The great white hoax

Apparently someone forgot to tell the Australian government that there are sharks in the waters off of its coast.

Due to an upswing in the amount of shark attacks in the last few years near Australian shores, the Australian government has, in a fit of hysteria, sanctioned the culling of sharks off its borders in an effort to reduce these attacks. It all seems to me like a big publicity stunt.

Whatever the reasons are for this, the blame has been placed incorrectly. The Australian government should not blame the sharks. The sharks are just doing what comes naturally. The sharks are just doing what tigers do when a human foolishly falls into their exhibit at the zoo. Are people shocked that a bull in Pamplona gores you after it finally catches up to you? Naturally, the shark who has been gifted this opportunity is not going to turn it down.

Why would the Australian government hold the shark responsible when it is the human who was in error when they decided to wade into the ocean? An ocean which gives the shark every advantage. It can attack unseen and be swimming away with our leg as a trophy quicker than you can say Jaws.

 Speaking of Jaws, perhaps this is a movie the Australian government has seen one too many times. The poor great white shark has been unfairly persecuted for being a ruthless and efficient killing machine. It is just doing what it was designed to do. It was intended to be an apex predator—a predator that is supposed to be a challenge for anything that enters the shark’s domain, humans included.

 Let me use the following example to better illustrate why the Australian government is, in a word, stupid for their actions. The bears are the apex predators of the woods. However, there are effective measures that can be taken against bears. There is bear mace, and if all else fails you can try to play dead. However, even the biggest of these bears tops out at around 1,000 pounds. We have relatively effective measures against creatures which are huge when compared to an average human. As a result, we are not deterred from entering the woods.

Now, imagine if that same bear transformed to the size of a great white shark. Would you enter the woods knowing that your campsite could potentially be visited by a 4,000 pound bear? What recourse would you have against such a beast? You would have to secure your campsite perimeter with booby traps. What is there to deter the great white? Only a cage to protect you or a little button that emits some kind of signal which disturbs the shark and makes it go away. What good is that button going to do if the shark can attack unseen from below? Perhaps it will be dissuaded from returning for your other arm? The bear cannot just pop up from beneath you like a great white can. You probably won’t even see it coming.

 Unfortunately, the Australian government cannot fathom people putting their lives on the line. Perhaps the Australian government is afraid that the uptick in shark attacks will have a negative impact on tourism within the country. My astute coworker pointed out to me that some people will interpret the need for culling as meaning the waters off Australia are shark-infested, thus deterring tourist endeavors such as scuba diving. Whatever the reason, it is not worth the indiscriminate killing of sharks; the great white shark least of all.

 While the great white shark is mighty—and one was indeed responsible for a recent shark attack off the Australian coast, which apparently brought up this issue—it is listed by the World Wildlife Foundation as vulnerable. Is it worth moving an integral part of the ecosystem one step closer to extinction just to give the illusion that beaches are safer?

 The great white is one of the oceans apex predators, and if I remember anything from high school biology, it is that an ecosystem needs its top-of-the-food-chain predators to keep things balanced. Not to mention, there is a whole community of marine biologists who would be devastated if we lost this creature. I can guarantee you that without the great white shark, there would not have been a Shark Week on the Discovery Channel, and without Shark Week to capture the hearts and minds of children, we deprive our academic community of a crop of aspiring marine biologists.

Then there’s that crazy kid out there who wants to swim with the sharks. He knows the risks and is willing to take them. The Australian government should go back to doing what it does best. I am not sure what that is, but it is certainly not marine biology.