Monday, 31 October 2011

To Cull or not to Cull? That is the (stupid) question...

Firstly, let me apologise for my relative silence the last couple of weeks, not only have I been obscenely busy working my way through a mountain of things to do in regards to both "Of Shark and Man" and "Behind Blue Glass" (updates to come on the latter shortly including details about its release) but I have also been in attendance again at this years Dive Show in Birmingham and have also had my monthly technological problems meaning my laptop has been in for repair.

Also, contrary to an email I received yesterday asking if what they had heard about me was true, no I am not dead, I can confirm that I was not, nor have I ever been, killed in a motorway accident!!

Anyway, on to business...

With the three recent fatalities in Western Australia, the spectre of a shark cull has loomed large with echoes of JAWS and the Australian Fisheries Minister giving the go ahead to catch and kill the "killer shark." There are several problems with this, as the wonderful Valerie states in the video, how on earth can the authorities ensure they catch what they believe to be the lone shark responsible? The method of drum lining for sharks is hardly selective and how will they know if any shark they catch is responsible for any of the attacks? It also raises the nonsense theory of the "rogue shark" again, that is, a shark which actually swims around with a taste for human flesh, looking for humans to eat, in other words, something which doesn't exist so in effect, the Australian government is authorising a witch hunt, a hunt as worthwhile as trying to catch a fart in a fishing net.

Given my enforced absence and late arrival onto the scene commenting on this story, there is no point in me discussing the attacks in any detail, instead I want to focus on something else which has barely been mentioned and which, in my opinion, could have serious ramifications for sharks around the globe.

If you are one of the thousands of people partaking in the various incarnations of the brilliant "Occupy Wall Street" campaign or indeed, an ordinary football supporter in the UK, you will have a decent grasp of the hypocrisy of governments when it comes to the enforcement of laws, by that I mean that laws exist to stop you or I doing certain things or behaving in a certain way, for example, unprovoked violence against another person is an offence punishable by law, that is unless it's the police assaulting ordinary people with no justification at the behest of the government, then it's seemingly OK and although I'm veering towards digressing here, it's this moving of the goal posts and its relevance to this shark cull that needs to be addressed.

The Great White Shark is a protected species in various parts of the world including Australia, where law dictates that to catch and kill one is an illegal offence. That is, unless the government is killing them, then it seems, much like the physical abuse of people exercising their freedom of speech and expression, it becomes OK.

When the government decides to bend their own rules based on nothing more than an attempt to appease a minority of it's citizens, it makes a mockery of all the laws it places on its people. What would now stop a commercial shark fisherman asking why, if it's OK for the government to kill a protected and vulnerable species, is it not OK for him to do so? If the government are telling him the Great White Shark is in need of protection then going out and killing them themselves, were they telling him the truth about this shark's vulnerable status in the first place. How would the upholders of the law react to an ordinary fisherman bringing a Great White Shark into dock, would they look to prosecute him and if so, how would they react if he (quite rightly in a perverse way) were to say "well, you're doing it, why can't I?"

The Australian government needs to have a word with itself, they either protect the Great White Shark or they don't. I'm gonna be honest here and it may piss a few people off, the Australian government's attitude to serious shark conservation is a joke, a backwards, unfunny joke, just look at this year's reversal of the laws protecting Sand Tiger Sharks around Fish Rock in NSW by this idiot

That brings me on to my next point, the issue of shark culling isn't an occasional news story, it is actually something which happens every single year in Australia and South Africa with the archaic use of shark nets and this is the fourth suggested shark cull this year alone with The Seychelles, Mexico and Costa Rica also wanting in on the act.

The Seychelles is an interesting one because the use of shark nets has been recommended by a team of "experts" from South Africa including Geremy Cliff, the very same Geremy Cliff of the KZN Sharks Board, the same KZN Sharks Board who, it is alleged, sell the fins of the sharks they find dead in the nets, to the Asian Shark Fin industry which, if true, must raise questions as to whether their motives are for the nets remaining in place to continue to provide negligible protection to bathers at netted beaches or to continue to benefit financially from the unsustainable trade in shark fins?

Shark nets are even less selective than drumlines and with the Australian government's intentions to initiate a shark cull it now seems to me that in Australia, Great White Sharks are protected, that is unless they're killed in shark nets...or on drumlines...or indeed any other way the government deems appropriate when it decides to break its own laws.

There is some good to come out of this though, a quick googling of the Australian shark cull, shows overwhelming opposition in the media, from experts, from the scientific community and of course, the millions of facebook groups which have been set up in protest. We've come a long way, back when I started in shark conservation over twenty years ago (Jesus, I feel old) a cull was the standard response to an attack pretty much everywhere and were undertaken with almost zero opposition. Public perception is changing thankfully but until the world's governments actually start listening to their people (instead of attacking them with tear gas and batons) when they speak out for change, we won't achieve anywhere near what we need to. The only way we can make our leaders act responsibly is to speak out, act up and make them listen, after all, they work for us, not the other way around.


David Blatt said...

David, you've very neatly highlighted governments as well as individuals reactin to NIMBYism.

Remember, the one thing we learn from history, is that we never learn fromhistory. There is nothing more predictable than a governemnt's reaction to a crisis, real or imagined. They do whatever they feel their voters feel is right, whether it's right or not.

As you point out, the vast majority of (informed) public opinion is against culling, so the Aussie government have got this one completely wrong, on all levels.

The fact is, bad news sells, and stories like this will always make the headlines. Think about it, if shark attacks were commonplace they wouldn't be news. It's their very rarity that makes them news. Yet most people form their opinions by the headline and not the body copy, hence The Sun being the highest circulation national daily in the UK. That says as much about the readership as it does The Sun.

Keep fighting the good fight. We're right behind you (except whenthe shark is racing towards me. I may head in the other direction)

OfficetoOcean said...

Thanks David, brilliant comment! :)

Anonymous said...

You must mean "shark accident." "Shark attacks" don't exist.

OfficetoOcean said...

Let's not get carried away, shark attacks do indeed exist, of course the majority end up with the shark realising it has made a mistake in regards to the nutritional benefit or identity of its target, but the facts are, in the type of attacks we saw in WA, the shark meant to bite its victim and carried out a successful attack on the victim, in that it incapacitated it and killed it.

This all encompassing "shark accident" theory is Ritter-esque in its brilliant nonsense. Shark bites, attacks, incidents can only be addressed upon their merits in relation to independent and individual cases.

I have studied sharks and shark attacks for well over twenty years, I love sharks and hate their portrayal in the media, but ignoring the facts does no good to anyone, least of all the sharks themselves.

Thank you for commenting!