Sign at the end of Fish Hoek beach

Article: Christopher Neff on shark bite prevention

Christopher Neff studies the complex interplay of politics and shark bites on humans. We have heard him speak at the Save Our Seas Foundation, and another article he wrote – that argues that the words we use to describe shark bites or attacks on humans are important – has also featured here.

In January of this year Neff wrote for The Conversation, describing the Western Australian government’s response to a spate of shark fatalities and bites that has left politicians flailing about trying to come up with solutions that made them feel effective. Unfortunately their suggestions – shark hunts and culls – have no scientific basis whatsoever.

On Sunday, the policy [pre-emptive hunting of dangerous white sharks*] was in action when an imminent threat to beach-goers was declared and a catch and kill order was issued for dangerous great white sharks.

However, so imminent was the threat that they could not find any great white sharks for two days. So imminent was the hostility from the white sharks, that they ignored two lines set with bait. All the while, the public was out of the water, alerted to the potential risks and the beaches were closed.

Neff argues that real shark bite prevention involves public education and an acknowledgement of the risks involved in entering the water (with a distinction for different types of watersports, spear fishing being the most dangerous). He mentions recent South African research indicating that water temperature, for example, is a good indicator of the likelihood of spotting a white shark. Thomas Peschak has some suggestions for shark safety in his book South Africa’s Great White Shark. Cape Town’s Shark Spotter program encourages swimmers and surfers to leave the water when a shark is in the vicinity, rather than attempting to remove the possibility of any sharks passing by at all (a fool’s errand).

Politicians drive BMWs (some of them), determine public policy, enact laws and allocate funds (jobs that scientists don’t want to do), but ideally their decisions should be based on evidence and science. This is something that we should constantly strive for.

Read the full article here.

* An update on the Western Australia situation was that the catch and kill order on white sharks was rescinded a few days later.

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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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