A young body boarder sadly died following a shark bite off Reunion Island, a French territory near the coast of Madagascar. Surfing champion Kelly Slater called for a “massive shark cull” in the area as a reaction to the young man’s death.
The International Fund for Animal Welfare wishes to extend our sincere condolences to the family and friends of the deceased, Alexandre Naussance. And we appreciate what Kelly Slater has done for ocean conservation.
However, killing sharks is not the right way to prevent such tragedies.
In response to similar calls for shark culls in Australia, New South Wales Premier Mike Baird has stated unequivocally that all the scientific data available shows that culls do not work as intended to protect people. In fact, culls can instead do serious harm to the ecosystem.
In an article in The Conversation, Jane Williamson, Associate Professor in Marine Ecology, Macquarie University, asserts “we would be far better off allocating resources to achieving a greater understanding of the ecology and behavior of these large predators. We can increase knowledge of why and where sharks are likely to attack humans by tagging sharks and following their movements over time.” She goes on to explain that “non-invasive methods of mitigation are currently being developed, including the use of erratic walls of bubbles to deter sharks, and the development of wetsuits and surfboards that sharks are less likely to mistake as prey. ”
A French TV channel explained that “conditions were favorable” for such an attack in the infamously dangerous Mât River mouth, since a flood recently had muddied the waters. That is why the Region’s Prefecture reiterated that “swimming and water sports were forbidden in that zone.” Moreover, fishermen had spotted the presence of a shark and had already raised an alert.
It seems important to bear in mind that various anthropogenic (human-caused) factors are the cause of most shark attacks, in particular, overfishing. When sharks’ prey species dwindle due to overexploitation, sharks migrate towards other environments to find food. In these new environs, sharks can confuse surfers and body boarders with sea turtles or seals—normal shark prey. This is made more likely if the waters are unclear as was the case with this latest incident.
It is paramount that we do not use this tragedy at Reunion Island to promote a disastrous cull, but rather to promote the protection of the seas, the ocean and all species that inhabit it.
Of the 500 shark species identified worldwide, thirty are threatened or near-threatened with extinction, according to the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN). The global shark fin market claims more than 100 million sharks every year, according to a study published in the scientific journal, Marine Policy. In other words, an average of up to 11,000 sharks are killed every hour, three sharks every second.
Many people perceive sharks as frightening beasts of the sea due to numerous sensational films and media reports; however, these animals are indispensable to marine ecosystems because they contribute to a complicated food web and have done so for more than 430 million years.
At the top of the food chain, these “super-predators” feed on other carnivorous fish that eat herbivores. Without sharks, the balance would be disrupted. For example, without sharks, their prey, (smaller carnivorous fish) would proliferate. Those fish consume more herbivores and without them algae would grow prolifically, smothering coral.
These animals require special protection because of their current vulnerability and because they are essential predators in the ocean’s ecosystems.
It is important to identify non-lethal solutions to ensure a peaceful cohabitation with sharks and protect beach goers and boaters from the potential risks involved in ocean activities.
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