What Jaws Teaches Us About Scientists and the Future of Shark Bite Politics

neffDr. Christopher Neff is a Lecturer in Public Policy in the Department of Government at the University of Sydney. He completed the first PhD on the “Politics of Shark Attacks” and has been published in Marine Policy, Coastal Management and the Journal of Homosexuality. 

Jaws is a great horror movie. Personally, it’s one of my favorites. Politically, it kills me. While it has certainly inspired generations of marine biologists, researchers and social scientists (like me) since its release in 1975, it has also served as the most powerful vehicle to advance public fear of sharks in modern history. These two different implications become problematic because while sharks make for great movies, movies make for lousy public policy. When tragic shark bite incidents occur, there is a classic Jaws-esque analogy just waiting to be made. And sometimes the media circus turns into policy.

I recently wrote an article called “The Jaws Effect” for the Australian Journal of Political Science comparing policymaking in Western Australia and the movie Jaws. While, we see some of these comparisons in real-time the reason it is important to study this formally is because these moments can tell us about the tensions between politicians and scientists that lead to myth-based policies.

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Are sharks ecologically important? Fact-checking another idiotic anti-shark rant from Paul Mulshine

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.

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Cull canceled: victory for the sharks of Western Australia!

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!

Western Australia’s sharks need your help!

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.

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Culling, bycatch, and loopholes: three shark conservation petitions need your signatures!

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.

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