ocean rescue people (life guards etc), fishermen and local scientists to develop efficient and effective ways to deal with situations when sharks are spotted close to beaches.
(5) Beaches need to be posted with signs so that the public are informed of the risks
I believe Cynthia and The Atlantic White Shark Conservancy is doing a pretty good job on all these fronts. … But it takes time to penetrate the collective conscience of the public. Shorter term solutions such as culling seals/sharks, while possibly effective in the short term, will likely cause bigger problems (both politically and ecologically) in the long term.”
-Dr. Gavin Naylor
Dr. Christopher Pepin-Neff, University of Sydney lecturer and shark bite researcher
“The Wellfleet beach used public education as its chief action. The sign noted that White Sharks are in the shoreline area, that people should swim close to shore, and that they should avoid seal populations. Outside of banning swimming, surfing and boogie-boarding (which is what happened in this tragic incident) there is little that would have been effective in my opinion.
One important environmental context to note is that Cape Cod is presents one of the only locations in the world where people, sharks and seals share the same water at the same time. Seals live on shore, not on an offshore island.”
– Dr. Christopher Pepin-Neff
After a fatal shark attack on Cape Cod, will the reaction be coexistence or culling? By Carlos G. García-Quijano, for the Conversation.
Here’s how communities around the world are trying to prevent shark attacks. By Michael Levenson, for the Boston Globe.
Emotions run high at Wellfleet shark meeting. By Doug Fraser, for the Cape Cod Times.
Shark Expert urges caution in the wake of fatal attack. By Susan Tran for NBC Boston
Responding to the Risk of White Shark Attack: Updated Statistics, Prevention, Control Methods, and Recommendations. Textbook chapter from the book “GLOBAL PERSPECTIVES ON THE BIOLOGY AND LIFE HISTORY OF THE GREAT WHITE SHARK,” with lead author Dr. Tobey Curtis.
*Please note that I am using the terms “shark bite” and “fatal shark bite” from a revised typology by written by colleagues Chris Neff and Bob Hueter, instead of the more inflammatory term “shark attack.” I wrote about this proposed terminology change here.
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