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How to prevent shark attacks

In light of the most recent shark bite fatality in Western Australia (WA) last week, there have been renewed calls for a cull of large sharks to protect ocean users. Environment minister Greg Hunt has…

A combination of government policy and personal responsibility will keep us safer from sharks than culls will. AAP Image/Rebecca Le May

In light of the most recent shark bite fatality in Western Australia (WA) last week, there have been renewed calls for a cull of large sharks to protect ocean users. Environment minister Greg Hunt has said he wants to reduce the risk of attacks. So what is the best way to reduce that risk?

Are shark bites increasing?

There is no denying that each of these events is a tragedy and our sympathy is, of course, with the family and friends of the victims. However, based on statistical data, the number of shark related fatalities is negligible when you consider the vast and increasing number of swimmers entering our coastal waters every year.

Research has shown the number of shark bite incidents occurring each year appears to be directly related to the amount of time people spend in the sea. Given that Western Australia has the fastest population growth of any Australian state, there is likely to be an increasing number of people venturing out into our coastal waters every year. Thus, the likelihood of someone encountering a shark increases and with it a corresponding increase in shark bite incidents.

Politicians and the public are often quoted in the media saying shark numbers in WA have increased. But most experts would agree that there is no evidence to support such a statement.

Data gathered by Surf Life Savers WA has been used to suggest an increase in the number of sharks in WA, by stating that more sharks were sighted in 2012/13 (285 sharks) than in 2011/12 (247 sharks).

However, when you account for the number of hours that the helicopter patrols were out looking for sharks (2012/13: 751 hrs; 2011/12: 620 hrs) we find that they sighted the same number of sharks per hour of patrolling (approximately 1 shark every 2.5 hrs).

In fact, research shows that the number of attacks per million people in Australia almost halved from approximately 60 per million people between 1930/1939 to approximately 30 per million people between 2000/2009.

Does culling work?

So often the argument in favour of a cull comes down to the emotional question of who is more important: a human or a shark. Rather, we need to ask the question, will culling sharks actually reduce the risk of an attack?

The answer is no. In fact, when shark culling was carried out in Hawaii, between 1959 to 1976, over 4,500 sharks were killed and yet there was no significant decrease in the number of shark bites recorded.

Culling has been the primary shark mitigation policy of the New South Wales Government for over 60 years, through the use of “shark” nets. But a report by the Department of Primary Industries showed that 23 of the 139 (17%) attacks in the state, between 1937 and 2009, occurred at netted beaches.

Pre-emptively killing sharks is a response based on emotion rather than of scientific data.

How to reduce personal risk

We take a calculated risk whenever we enter the ocean, but the risk is quite small when compared to other daily activities. For example, new research shows that rip currents are the cause of an average 21 confirmed human fatalities per year in Australia, compared with 7.5 for cyclones, 5.9 for bushfires, 4.3 for floods, and 1 for sharks.

With the correct information, we can make an objective judgement as to whether or not we accept the risk to enter the oceans.

The WA Department of Fisheries recently released a report on how to reduce your personal risk of being bitten by a shark (and you can find more information at the International Shark Attack File).

  1. Stay out of the water if sharks have been sighted in the area.

  2. Stay close to shore (within 30m of the water’s edge).

  3. Don’t go in the water alone (stay in groups).

  4. Avoid water temperatures lower than 22C.

  5. Avoid water depths of greater than 5m when swimming or surfing.

  6. Avoid swimming after heavy storms, or in low light conditions (dusk and dawn).

  7. Avoid swimming if there are seals, dolphins, whales or baitfish nearby.

What the government can do

The WA Government are in a difficult situation. They genuinely want to protect ocean users, but at the same time they are well aware there is no “magic bullet” to prevent shark attacks across the large expanse of the WA coastline.

Their investment in monitoring and research has been a very positive step towards reducing shark bite incidents in the region, but the use of lethal control measures and the threats of a major cull of sharks is not the answer.

Instead, we need to better understand exactly what causes sharks to bite people, what factors are responsible for them venturing closer to shore and more about their biology and life history. Recent research has found, for example, that sharks' diving behaviour is affected by temperature and the moon, that female white sharks have different movement patterns to males, and that Australian white sharks have home territories they always return to.

This kind of research helps us better understand where sharks will be and how they’re likely to behave. More of the same could help us develop strategies to coexist with these important apex predators and continue to enjoy the ocean safely.

The WA Government should also consider placing more emphasis on educating people about the risks, such as the times of day and conditions under which attacks are most likely to occur.

They could also put warning signs at beaches known to be frequented by “dangerous” sharks. We are unaware of a single beach in WA that has information boards related to the risks associated with encountering potentially dangerous sharks. This strategy is common practice in California and other places frequented by large sharks.

We will never completely prevent shark attacks, however, with better education and improved investment in monitoring and research we can reduce the risk and frequency of these tragic events.

Join the conversation

96 Comments sorted by

  1. John Hopkins

    Social Engineer

    Humans are SO self important. Sharks have MUCH MORE RIGHT to be in the Ocean than do humans. That's REALLY a no brainer. Swim in Sharks "Food Baskets" at your OWN risk. Don't blame Sharks just because some humans wish to dominate the universe. We are LAND MAMMALS NOT SEA CREATURES.

    If a Shark were to be dumb enough (or skilled enough) to move onto land to "Play", they would be shot, kicked, run over, stabbed, blown up, etc etc etc.

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  2. Paul Wittwer

    Orchardist

    Great article. As a scuba diver people are always asking me if I worry about sharks telling me they would be too scared to do it because of sharks.
    I tell them there is more chance of getting killed during the drive down than even seeing a shark let alone being attacked by one.
    The Shark Shield device is around the same price as a good quality surfboard if surfers feel they need some insurance.

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    1. Mike Swinbourne

      logged in via Facebook

      In reply to Paul Wittwer

      Hi Paul

      I too am an avid diver (you can probably tell from my profile pic), and as I live in SA the issue of sharks is something that many non-divers often raise with me. Like you, I also tell them that you are in more danger on the drive to the dive site than you are in the water.

      I have worn a shark shield for some time now, but I cannot attest to its effectiveness (but I am still here!) - although SafeWorkSA recently did a study which showed they do provide a degree of protection under certain…

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    2. Nick Kermode

      logged in via email @hotmail.com

      In reply to Mike Swinbourne

      Mike and Paul,
      It is interesting reading this latest report that I came across "The highest number of attacks [in WA] has occurred more than a kilometre offshore with SCUBA divers and snorkelers (44%) having the highest incidence followed by surfers and sea kayakers (37%)" in the statistics. So despite being far fewer in number in the water divers are at a slightly greater risk than surfers. Then I googled "Surfers call for shark cull" and also "divers call for shark cull". I can't find any divers or dive organisations calling for a cull....quite the opposite, yet surfers and surfing organisations get heaps of results come up. Your thoughts?

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    3. Mike Swinbourne

      logged in via Facebook

      In reply to Nick Kermode

      Thanks Nick.

      Those results seem slightly counter-intuitive to me. would have thought that surfers would have been more at risk, because they more closely resemble a shark's natural prey (ie a seal swimming along the surface). And I have also seen some research (and I can't remember the exact circumstances) where someone wanted to look at the natural behaviour of tiger sharks, but could not get close enough while scuba diving - the noise and bubbles seemed to make the sharks wary. But when…

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    4. Mike Swinbourne

      logged in via Facebook

      In reply to Nick Kermode

      Ad just another thought to add to that - I would be interested to see a breakdown of attacks on scuba divers vs snorkellers. If my hypothesis about seals on the surface is correct, snorkellers would be at greater risk than scuba divers.

      And given that snorkellers are also spearfishers, this would increase the risk.

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    5. Nick Kermode

      logged in via email @hotmail.com

      In reply to Mike Swinbourne

      Yes those results do seem counter intuitive but speaking with John West of ASAF a while back he was telling me that research has shown that whites are very curious and will investigate objects that don't even remotely resemble their prey. So maybe that goes some way to explaining it ( i think he used the word investigate rather diplomatically ;) ) I think larger bulls are a bit like this too(?)

      Your point about bubbles is spot on as I am sure you have noticed yourself. Soon as you beath out many…

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    6. Grant Preller

      logged in via Facebook

      In reply to Nick Kermode

      I agree... those figures seem really strange... really contradictory to what I've read in the past. the only thing I can think is that they are 10+ years old and exclude the number of shark attacks on surfers in the last few years. when I moved to Margaret River 12years ago I wouldn't think twice about surfing an outer reef by myself and it wouldn't be uncommon to see it all along the coast... no way would I even consider it now, and I very rarely see other surfing alone anymore.

      Mike, your hypothesis…

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    7. Nick Kermode

      logged in via email @hotmail.com

      In reply to Grant Preller

      Hi Grant, figures are from the latest report from The Dept of Fisheries dated Nov 2012 (linked to in the article we are discussing).
      This post is like many of your others in that you contradict yourself and your general argument. It is easy to do when you switch to soft positional bargaining as you seem to have done. Mikes post cannot be "spot on" and you be "not too sure" about it as well. In other posts you have said you don't neccessarily support culling then in the next sentence say we just cant leave them alone we "have" to manage them. I would also like to point out that from your posting here you are most certainly not respectful of sharks nor find them fascinating. People who find something fascinating make time to actually learn something about it.

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    8. Nick Kermode

      logged in via email @hotmail.com

      In reply to Mike Swinbourne

      Haha classic! Totally awesome, dude :) Couldnt have put it better myself ;)

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  3. Geoff Clark

    Senior Lecturer at University of Tasmania, School of Architecture and Design

    Indeed, an interesting piece, and some good, solid, base numbers.

    That said, I am not convinced that more science is of any use, as implied by the two responses so far. Science does have a purpose, but so does common sense, it is just that we have forgotten how to use it.

    I spend a lot of time surfing, and have been in the ocean on many occasions with sharks. They bear no animosity toward me, nor I toward them. I would like to think that my species might have the capacity to take the same position. I fail to see how slaughter could ever be considered a SOLUTION.

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  4. David Roth

    Postgrad History Student

    A sensible article. What irritates me is the revenge-seeking search for the 'culprit', as if the shark were criminal or evil. The chances of finding the 'right' shark in hundreds of square kilometres of ocean is close to nil. Sharks don't stick around for long, but the media tend to write as if 'Jaws' was a documentary. And if a large shark is found, will killing just any shark be sufficient? There are far, far more road fatalities than shark fatalities.

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    1. Mike Swinbourne

      logged in via Facebook

      In reply to David Roth

      And it's worse than that David.

      Even if they find the 'right' shark, so what? As you said, it's not as if the shark is criminal or evil - it was just after a meal and mistook the human for a seal or its usual dinner.

      It hasn't now become a 'maneater' - it will just go back to eating seals and fish like every other shark.

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  5. John Newton

    Author Journalist

    Thank you for calling them 'shark bites' The first thing people should be told is that sharks do not eat people. More often than not, they spit out what they have bitten.

    Once again, I'm recommending you watch Rob Stewart's remarkable film Sharkwater, which you can do here

    youtube.com/watch?v=CI1YBCMqbik.

    It will also give you a first hand look of the horrendous international trade in shark fns

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  6. Paul Prociv

    ex medical academic; botanical engineer at University of Queensland

    Hey, why stop at sharks? I reckon cars should be culled, far more severely as they kill thousand of times more people than sharks do. A human life is worth way more than a car's. And then there's bees, who also kill more people that do sharks, stinging them to a painful death. Cull the bees. Oh, and I've just read that horses kick and throw up to 20 Australians to a gruesome death each year, so maybe it's time they went, too.

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  7. Kenneth Mazzarol
    Kenneth Mazzarol is a Friend of The Conversation.

    Retired Auto Engineer and teacher

    Have sharks bought any watery real estate? No! therefore they do not 'own' any of the ocean. Just like any indigenous people who we, better armed, have displaced. We saw their real estate as not 'owned' by them so we just moved in and shot them if they got in the way. It will be the same if we ever get good enough to invade other planets. We will just move in and bugger whoever/whatever is there. We'll just shoot them. I could say, 'it's not fair!' but who gives a shit? certainly not us parasites.

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    1. Jacky Gleason

      Retired at Tertiary Education

      In reply to Kenneth Mazzarol

      Ken,

      maybe offer a solution and insight ...

      You speak for yourself only, your use of "we" should not ease your conscience. You may be surprised just how many people do share benevolence with each other and with all other species on this planet.

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  8. Chris Gillham

    Journalist

    There is a bullet point that should be added for West Australians who are terrified of being munched by a shark ... don't go to the beach during the whale migration season.

    http://www.washarkattacks.net/ has been on the web for a couple of years but it's clear the media and politicians are either incapable of research or simply cannot accept that booming numbers of cuddly whales bring with them booming numbers of predators, Unfortunately, those predators occasionally nibble on humans as they stalk…

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  9. Michael Shand

    Software Tester

    Good article, lots of LOL's, us humans are terribly pathetic aren't we

    We want to have helicopters patrol the beach for sharks? Is this how we should be spending our limited finance's

    We want to remove the sharks but we are okay with the plastics in the ocean? Ministers will propose sending out helicopters or hunters to kill sharks but can't do anything about the plastic?

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  10. Shirley Birney

    logged in via email @tpg.com.au

    An uneducated guess reveals around 20 shark fatalities in WA since records began and most grieving families of shark victims do not endorse the pointless slaughter of sharks to avenge the loss of a family member.

    This is not the first time the state government has had its finger on the great white cull trigger whilst feigning a respect for the public’s response to a catch and kill order. Here we've already witnessed a government imbued with a large dose of human exceptionalism and a lack of commitment to conservation and the preservation of the state’s fragile ecosystems.

    In fact I have arrived at the entirely regrettable conclusion that the greatest threat to WA’s vulnerable terrestrial and sea critters is the Barnett government and its officious Moncktonian culling policies to chew the ar*e out of Ma Nature - big time.

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    1. Peter Clark

      logged in via Facebook

      In reply to Shirley Birney

      A more educated number includes 11 in 13 years including five in 2012. Almost as many since 2000 as were recorded in nearly 200 years previously. All fatal attacks since 2000 are attributed to Great Whites, only a couple prior to 2000 were. interesting g that the Great White attacks have mostly occurred since they were given endangered status in the late nineties. Also the fragile ecosystem wasn't in tatters before the late nineties when the GW was given protection. We do have a problem and public safety is important. Also no one is calling for wholesale slaughter of sharks, but some form of controlling the problem especially with Great Whites. And staying out of the water is not an option.

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    2. Peter Clark

      logged in via Facebook

      In reply to Peter Clark

      A mistake on my part. That should have read five in a 12 month period over 2011-2012. Still five in a year.

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  11. Craig Read

    logged in via Twitter

    As a Victorian surfer that's quite a list of stuff to avoid.

    "Stay out of the water if sharks have been sighted in the area."

    If it's not summer, there are no patrols. Other surfers may warn you, or they may not. If you see somebody else (in the water or out), it's wise to ask about conditions anyway.

    "Stay close to shore (within 30m of the water’s edge)."

    Unless you're a beginner, you'll probably be paddling out to at least 30m from the beach when surfing. That'll be pretty…

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  12. John Nicol

    logged in via email @bigpond.com

    Ryan Kempster and Shaun Collin

    This is probably a silly question, but 1. Will the shark which has killed swimmer be more likely yo return that spot hoping to find a possible meal? 2. If so, and the shark were to be caught as a result of the hastily developed hunt for the "KILLER", would it be feasible to attach a tracking device to monitor the presence of that shark, and possibly others over time, to activqte a warning system?

    There seems to be no point in, and no moral justification for, killing the shark, in spite of our sympathy for the family and friends of the dead swimmer. Nor is there likely to be any benefit to other swimmers who are at the wrong place at the wrong time.

    I said it is probably a silly question but may be not!

    John Nicol

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  13. Grant Preller

    logged in via Facebook

    The premise of this article is based off another attack on a surfer and whilst I am normally in agreement with the line of argument in the Conversation articles, this article is quite evidently written by someone that uses the ocean for occasional recreation, not for surfing and it is surfers that are most affected by these attacks.

    Craig Read sufficiently outlines the naivety of understanding on how surfers use the ocean in those ridiculous suggestions outlined on "how to reduce the risk of…

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    1. Mike Swinbourne

      logged in via Facebook

      In reply to Grant Preller

      "....this article is quite evidently written by someone that uses the ocean for occasional recreation, not for surfing and it is surfers that are most affected by these attacks...."

      I hate to break this to you Grant, but surfing is also an 'occasional recreation', and if you are using the ocean for surfing then you are also using the ocean for 'occasional recreation'. And if you are proposing that we 'manage' an significant species which is critical for the health of the ecosystem so that you…

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    2. Grant Preller

      logged in via Facebook

      In reply to Mike Swinbourne

      Mike, I'm simply stating that the government approach to the increased number of attacks over the last few years needs a lot more attention and the notion that Great Whites are still a critically endangered species is not supported by people that have spent their lives in this part of the ocean.

      With reference to your narky remark about 'occasional recreation', the article was a response to another attack on another surfer yet the report provided solutions that have no relevance to how surfers…

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    3. Mike Swinbourne

      logged in via Facebook

      In reply to Grant Preller

      "....the notion that Great Whites are still a critically endangered species is not supported by people that have spent their lives in this part of the ocean...."

      As I said Grant, anecdotes are not evidence, and just because numbers may be increasing in a tiny corner of the word does not mean they are not endangered.

      "....With reference to your narky remark about 'occasional recreation...."

      It wasn't narky at all. You were the one who made a 'narky' remark about the author being an 'occasional…

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  14. John Hopkins

    Social Engineer

    This article says; "In light of the most recent shark bite fatality in Western Australia (WA) last week, there have been renewed calls for a cull of large sharks to protect ocean users."
    Who Is Making These "Calls" & Why Am I Not Seeing Their "Calls" Here?

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    1. John Hopkins

      Social Engineer

      In reply to Grant Preller

      That's Two Ministers. Since When Do Ministers ACTUALLY listen? The People Seem to be Agreeing With Each Other In The FACT that the Ocean belongs to Ocean Animals/Fish, etc.

      We Humans are a Weed Species, invading all possible Space on The Planet and eventually, the travellable universe.

      It Will Be Humans That Invade Some other Peaceful Planet as We Have Long Feared That Be Done To Us.

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    2. David Roth

      Postgrad History Student

      In reply to Grant Preller

      Troy Buswell is not a person with any credibility. Instead of reacting like the sheriff in 'Jaws', we should first take a good calm look to see if (1) great white numbers have actually increased vs number of person-hours surfed (2) if culling great whites is cost-effective and feasible (2) and if so, (3) will culling have unintended adverse effects on the ocean ecosystems. For example, killing a top predator will mean that other predators will take its place, who may in turn attack humans.
      Will we be expending large sums to (maybe) save some lives or is that money more effectively spent on road safety or health?

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    3. Grant Preller

      logged in via Facebook

      In reply to John Hopkins

      Certainly don't disagree with the weed species analogy but that is so far to say we are simply the most incredibly intelligent and adaptable creatures the world has ever seen and I would love to experience the joy of visiting another planet that we've managed to colonise... imagine if there was really good surf without any great whites - a utopia that we can only dream of! But that said, I'm not quite sure where that line of argument was heading as the only angle I can see you may be attempting to imply is that as a 'weed species' we should accept a few human fatalities because there are so many of us...

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    4. Grant Preller

      logged in via Facebook

      In reply to David Roth

      That's a bit of a throw-away comment don't you think? Troy Boswell is the treasurer, minister of fisheries and the minister for transport so a number of people obviously hold him in very high regard.

      What more study do we need to realise that there are more interactions with great whites than ever before? SW WA has the highest rate for fatal shark attacks in the world... anyone who thinks they are endangered must be living in la-la land. No one is calling for a total eradication of the great…

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    5. John Hopkins

      Social Engineer

      In reply to Grant Preller

      We have been actively destroying the Ocean Environment for Thousands of years. Our species is SO good at killing. In fact, we have Temporarily allowed "Surfing" by previously killing the big sharks, aka Vic Hislop (Shockingly Efficient Big Shark Killer). We have already removed the "Big Whites" & now after many year of protection, a mere FEW big ones have JUST managed to hang on, maybe cause Vic is getting too old to RAPE the Ocean any longer.

      The bigger the White, the more often they tend to…

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    6. David Roth

      Postgrad History Student

      In reply to Grant Preller

      Well, no actually, it's not a throw-away comment. Check Buswell's Wikipedia entry for yourself if you don't believe me. He was dumped as leader by his own party because of multiple issues, including unacceptable behaviour and misuse of a government credit card. The point of my comments on great whites was that large expenditures of public money should be based on evidence, not emotion. In any case, the available evidence says that great whites are on the Red List for vulnerable species, according…

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    7. Grant Preller

      logged in via Facebook

      In reply to John Hopkins

      i'm NOT too Sure WHAT you ARE Getting AT other than proposing that humans EXIST OutSide the WORLDS ECO-Systems However I'D suggest that contrary to what yOU seem to beliEVE, every ECOsystem we interact with is, by DEFAULT, another one of "OUR" ECOsystems which includes almost every major ECOsystem that exists in the World today.

      ALSO, I'm pretty Sure Vic Hislop (aka "Shockingly Efficient Big Shark Killer") wasn't responsible for the every shark that has been hunted to-date however given THAT…

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    8. Craig Read

      logged in via Twitter

      In reply to David Roth

      "Troy Buswell is not a person with any credibility. Instead of reacting like the sheriff in 'Jaws', we should first take a good calm look to see if (1) great white numbers have actually increased vs number of person-hours surfed (2) if culling great whites is cost-effective and feasible (2) and if so, (3) will culling have unintended adverse effects on the ocean ecosystems. For example, killing a top predator will mean that other predators will take its place, who may in turn attack humans.
      Will…

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    9. Mike Swinbourne

      logged in via Facebook

      In reply to Grant Preller

      "....... anyone who thinks they are endangered must be living in la-la land....."

      Either that - or they are a marine biologist who spends their time conduting science; collecting and analysing data and evidence.

      "....No one is calling for a total eradication of the great white species, but simply a managed cull of those larger sharks 4m+ that are believed to the main culprits of fatal attacks...."

      Let me get this straight so I understand you. You want us to go around and kill off all the…

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    10. David Roth

      Postgrad History Student

      In reply to Craig Read

      As per my previous comment, great whites are on the Red List for vulnerable species, according to the IUCN - http://www.iucnredlist.org/details/3855/0 and moreover, great whites are not responsible for all attacks. The most recent case in NSW was apparently a tiger shark attack.

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    11. Nick Kermode

      logged in via email @hotmail.com

      In reply to Grant Preller

      Hi Grant,
      Sharks are an animal that take up much of my life and when the topic of culls comes up as it does from time to time it makes me ashamed to be human. This feeling comes from a long time interest in sharks, years of travelling the world diving with and filming them and talking to guys like John West of ASAF and other shark biologists about them. I like to have a respectful dialogue with people who take your view but to have a productive dialogue you need to have a common starting…

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    12. Grant Preller

      logged in via Facebook

      In reply to Nick Kermode

      Nick, thanks for the very well argued reply... no, I don't have much understanding on the biology of sharks but am fascinated by them. It has me puzzled that experts are constantly stating how endangered great whites are yet GW shark sightings and GW encounters seems to have exploded. Yes - my pseudo-oxymoronic statement has no basis other than what I hear from friends, in the papers or see on the news. But, that said, when you read or hear anecdotes from people that are able to subjectively compare…

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    13. Nick Kermode

      logged in via email @hotmail.com

      In reply to Grant Preller

      Hi Grant, here is my reply to Peter James below it may go some way to answering your question about why experts are still rating the great white as "vulnerable to extinction".

      "White sharks in Australia have been protected for around 15 years and given the natural pressures on the shark population (not even considering fishing pressures), their long maturation (12-18 years), their long gestation period of maybe 18 months, that they most likely only breed every 3 years, have low numbers of offspring…

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    14. Joe Smythe

      Fisherman

      In reply to Nick Kermode

      Interesting points Nick. While I certainly believe great whites are not as endanger'd as they are made out to be I want my management decisions based on hard data and not people's perceptions or personal biases towards any one species or genus. The puzzling thing in the recent spate of attacks has been there concentration in Western Australia and not the other states where whites are "commonly" found. WA having more amenable weather, warmer water and more populated and used coastline then say the…

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    15. Nick Kermode

      logged in via email @hotmail.com

      In reply to Joe Smythe

      Hi Joe, nice to hear from you again. I think it is fantastic you can distinguish between anecdotes and hard data, and agree with you on which one to back for management decisions. I don't disagree that there may be more whites around locally in SW WA. Reasons are important though. As a fisherman do you think that better fisheries management (???) has created a bit of a glut of food there for them? There has been a documented reduction in effort, permits and active vessels in this general area according…

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    16. Joe Smythe

      Fisherman

      In reply to Nick Kermode

      Hi Nick, as you know I am strong defender of fisheries management in Australia give or take a few criticisms. I wouldn't go as far to say that good management has created a "food glut" for them in recent years. Australian fisheries management has generally been effective in preventing catastrophic collapse of targeted fish species and maintaining marine ecosystems with enough forage species to maintain populations of larger predators. Of course you know the exceptions to this-orange roughy and gemfish…

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    17. Nick Kermode

      logged in via email @hotmail.com

      In reply to Joe Smythe

      Wow Joe thanks very much, a very informative comment and some pragmatic thoughts about what currently may be happening. You really know your stuff. I will be sharing your comment with some friends, and look forward to further conversation.

      Thanks again.

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  15. Greg North

    Retired Engineer

    There's information out there on being aware of crocs in the top end, don't go swimming in particular areas etc. and likewise most surfers are likely aware of the fact that sharks could be around in different popular places and in fact it might even be increased popularity that gets loaded onto a sharks memory.
    I read many years ago now about the use of protective devices that Paul and Mike have referred to and perhaps just as board straps have become a necessity to help prevent loose boards having…

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    1. Grant Preller

      logged in via Facebook

      In reply to Greg North

      Very valid point which I failed to comment on in my previous posts...

      Yes, shark devices are a really reasonable call however they are not really at a practical level of development. One big issue is that they are not proven to be 100% effective with some conflicting reports on how well they deter. In addition, there are rumors that they may also attract curious sharks to see what the strange electrical vibrations are, which is not that good for other water users in the area that are not wearing…

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    2. David Roth

      Postgrad History Student

      In reply to Grant Preller

      I'm not sure about the argument that if you, as a surfer, knowingly and voluntarily expose yourself to a higher level of risk, the government should fund you as a 'primary option'. Should the taxpayer fund base jumpers, rock climbers and so on? It would be nice to eliminate all risks, but taxpayer funds go only so far and rational allocations have to be made (I'm not saying that either political party doesn't make bad ones). By far the greatest risks are in health and road safety.

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    3. Grant Preller

      logged in via Facebook

      In reply to David Roth

      Yeah - 'primary option' was probably the wrong term... I meant rather that this should be a 'key area where any additional research funding should be allocated' because these small personal devices that emit electrical current to repel sharks have been theorized to be used on a larger scale, positioned at the end of groynes etc... they have enormous potential and are a viable alternative to the current shark netting system that kills anything that happens to get stuck in the grip (aka "Shockingly…

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    4. David Roth

      Postgrad History Student

      In reply to Grant Preller

      Sorry, but 20 victims in 10 years is not a 'real risk' relative to other risks. This compares to ca. 100 drowning deaths per year in ocean or beach locations, which is a much more serious problem. There is no evidence I am aware of that either drowning deaths or shark attacks have affected tourist numbers - the healthy numbers you quote point in the other direction. In any case, spending money on preventing tourists drowning (the greater risk) seems a much higher priority to me. And road injuries…

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    5. Grant Preller

      logged in via Facebook

      In reply to David Roth

      Shark attacks don't affect tourism numbers in a coastal town?!?

      I'm sure the multitude of regional tourism associations based on the coastlines around the world would strongly disagree and I'd guess would rate shark attack close to #1 on their lists of things that will affect tourist numbers - I think South West WA stats are about 7 fatalities in the last 5 years giving WA the title of having most highest shark attack record / rate in the world. I'll have to do some research on impacts to tourism…

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    6. David Roth

      Postgrad History Student

      In reply to Grant Preller

      Grant, you keep ignoring my arguments about priorities and relative risks. There is no point in continuing. If you were so concerned about tourism as you claim (it wasn't your original argument), then you would worry about road accidents and drownings first. But I think you are confusing your priorities with national priorities.
      As for Buswell, the unsavoury incidents he was involved in were on official premises, as well as private property, including grabbing someone's testicles on the floor of Parliament. This sort of thing brings Parliament into disrepute. Plus misuse of a government car and credit card for a sexual assignation with another MP. And misuse of office to organise a driving test for his son ahead of many others. His irresponsible and inexcusable behaviour in Parliament and out of it doesn't augur well either for his management skills or for the authenticity and credibility of his campaigns against sharks.

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    7. Grant Preller

      logged in via Facebook

      In reply to David Roth

      No, tourism was not my initial argument but you raised the question relating to the government prioritizing funds... tourism is one of many reasons government show an interest in this issue with public safety being another - given the media and emotion attached to this I'm sure it has gone up a few notches on their priority list.

      A really important note is that the government calling for possible culling is the Dept of Fisheries, not Tourism.

      On Boswell, personally I couldn't care what or…

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    8. David Roth

      Postgrad History Student

      In reply to Grant Preller

      Buswell's private life is of no concern to me either, but his antics in public life, in Parliament and on official premises while on duty are. And some of his 'private parties' were actually business meetings in his official roles.
      One of my previous points was that we shouldn't allow 'media and emotion' to overrule rational and thought out policies.
      Another point which I forgot was that great whites are not responsible for all shark attacks. The most recent attacker in NSW was identified as…

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    9. Peter Clark

      logged in via Facebook

      In reply to David Roth

      Why not. Other sports get heaps of funding. Surfing gets very little.

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    10. Mike Swinbourne

      logged in via Facebook

      In reply to David Roth

      Hi David

      Not sure if you will get this response so late, but I would highly doubt that grey nurse sharks would be involved in any attacks on humans. They are the most docile of all sharks, and are completely harmless to humans.

      I have dived with huge numbers of grey nurse sharks in the Coffs Harbour area (up to 20 at a time - there are a number of breeding areas nearby), and they are extremely timid creatures. They are far more scared of you than you could possibly be of them.

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    11. David Roth

      Postgrad History Student

      In reply to Mike Swinbourne

      I was just recalling from my childhood in Sydney, when there was a media panic about Grey Nurse sharks. My Dad only read 'red top' papers, so I guess the info wasn't very reliable.

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  16. John Hopkins

    Social Engineer

    I'm seeing almost 100% agreement that Sharks should be left the hell alone & people should use their "Subjective Sense" (There is NO SUCH THING as COMMON SENSE as Each & Every Person, Has their OWN DEFINITION of What they Consider to be "Common Sense" & NO TWO PERSONS VERSIONS of "Common Sense" match up 100%. Hence; "Subjective Sense") If One CHOOSES To PLAY In Sharks HOME ENVIRONMENT.

    I Doubt That EVEN ONE MINISTER WILL LISTEN, Even Though As Far As I'm Concerned, The People Have Spoken.

    This…

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    1. Grant Preller

      logged in via Facebook

      In reply to John Hopkins

      I almost went to check a few sites with reference to the "100% in agreement that sharks should be left alone" but unfortunately the rest of your post has convinced me that this line of discussion if going no where fast...

      Point 1... Australia heading for a civil war?
      Really?
      Have you ever been anywhere where civil war was about to break-out? I can guarantee the tension in the air is a little tense that the current political climate we're currently experiencing.

      Point 2... More than 90% say that cannabis should be legalized? Really?

      Wow - is that the same crazy website where almost everyone believes the US government has an Area 51 with alien spaceships? Oh, I forget, we're going to invade another planet soon too, aren't we!

      Sorry Intelligent DUDE - this'll be it from me to you as unfortunately you've dropped the bar too low this time - thanks for that entertainment anyway...

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    2. Peter Clark

      logged in via Facebook

      In reply to John Hopkins

      Hey Intelligent Dude, you certainly aren't serious are you? Some pretty strange and totally irrelevant stuff. But I agree with Gran,t certainly entertaining. Now I might not agree with the opinions of the pro shark camp, but at least the rest try and present an intelligent argument on a subject they believe in, but yours ....

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  17. Peter James

    logged in via email @optusnet.com.au

    Can I firstly say that I do not advocate a cull of sharks, but I am finding it increasingly difficult to take some shark experts seriously. Can we please get some sensible facts? Scientists and experts seem hell bent on discrediting anyone who says that shark populations have increased. Their main rationale for reports that shark populations are now larger is that human populations have increased and very simply more people are now looking for sharks - well really is that the best we can get from…

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    1. David Roth

      Postgrad History Student

      In reply to Peter James

      Peter, here is some evidence about great whites - http://www.iucnredlist.org/details/3855/0
      Scientists have to go on the available evidence. If the anecdotal evidence was verifiable and reliable it would have been taken into account - may I suggest that scientists who have studied the subject for years are in a better position to do that than you are. I can assure you that scientists don't 'rely' on discrediting anecdotal evidence. They don't work that way. Empirical evidence is there, a quick Google will point to many shark studies, for example http://www.shark.org.au/ . The fact that you do not like their conclusions is not evidence of their dishonesty or incompetence. If you do not agree with scientists' results, please give us a reasonable argument why, instead of impugning their integrity and competence. Btw sharks near Scarborough Beach is nothing new - I saw them in the 60s.

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    2. Peter James

      logged in via email @optusnet.com.au

      In reply to David Roth

      David, thanks for the effort but have you read any of the sites you referred to. The first is extremely informative but has no real information about shark numbers. In fact it is filled with statements such as "without any evidence to substantiate this claim" and of course "Population trend?Unknown". The second site has nothing at all. My point is this, given the lack of pure quantitative evidence and seemingly contradictory observations from the public, "experts" need to accept they are wrong or at least offer data that supports there claims. Once we have all of the information we will be in a better position to understand why there has been an increase in shark activity and indeed, if this activity threatens human life, a better solution to ensure the safety of our children who, no matter what experts recommend, will continue to use our oceans.

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    3. David Roth

      Postgrad History Student

      In reply to Peter James

      The first article says the species is on the threatened list. Is that not clear enough? You could try http://www.flmnh.ufl.edu/fish/sharks/isaf/isaf.htm if you want more data. Why don't you Google on 'shark attacks research' or 'shark attacks' yourself if you find my references unsatisfactory?Or you could try the CSIRO page http://www.csiro.au/Outcomes/Oceans/Marine-Life/Sharks-index-page/CSIRO-white-shark-research.aspx or you could try the South African page http://www.oceans-research.com/publications.html
      If you don't want to look for yourself, why do you make such statements as 'once we have all the information'. The quantitative evidence is incomplete, scientists make the best estimates on the basis of the available evidence. The lack of quantitative evidence reinforces my earlier point about not undertaking hasty and unconsidered action based on anecdotes and media hype.

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    4. Peter James

      logged in via email @optusnet.com.au

      In reply to David Roth

      David, settle down, I think we are in furious agreement here. "The quantitative evidence is incomplete, scientists make the best estimates on the basis of the available evidence" and no one is suggesting "hasty and unconsidered action...".

      You continue to send me to websites about shark attacks, but what I am asking for is hard data on shark populations. It is clear your referenced article says whites are on the threatened species list but give me some evidence to support this classification. Lastly, what we are talking about here is shark activity in WA not some third world or Asian country that has been plundered beyond repair because of a weird cultural belief. Can you honestly tell me that shark activity in WA has not increased in recent years?

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    5. Nick Kermode

      logged in via email @hotmail.com

      In reply to Peter James

      Hi Peter,
      Putting a number on the amount of sharks is a sisyphean task. Its like trying to count trees in a forest only you're blindfolded and they keep moving, sometimes to different forests. No one will ever have a very accurate answer.
      The argument presented here by Ryan is certainly very plausible as I don't think anyone would argue that beach visitations are increasing rapidly, thus increasing the odds of a shark interaction. Also as many as 5000 new boats are registered each year…

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    6. David Roth

      Postgrad History Student

      In reply to Peter James

      I was suggesting that you do your own research and read some of the scientific papers to get a better understanding of their methods and the difficulties scientists face. You need to do this before you ask them to 'admit they are wrong'. The scientific consensus is that white sharks are threatened; this is from studies in the US, Canada and elsewhere. You can't arbitrarily separate off 3rd world countries because we know that sharks migrate thousands of kilometres. While I fully accept that each…

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    7. Grant Preller

      logged in via Facebook

      In reply to David Roth

      David and Nick and the rest... great to see this forum still in furious discussion because this is an issue that needs to be interrogated. A few points that are being overlooked is the core message of the original article which was discussing the significant increase in fatal attacks by great whites in South West Australia.

      Statistically we aren't comparing the 100 000 000 visitations around Australia but approximately 1 fatal attack on a surfer by a specific species of shark within a 300km stretch…

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    8. Shirley Birney

      logged in via email @tpg.com.au

      In reply to Grant Preller

      “WA is now regarded as THE shark attack capitol (sic) of the world and statistically, that is also significant.”

      Grant, it is not that significant when Florida has had 271 shark attacks since 2001 compared to Australia’s 141. Australia (WA) had two shark attack fatalities in 2012 (down from 2011) and South Africa had three. Globally, seven fatalities resulted from unprovoked shark attacks in 2012, down from the 2011 total of 13.

      Despite unsubstantiated reports of shark numbers increasing, only 2 shark attack fatalities have occurred in Australia during 2013 though I daresay that board sports have increased significantly.

      The "superior" species is yet to learn that they are not the centre of the universe and hyperbole can never be a just reason for shark culls and further desecration of our fragile marine environment.

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    9. David Roth

      Postgrad History Student

      In reply to Grant Preller

      Grant, the statistics you are talking about are insufficient to draw firm conclusions from. Ask a statistician. And there are far more attacks elsewhere. You forgot to mention that the 'Minister for Fisheries' is Troy Buswell, a politician who is not 'well respected'; a man in search of a headline. Please don't confuse me with an 'emotional environmentalist', I just think that 'management' will be ineffective and therefore a waste of public money - the ocean is not the Serengeti. And it may have unintended adverse consequences for the marine environment.

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    10. Mike Swinbourne

      logged in via Facebook

      In reply to Grant Preller

      Grant

      You appear to be still favouring the option of culling sharks, despite everything that everyone has been saying. We are not 'emotional environmentalists' - in fact, I am a very hard-nosed environmentalist who more often than not accepts pragmatic solutions. But importantly, I am also fairly savvy when it comes to how the environment works.

      I also know how politicians work, and just because a Minister may be in favour of a culling program is absolutely no guarantee that it is either…

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    11. Peter Clark

      logged in via Facebook

      In reply to Shirley Birney

      Since playing around with statistics Shirley here are some to consider. Florida with 19,300, 000 people has had 11 fatal shark attacks since 1882 and two since 2001. West Australia alone with a population of only 2,500,000 has had 91 recorded shark attacks including 11 fatal attacks ( five in a twelve month period ) since year 2000.In that same period Australia had 18 fatal attacks. Statistically WA should only have had 2 fatal attacks compared to the Australian numbers and nothing to compared to Florida. So to dismiss the known fact that shark numbers especially Great Whites have and the unfortunate title of shark capitol of the world is interesting indeed.

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    12. Peter Clark

      logged in via Facebook

      In reply to Peter Clark

      That should read 91 recorded shark attacks since records started including 11 fatal attacks since year 2000.

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    13. Shirley Birney

      logged in via email @tpg.com.au

      In reply to Peter Clark

      Peter, the Taronga Conservation Society reports that “in 2012, white sharks were involved with 8 of the 14 cases of unprovoked shark encounters. Seven involved surfboard riders (one x fatality) and one fatal bite on a SCUBA diver. A Tiger shark was involved in 2 encounters, one on a surfboard rider and a snorkeler. A Bull shark injured 2 surfboard riders and an unidentified Whaler shark bumped a surfboard.

      "The figures for Australian shark encounter injuries and fatalities remain very small in…

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    14. Peter Clark

      logged in via Facebook

      In reply to Shirley Birney

      My apologies Shirley, yes three fatal shark attacks since 2001 in Florida. And another error by me, the five fatalities in WA over 2011-12 occurred in an eleven month period, not twelve. Now you may call that creative with official figures but it is a fact- 4th Sept 2011, 10th October 2011, 22 October 2011, 31 March 2012, 14 July 2012. I don't see how that is creative. Also your reference to Florida stats are irrelevant as I tried to state previously since the WA population is only 13 % of Florida's…

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    15. Ivor Biggun

      Dr of Applied Science and Whippet Trainer

      In reply to Peter Clark

      Peter if you don't mind my saying, and no offence intended whatsoever, I don't think you are taking this debate very seriously are you? I mean you come out with all this waffle about where is the evidence, then you sprout statistics, and make errors doing so. what is your point? That we don't know exactly how many sharks are out there, but you think there are lots more now than before because you've seen more from your boat when you go fishing, is that the extent of your thinking?

      Lets be honest here (no offence intended) even if the 'killer' shark population doubled someone venturing in the water has less chance of being killed than someone walking along and being hit by a falling meteorite.

      Now Im all for your holier than thou wheres the evidence on the exact number of sharks, but tell me this Peter who is going to get in the water and count them, you?

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    16. Peter Clark

      logged in via Facebook

      In reply to Ivor Biggun

      Ivor, I take this very seriously. Yes the error was me stating two fatal attacks rather than three in Florida since 2001. The comment about the five fatal attacks in an eleven month period is no error. I had initially stated a 12 month period over 2011 and 2012 but since I was accused of being creative I thought I would spell it out. Anyway the statistics are in response to another's post who tried to debunk Western Australia's unfortunate title as the shark attack capital of the world despite our…

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    17. Ivor Biggun

      Dr of Applied Science and Whippet Trainer

      In reply to Peter Clark

      Peter, Peter, Peter calm down lad. I did say twice no offence intended, so Im sorry if I caused offence.

      I myself love the ocean, so much Id drink it if I could, I go fishing, swimming, boating, diving, snorkelling, but not surfing (I don't have the legs for it, or the hair) and I am against culling sharks full stop.

      That said I am for reducing the number of large sharks up to and including Great Whites, but not by going out and slaughtering them just because they are there. Let me tell you…

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  18. Daniel Norrie

    Economist

    "...we need to better understand exactly what causes sharks to bite people".

    This is when academia gets a little out of hand. It is a complex problem, but recommending further pontification is not novel nor of value. The answer you are looking for is that sharks bite people because they are hungry... Give me a citation?

    Regardless I do not believe that a different finding that sharks bite people because they are a) angry, b) emotionally instable, c) curious... blah blah, would yield insight…

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  19. Shirley Birney

    logged in via email @tpg.com.au

    Researchers suggest that reported catch statistics for sharks are incomplete, however, they also state that the estimated tonnage of shark kills from reported and unreported landings, discards and shark finning for many shark populations exceeds the rebound rates and explains the ongoing decline in most shark populations for which data exists (estimated from the life history information on 62 shark species).

    Researchers are calling for urgent measures to rebuild depleted shark populations to…

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    1. Kenneth Mazzarol
      Kenneth Mazzarol is a Friend of The Conversation.

      Retired Auto Engineer and teacher

      In reply to Shirley Birney

      Well said Shirley. A couple of sages in the past have said that, 'the temper of a Nation may be judged by the way it treat its animals'. I was hoping we Australians could be world leaders/role models, in animal suffrage. But it seem that love of money always seems to blind those most able to make a difference.

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  20. Ray Stone

    logged in via Facebook

    "Research has shown the number of shark bite incidents occurring each year appears to be directly related to the amount of time people spend in the sea."

    As in, there is a correlation between these two statistics?

    Two guys drive up the coast from Lancelin and surf near Wedge island early one morning. One of them is attacked. Two guys paddle out at Umbies early on a saturday morning - one of them is attacked. One guy paddles out at South Point early one morning - he is attacked.

    Surfers have been doing this for years - surfing the same remote stretches of WA coast - escaping crowds. Surely population increase has made little or no difference to this behaviour?

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    1. Ray Stone

      logged in via Facebook

      In reply to Ray Stone

      Moreover, any translation of general population increase to the number and behaviour of surfers and divers would surely lose any statistical significance, if indeed there was any to begin with.

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  21. Ivor Biggun

    Dr of Applied Science and Whippet Trainer

    I think if someone came into my home, uninvited and looked around, stole some food out of my fridge, peed in my toilet, had a dip in my pool I think Id be inclined to attack that person.........even if I wasn't hungry. Should I then be hunted down and 'culled'? people who know me may well say yes, but that's not the point

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  22. John Brady

    logged in via Facebook

    Evidence suggests that culling does actually work.

    The article’s authors say that culling does not work, but support this assertion with only two references:

    - The 1st reference cited shark-killing in Hawaii (between 1959 and 1976!), but an abstract of the cited work complains that the catch data did not allow conclusions, and called for further research.

    - The 2nd reference quotes the DPI report showing that 17% of NSW attacks occurred at netted beaches, and infers this as a failure…

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