By now most of us have seen the incredible footage of pro-surfer Mick Fanning fending off what experts are saying was likely a great white shark in the J-Bay Open in South Africa.
The video was dramatic, but thankfully Fanning and the shark both escaped the incident unharmed.
I love sharks and I love to surf.
I am by no means a good surfer and generally spend my time getting pummeled by the surf in locations that very few people actually surf. But I like it, even if I don’t catch a single wave, I still like being in the ocean. It’s good for the soul.
Sitting on a board in the giant ocean makes one think ‘hey, what’s swimming around down beneath me,’ and I think that engenders a certain sense of respect, and at the very least gives you a certain sense of scale. After all you are just a little person in a big sea.
So when I saw @WhySharksMatter post a story sharing Fox Newscasters take on the shark-surfer encounter at J-Bay I was saddened by what Fox & Friends co-host Brian Kilmeade said:
Implying that our oceans somehow be ‘cleared’ of sharks is a dangerous notion. But it is not a novel one.
It has been tried before and it is called culling. In Western Australia baited lines were attached to floating drums to catch sharks off popular beaches. This action caused international outrage, letters from hundreds of scientists  opposed to the harmful practice, and proved ineffective. Even the government’s own internal review board couldn’t figure out if it was even successful at reducing shark attacks because shark attacks were so infrequent. It was also really expensive.
Professor Jessica Meeuwig told ABC News  that looking at Hawaii’s cull as an example, the drum lines had no effect on safety. She went on to say more broadly,
“If you look at the locations that are only protected by drum lines, so leaving nets aside, again there’s no evidence that we’ve had improved safety outcomes from killing 1,000 sharks a year.”
Shark populations are already in decline globally. Great white sharks for instance are listed as vulnerable by the IUCN. Furthermore, killing off sharks is a really bad idea  for the health of our ocean ecosystems. Marine Biologist Dr. Elliott Norse explained to ABC News  that,
“Apex predators are really important in ecosystems and when we kill them what we often find is really bad things happen.”
But Fox wasn’t done with this topic. Elisabeth Hasselbeck at one point said:
“If a three-time world champion surfer isn’t safe, who is?”
Regardless of the fact that this line of questioning seems to anthropomorphize the shark and make it seem like it set out to find a pro-surfer to interact with, and intentionally add drama to an already unusual circumstance, I think the answer is pretty obvious: None of us our safe.
Each day we wake up and could win the top prize in the lottery (more likely than a shark attack) or be struck by lightening (also more likely than a shark attack) or be killed by a falling coconut (also more likely than a shark attack) or be bitten by a New Yorker (yep, also more likely than a shark attack) [7 & 8]. That’s life.
It would be a mistake to listen to these misguided voices and act on their suggestions.
Instead we should heed science and continue to use best available information to make informed decisions about how to live our lives in the manner we see fit. If you need some help with that consider reading Jared Diamond’s excellent column in the New York Times here about life and risk.
I plan to still attempt to surf whenever I get the chance, but am fairly convinced that I don’t need to visit New York anytime soon.
Updated July 23, 2015.
Chief Executive Officer of the World Surf League Paul Speaker issued an official statement on the event and specifically mentioned the importance of sharks in our oceans saying,
We do want to emphasize that we respect sharks as remarkable animals. Our sport’s playing field is the ocean and the WSL is an advocate of healthy oceans. Apex predators, like sharks, are a part of any healthy ecosystem and we very much understand that our events take place in their home.
Once again, we’d like to express our gratitude that all are healthy and safe.
You can read his full, well-thought out comments here.