Wednesday, 17 August 2011

Naughty Sharks in the Seychelles






Fresh from my return from getting very close to the world's biggest Bull Sharks, the news has broken of a second fatality in the Seychelles in a fortnight, this time the victim is from the North West, not too far from my home city and one of the two likely culprits in both attacks is the Bull Shark.

As is the norm in these cases, the reporting in the British media has been pretty sensationalist and I even heard earlier today that someone on the radio suggesting the attacking shark could have been a Whale Shark!

A bit of perspective is needed here, we don't really have the details as to exactly what happened, as is often the case with the reporting of shark attacks, the public only really get about five per cent of the actual story. What is clear is that the Seychelles are in the tropics and you have a better chance of finding sharks closer to shore than in other parts of the world, that humans are coming into contact with sharks should surprise nobody.

The rogue shark claim is already being made by every man and his dog, people who know nothing about shark attacks, even less about sharks and who's knee jerk verbal diarrhoea does more harm than good. Victor Coppleson, who first established the rogue shark theory, described a rogue shark as one which "developed a taste for human flesh as easy prey," essentially, a shark which swims around looking for people to eat. Rogue tigers? Yes, rogue lions? Yes, Rogue crocodiles? Yes, but rogue sharks? Not a chance. For animals who supposedly develop a taste for human flesh, why are the victims not consumed? Also, how do these supposed rogue sharks actually develop this "taste for human flesh" in the first place!?


Let's look at the facts, Bull Sharks are big dangerous animals, no question about that, likewise the Tiger Shark, the other possible culprit, but are they prowling the world's tropical beaches looking for people to eat? Of course they're not! Having had the privilege to have spent a month in extremely close proximity to up to 70 Bull Sharks at one time, I can say with some authority that they are intelligent, cautious animals with an astonishing turn of pace and agility for an animal of such large bulk. It should also be noted that they are big and very, very powerful, you do not want to be on the end of one of these sharks in full flow because they really do pack a punch but not once did I feel under any threat at all and these were usually feeding sharks. When they weren't in feeding mode, they were even more cautious, they are not the indiscriminate killers the media and Shark Week would have you believe.

The Seychelles has had only two fatalities from shark bite in the last fifty years, not bad going for the tropics and to provide some perspective, there have been more fatalities from shark bite in the Mediterranean in the last twenty years than the Seychelles in the last fifty...

So why were the victims attacked? Honestly, I don't know, I wasn't there, nor am I there now to help find out but please, do me a favour, discount the "mistaken identity" theory immediately. The water in The Seychelles is crystal clear and be it a Bull or a Tiger, they would not assume a snorkeller or diver was a turtle because guess what, people look nothing like turtles! I'm just waiting for the "shark thought he was a seal" quote as well, yep, those famous Indian Ocean Seychellois Seals that hang around near to beaches...


The interesting factor in these attacks, much like those in Egypt, is that the injuries were caused by multiple bites. Yes, most attack statistics show that the majority of attacks consist only one bite but these stats are often taken from incidents involving surfers and Great Whites which behave differently in attacks on people to both Bulls and Tigers. Both species are more disposed to biting a victim more than once and without the barrier of a surfboard, the victim is often more accessible to the attacking shark. The first thing most victims will do when bitten by a shark is fight back, if the shark is behaving in an unusually aggressive manner, particularly a Bull Shark, it will most likely respond accordingly and fight back itself, that's when you really have a problem.

Is it possible the same shark is responsible for both attacks? yes but is it likely? Probably not. If it is the same shark, why did it take two weeks to attack again? It may be two individuals of the same species, maybe two separate species, the victims reportedly suffered enormous wounds so at the risk of upsetting the "cuddly sharks" brigade and those who don't believe sharks attack humans with intent, these were clearly acts of aggression on the part of the shark.

But...

Let's not get carried away, sharks don't attack humans with malevolence because they are evil and want to do harm to people for the sake of doing harm. It may be uncomfortable for some people to accept but shark attacks are a natural part of life, incredibly rare of course but the sharks are just doing what sharks do. If you go into the sea where there are sharks, you might be lucky enough to see a shark, you may also be unlucky enough to get bitten by one, it's part and parcel of swimming in areas where we know large, predatory sharks inhabit. Sometimes, despite the human need for it, we can't rationalise a shark attack or explain exactly why it happened, sometimes, sharks attack people for no other reason than the shark has decided it is worth the effort, it really can be as simple as that. Forget what Erich Ritter says, "shark incidents," "shark accidents," "negative shark/human interactions" and all that crap, these were "shark attacks."

That's not to say that these attacks weren't caused by various different factors, sea temperature, human encroachment and impact on the sharks' natural habitat, fishing activity, dumping into the sea...There could be a number of contributing factors to why these attacks took place but at this stage we just don't know so it's pointless prevaricating until we know more.

What is clear is that these are tragic events and the likely shark cull, initiated by a panicking tourism industry makes it all the more tragic because people have to start accepting what may be difficult for them to do so, every year, sharks will kill a small number of people, an infinitesimally small proportion of those who enjoy the beach every year all around the world, but that is of no comfort to the friends and families of the unfortunate victims. 

What we must do is accept this, it's no good claiming sharks aren't dangerous, that they're cuddly and friendly (they're not), nor is it any use claiming sharks are blood thirsty murderers intent on eating every swimmer they encounter (they're not). Sharks are sharks and sharks do what sharks do, this was a case of sharks doing what they do very well I'm afraid, if you want to avoid being bitten by a shark, stay out of the water, if you want to use the ocean, you must accept you have to start playing by their rules.

If the Seychellois officials initiate a shark cull, it will be an absolute tragedy, hasn't enough blood been shed already?

6 comments:

The Saipan Blogger said...

Meanwhile in the United States of America, 10 people died while falling out of bed last week. Where's that report?!

OfficetoOcean said...

Or did they? Could it have ben the man in the red and green sweater with knives for fingers?

Shark Diver said...

No they fell out of bed...

OfficetoOcean said...

That's what "they" want you to believe... ;)

Three more attacks now, two of whuch were in Russia!

Duncan said...

We want everything to be 100% safe in this day and age. But it's just not possible.
The way the press reacts to stories like this is ridiculous. Anything to sell more advertising space.

OfficetoOcean said...

Exactly. Sometimes bad things happen to good people for no specific reason, it's just the way the world works. For the press to try to imply some kind of anti-human malice to an animal is ridiculous.

When you enter the ocean, the savannah or any other wild environment, you automatically become a potential part of the food chain.