conservation / environment / science / science education

‘Sensible Killing’: The Dangerous Philosophy of Shark Culling Supporters

This disgusting article was published in the Adelaide Advertiser and on AdelaideNow.com.au on the 16th of June 2014. It calls the culling of sharks a ‘sensible’ method of protecting human life. The author is Nicolle Flint who is cited as a PhD candidate at Flinders University. There are quite a few people who deserve a kick to the shins for allowing this ill-informed and irrelevant piece of prose to be published, but for now let’s just assess the article and try not to get angry at the ignorance it presents. History shows me that this is best done via open letter so as to be able to articulate my concerns in a more personable manner.

Dear Nicolle,

Firstly – and quite importantly – I’m 100% certain you don’t have the authority on whom and what deserves to be alive on this planet, Little Misguided Bag of Mostly Water. No Bag of Mostly Water has the right to dictate that. All living things have as much right to be on this planet as the next, despite how much other life forms may inconvenience your summer bathing. Just because you’re human doesn’t mean you’re better; perhaps it means you’re capable of potentially understanding the bigger picture but it certainly doesn’t make you better. This article has certainly shown that you’re not better. You lack overall understanding, compassion and decency in regards to this topic. I urge you to wipe clean the windows of your opinion and take another look outside.

There are a few things you mentioned in your article that have confused me (well, confused me more than the other things you said). I shall isolate them and, in doing so, perhaps your true meaning will be revealed.

“You’ve got to wonder what these people would do if they found a tiger snake or a salt water crocodile in their backyard. Would they leave it there?”

If you were feeling particularly brave and/or threatened and you looked good in ripped sleeves you might have at a snake with a shovel, but ultimately most people would call a wildlife rescue service and have it relocated elsewhere. Like time and money, backyards are a human concept so don’t be so upset if other creatures don’t abide by your ‘rules’.

Additionally, I’m not sure how you can compare a tiger snake in your back yard (which, let’s face it, has possibly lived there its whole life without you noticing) to a shark in the ocean (which has definitely lived there its whole life without you noticing). That said, if you find a shark in your back yard then by all means do with it what you think is most appropriate. Just please note that you don’t live in the ocean; you are a visitor there. If a shark mistakes you for food then perhaps you shouldn’t be hanging out in its kitchen looking like a snack. If someone dressed up as a taco and hung out in my kitchen I’d likely be tempted to take a bite of them as well.

Omnomnom

Omnomnom!

“And you’ve got to wonder if the pro-shark, anti-human brigade eat fish? If they do then it’s a bit rich to complain about catching a few sharks. Flake – gummy shark – is the staple of Aussie fish and chip shops. We catch and eat shark and thousands of other fish like salmon, whiting, garfish and tuna every day.”

Wait, what?

Firstly, you’re doing a log of wondering in this piece. Google is your friend and can answer many of the questions you may have. Secondly, since when were sustainable, teleostei fish species such as gummy shark, whiting, gar or salmon the same as culling K-selected species such as great whites, tiger sharks of bull sharks which, according to the ISAF, are the only three types of shark responsible for two-digit numbers of fatal unprovoked attacks on humans. I’m not sure where you’ve been getting your fish but it might be time to change suppliers.

Fishing and eating flake is quite different to mercilessly slaughtering a particularly ecologically important species because its being alive and hungry disturbs you. In Australia, the term ‘flake’ previously related to shark meat of any species. However, recent changes in classification from the Fish Names Committee have restricted the term ‘flake’ to either mustelus antarcticus (gummy shark) and mustelus lenticulatus (gummy shark or New Zealand ‘rig’). Gummy shark is indeed often served in fish and chip stores but stocks come from both Commonwealth managed fisheries off southern Australia and from commercial fishing. The species is listed as ‘sustainable’ and levels remain steady.

Further, it’s a bit rich to call someone anti-human just because they have respect for life that isn’t human. Perhaps you could call them ‘decent sorts’ or ‘those who see the bigger picture’ or ‘anti-humancentric’. We’re all part of the ecosystem of the planet whether you like it or not. The world would be a healthier place without us, so stop attacking people for having hearts (and valuing biodiversity).

So now that we’ve looked as some words, how about we look at some numbers. The best I could find were as follows – please feel free to point me in the direction of more appropriate or current data if you know of it. As we’re both people who have undertaken research at different points in our studies, I’m sure you appreciate the concept of proof.

The International Shark Attack File (ISAF) reports that there were 2,667 confirmed unprovoked shark attacks around the world between 1580 and 2013, 495 of which were lethal. In comparison, diarrhoea killed 1.5 million people in 2012 alone. So perhaps if you want to take your anger out on a people-killer you should shout at some poop or bacteria. Or is it just that diarrhoea, HIV, multiple types of cancer, diabetes, heart disease, stroke and road fatalities don’t affect you so personally. Maybe things like tuberculosis, suicide, malaria and birth complications aren’t as cool and topical a target. Or perhaps they are and your next great opinion piece will be something about how we should cull those with transmittable diseases so as to ‘retain the health of the species’. Or maybe I’m speculating unfairly. My apologies. Let’s move on.

Bondi Beach Buffet?

Bondi Beach Buffet?

Australia has the x-factor when it comes to death by shark, but it’s worth remembering that the majority of the Australian population lives on the coastline. Additionally our summers get pretty toasty which causes people to flock to the beaches. An increase in population leads to an increase of people in the water in summer. Furthermore, the protection of selected shark species and constraints on commercial fishing may have generally led to a general increase of sharks in coastal waters.

Despite these factors, the overall likelihood of shark attacks is negligible. Rip tides claim more lives than shark attacks annually. Volcanoes kill more people than sharks annually. Autoerotic asphyxiation kills more people annually.

I value debate, alternative opinions and novel approaches to an issue. I’m more than happy to listen to another side of the tale if the other side is factual, balanced and logical. However, this piece was not factual, balanced or logical. Perhaps I missed the point, but what I read was:

“All those stupid hippies wanting to save the sharks – I mean, it’s not like sharks contribute to anything other than being delicious. I think that people should be able to enjoy nature without other creatures in nature retaliating due to instinct. I mean, they’re stupider than us so why should we stand for this kind of crap? And anyway, I’ll bet those hippies have eaten fish before. A shark’s a fish, so what’s the difference? Damn hypocrites! I suppose they’re just part of Big Pharma’s secret conspiracy to make us all fat and lazy and reliant on medication because they’ll fill the oceans with sharks which will stop us exercising in the environment nature has obviously provided for us. Screw those sharks – Humans R totes #1!”

Again, I might be drawing conclusions; I’m sorry if that’s the case. But perhaps this is just a case of being ill-informed which is an unfortunate state to be in when you consider the telephone you own has a bigger computer than Apollo era spacecraft and connects you to more information on more topics than you could ever have time to process.

I’m afraid the problem isn’t the sharks. The problem is people like you being allowed to publish something as ill-conceived as your article is in a newspaper. This sort of behaviour allows others with poorly formed attitudes based on hearsay and falsehoods shout their fauxpinions for all to hear. These kind of opinion pieces, possibly published in the name of ‘balance’, perpetuate a dangerous cycle that is as unhealthy for the human race you care so much about as it is for the sharks. Just because you have an opinion doesn’t mean it’s valid. You’re not entitled to you option my dear; you are only entitled to your informed opinion. No one is entitled to be ignorant.

I have compiled a list of reading material here, here, here and here that I hope won’t offend your anti-shark sensibilities. You don’t have to agree with me, but you do need to have a factual understanding of the topics you comment on if you mean to comment in the public arena.

Much love,

Jess

shark meme

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2 thoughts on “‘Sensible Killing’: The Dangerous Philosophy of Shark Culling Supporters

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