A 3 metre great white rising towards the bait

Nothing new under the sun

The recent Ocearch/Shark Men controversy has gripped Cape Town’s water users and drawn some absolute fringe lunatics out of the woodwork, many of whom object to what they perceive to be the cruel and dangerous methods used to affix tags to the white sharks. I can’t say I’m overly comfortable with the idea of hooking a shark, tiring it out and then removing these massive creatures from the water and subjecting their organs to gravity’s pull, but after much thought and debate with Tony, and assurances from the scientists working with the Ocearch team, I have come to the conclusion that the benefits of this research far, far outweigh any brief discomfort that the sharks experience. Sharks that produce tracks like the ones shown here don’t appear to be overly affected by the tagging experience. Not everyone agrees, however.

I’ve been following the Southern Fried Science blog for over a year now. It’s interesting, science-based, accessible, and attracts comment and discussion from actual academics, grad students, and people who are working in the marine sciences. As frustration levels rose reading some of the comments of local “interested parties” regarding the Ocearch study, I remembered a remarkably similar controversy that was raised and largely resolved on the SFS blog over a year ago. It even had a similar group of protagonists.

The cause of the controversy was this still photograph, showing a great white shark in the Farallon Islands off California before it was tagged by the Shark Men under the leadership of Dr Michael Domeier (who is not involved in the current Ocearch study in South Africa), and one year later – looking decidedly the worse for wear:

Junior the great white shark
Junior the great white shark

You can read the article about this photograph, and the concerns it raised, here. Refreshingly, one of the writers of the SFS blog pursued this issue, gained access to the full video from which this still was taken, and in this article lays the issue to rest (Junior was bitten by another shark – by no means an unusual event if you’re a shark).

The comment sections on both articles are both informative and depressing, and many well-known (and notorious) names pop up over and over. It seems that my rant about do-nothing “shark activists” could be applied to some fame-seekers (with an ostensibly more scientific bent) on the other side of the Atlantic, too. We’ve seen many of the names that appear in the comments on these two blog posts show up in discussions of the local Ocearch work, trying to tear down the research and the individuals involved. The infighting, rivalry and the number of bizarre personal vendettas that appears to exist among individuals who should only have the welfare of the creatures they study or strive to protect is quite alarming.

This is a very good antidote to all of the petty back and forth. And this is a surprising and rational take on the issue from a very interested group of water users who will benefit hugely from the research – the Fish Hoek Surf Lifesaving Club.

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Clare

Lapsed mathematician, creator of order, formulator of hypotheses. Lover of the ocean, being outdoors, the bush, reading, photography, travelling (especially in Africa) and road trips.

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