Opening the jaws of controversy

Shark attacks such as the recent fatal one in Western Australia are rarely overlooked in the media, and often provoke strong reactions in people from many walks of life. Some suggest that the solution is to leave the sharks alone. Others propose solutions to reduce the perceived threat, including the ones described below:

Shark repelling wristbands are sometimes advertised as being an effective way for individuals to prevent shark attacks. The bands use a range of methods to repel sharks, including magnetic and sound waves. Attacks on band-wearers have been reported. Shark shields, used by some surf-boarders, use similar mechanisms to the wristbands. More research is needed to determine the efficacy of these methods (Hart & Collin, 2015).

A popular proposed method of minimising shark-human conflict is the use of physical barriers. One such barrier is Sharksafe, which may be an effective method of controlling shark movement (O’Connell et al., 2014).

Perhaps the most controversial methods are culling and drum lines. It has been suggested that public pressure has a large influence on policy surrounding these methods (McCagh et al., 2015). These methods often have high ecological and economic costs. There is little evidence to support their efficacy (Gibbs & Warren, 2015).

Although it’s easy to become nervous about shark attacks, it’s important to remember that shark attacks are rare and usually non-fatal (for example, research carried out by Caldicott et al. in 2015 shows that bee and wasp stings are more likely to be fatal than shark attacks).

Thank you for reading.

(The shark pictured is a shortfin mako).

References

Caldicott, D.G., Mahajani, R. and Kuhn, M., 2001. The anatomy of a shark attack: a case report and review of the literature. Injury, 32(6), pp.445-453.

Gibbs, L. and Warren, A., 2015. Transforming shark hazard policy: Learning from ocean-users and shark encounter in Western Australia. Marine Policy, 58, pp.116-124.

Hart, N.S. and Collin, S.P., 2015. Sharks senses and shark repellents. Integrative zoology, 10(1), pp.38-64.

McCagh, C., Sneddon, J. and Blache, D., 2015. Killing sharks: The media’s role in public and political response to fatal human–shark interactions. Marine Policy, 62, pp.271-278.

O’Connell, C.P., Andreotti, S., Rutzen, M., Meÿer, M., Matthee, C.A. and He, P., 2014. Effects of the Sharksafe barrier on white shark (Carcharodon carcharias) behavior and its implications for future conservation technologies. Journal of Experimental Marine Biology and Ecology, 460, pp.37-46.

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