Thursday, March 27, 2014

The Turf War in Australian Waters

The Turf War in Australian Waters

Many people have a profound fear of sharks. Sharks can provoke visceral, irrational fears when we venture into their territory, especially when they challenge our supremacy at the top of the food chain. While it is okay to be wary in low visibility, waters known to be shark territory, the likelihood that a shark will try to kill you has been blown grossly out of proportion.

Photo Credit: PerthNow
I was recently browsing about white sharks and came across an article by James Delingpole about how choosing human life over sharks is a no-brainer. His argument starts with a
"careful study of a popular movie of the era, Jaws (1975)"
He summarizes that environmental campaigners in Western Australia are less concerned about the lives and limbs of swimmers and surfers. James believes that the ocean is not the shark’s territory just because humans aren't born with gills and scales and fins. To drive home this argument, he evokes word of the Almighty –
"Why did He give us surfing; and how come He gave us the brains to invent wetsuits and scuba equipment?"

Fact of the matter is…

Even swimming daily in the shark-infested waters, you are 47 times more likely to die by lightening than being attacked by a shark. Less than one in every 3 million scuba dives in Western Australia result in a fatal shark attack. In fact, for every human killed by a shark, humans kill approximately 2 million sharks.

Photo Credit: HGM Press
Seems like it’s the landlubbers who have a misguided idea of what the ocean holds in store. Anyone who surfs or dives, knows the risks when they enter the water. In 2013 alone, 46 people drowned in Western Australia, a whopping 60% increase. When this is compared to the 6 shark attacks over two years, it makes you think: they are just trying to cure a fear of something they don’t quite understand.

Targeting sharks is only to appease ignorant land-dwellers who have derived their realisms watching television series like ‘When Sharks Attack’. While no far-reaching measures have been initiated to save more drowned by compounding lifeguards, getting rid of sharks immediately evokes a collaborative sigh of relief.

As much as it is horrific that shark attack people, we need to remember that the ocean is the shark’s territory. We choose to dip in the sea for leisure; it’s their habitat. It is stupid to think that we can control or alter the law of nature without pushing things out of balance. If you remove all the bigger fish, especially predatory ones, then either other big fish take their place, or will be replaced by smaller ones.

What surfers think…

Swimming with Sharks

When surfers enter the water, they recognize that they are entering the shark’s domain – it is part of the adventure and one of the accepted risks. As a surfer puts it,
"We respect the man in the grey suit"
You may argue that surfers who have been attacked will probably not share such optimism; the contrary however is true. A navy clearance diver Paul de Gelder, who lost a leg and a forearm in a shark attack, defends the sharks on his blog,
"It's a wild animal and you want to kill it for doing what it does"
In fact, Sharon Burden, the mother of Kyle Burden who was killed by a shark in 2011 opposes the culling of sharks and has called out the Western Australia government for a legal challenge.

The oceans belong to the creatures that inhabit it. That is the reason why fish evolved with gills to breathe under water, and humans got lungs instead.

So, why do sharks attack? 

Chris Neff from Government and International Relations at the University of Sydney illustrated that sharks don’t attack or go rogue. Check out his TED Talk
Why should the sharks, a species that have been in the oceans since before dinosaur and man, be penalized when people need to be made aware of the dangers and how to be responsible in waters? We need to quit our superiority complex and work with nature instead of trying to conquer it.

Aimee Pope, a commentator in The Guardian, sums up his point of view
"As long as there are people who think they own the ocean there will be attacks"
Human arrogance is appalling. Leave the sharks alone.