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The Huntress vs. The Headline: “The Myth Of The “Man-Eater” Is A Great White Lie”

October 24, 2011

Its been a while between headlines and with such distractions as the rugby World Cup and hurtey knees I must confess that the headlines have not been high on my agenda. Which is probably not such a bad thing with such monstrosities as “Miranda Kerr Flips The Bird” with thanks to The Daily Telegraph, “New 50c Has More Bling”, courtesy of AdelaideNow and “Shocking: Pink Doesn’t Exist And Here’s Why” brought to us by being dished out by news providers.

Shocking, indeed.

Once again today’s headline is one that is an issue close to my heart and I am glad to be able to have an opportunity to discuss (air my opinion?) on this subject. On Saturday 32 year American tourist George Thomas Wainwright was killed by a shark whilst scuba diving and spearfishing alone approximately 500 metres off Little Armstrong Bay, Rottnest Island. This incident followed the disappearance of 64 year old Bryn Martin at Cottesloe beach on the 10th of October in a suspected shark attack and the death of 21 year old body boarder Kyle Burden at Bunker Bay during August this year. These recent, tragic deaths have prompted Western Australian premier Colin Barnett to authorise the destruction of the shark responsible for Saturday’s attack and to consider a cull of the endangered great white shark.

John Silberberg, author of today’s headline, notes that this attitude is one that would make Quint, the professional shark-hunter from the famed novel ‘Jaws’, proud. Just as occured after the release of the movie ‘Jaws’, there is “community hysteria (and) a loss of reasoned thought at the idea that there is a man-eater waiting in the shallows of the coast”. While shark attack is undoubtedly a traumatic incident, the attitude that we should kill and cull any beast that threatens mankind is somewhat primal for our supposedly civilised society. Let us look at some cold, hard facts for a moment.

1) Great white sharks are an endangered species.

2) Great white sharks are an apex predator. Apex predators are key players in maintaining the health of an eco-system. A recently published study in ‘Science’ magazine found that “the loss of apex consumers is arguably humankind’s most pervasive influence on the natural world”.

3) While some may argue that 1 suspected and 2 confirmed shark attacks in recent months show a massive increase in shark attacks, these figures are consistent with long term shark attack averages. Up until June 2009 shark attack fatalities averaged at 1.04 deaths per year over the last 50 years. Despite the growth in our population to more than double what it was 50 years ago and the increase of people using our beaches and waterways, shark attack figures have remained steady – there is a less percentage chance of becoming a shark attack victim now than ever before.

Facts and figures are very little comfort to those mourning for the victim of a shark attack but I do believe we need to bring some perspective to the debate. With no disrespect intended to the most recent victim or his family, it is worth noting that he was scuba diving alone, offshore in an area that is known great white shark territory, spearfishing. Personally, having been diving on many an occasion in the same area myself, I would never go without a buddy (PADI, the worlds largest and most recognised scuba diving agency are strong supporters of the ‘buddy’ system) and I would not participate, or go with someone who is participating in spearfishing. I have a very healthy respect for the risk I take when engaging with such an environment and I don’t like to (however inadvertantly) invite trouble.

Sometimes, however, trouble does find us when we’re in the water, as is suspected in the case of Bryn Martin. I have been in a rather precarious situation whereby I got a bit more up-close-and-personal with a 2.5 metre tiger shark than was comfortable whilst swimming in shallow waters. I am forever grateful to the 2 young men on shore who frantically caught my attention to get out of the water NOW before I came to harm. I don’t think I have ever moved so fast in my entire life when I spotted that fin gliding in from about 10 metres away and was thankful I had the good fortune to watch such a beautiful creature from the shore – for more than one reason.

We are lucky in Australia to have incredibly beautiful seas and a lifestyle that allows us to utilise our wonderful resource. Our oceans are home to an incredible array of aquatic wildlife, some of which happen to be magnificent and dangerous all at the same time. We wouldn’t expect to walk through an African savannah that is the natural habitat of lion’s, hippo’s and leopard’s and be free from risk, so what right do we have to apply that expectation to our oceans? What would actually be achieved from culling sharks? Would it not be better to spend money on research and education to better understand what is probably one of our most misunderstood beasts? The family of a 2008 shark attack victim spoke against hunting and killing the shark responsible for their loss, arguing that that is not what the victim would have wanted. I commend these people for standing up and speaking out in defence of these majestic and graceful creatures and understanding that it was the risk their loved one took when entering the water.

To end on a less serious note I can’t help but feel that Colin Barnett’s fears in relation to great white sharks are in fact unfounded…he should be in fear of Roger Corman’s SHARKTOPUS!!!

C-grade horror at its most hilarious.


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  1. Chris permalink

    I suspect that our Premier is endangering mankind. Lets cull him.
    But actually, I really suspect he is mighty annoyed that this shark has decided to ruin the image he has tried to create of Perth – just in time for CHOGM.
    he maybe feels the need to look like he is doing something (other than move all the homeless people out of Perth for a week, with an extra 700 police officers from around the country…) to look good to the world?

    In other news – CHOGM?
    Cavernous Hole Of Government Money?
    Corrupt Hordes Of Greedy Misers?
    Your turn!!

  2. I’ve always loved how in anticipation of some kind of special event the government chooses to move the homeless along out of sight of the impending visitors, instead of, you know, maybe doing something to fix the lack of accomodation available to these people.

    Just a thought.

    Colin Has Overly Greedy Minions?
    Cavorting Hostiles Or Generally Misunderstood?
    Can Homeless Overtake Government Meeting?

  3. I’m glad you enjoyed my article. Thanks for sharing it.



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