Ain't there an ethical obligation to consider the kids who wind up in the jaws of nature's most opportunistic predator? The people who have to drag them in, watch them turn grey while they wait for the chopper to arrive?
The grey bodies under the sheet on a beach are stacking up and when it’s a fifteen-year-old kid it’s even more upsetting.
I was talking to an attack survivor in a Ballina kitchen this morning and the kid’s Dad was his wedding singer. It’s a small, connected world and the trauma of someone getting ripped apart in the surf ripples through it quickly.
Is there a tipping point where something gets done about it?
Or do we accept a world of increasing White sharks, more surfers getting whacked, more bleed outs, more epic battles between surfers and sharks who didn’t read the modern-day script that it was all just a case of mistaken identity and once they realised the boo boo they’d just swim off red faced.
Yet academics like Chris Neff still make tenure writing papers that say the problem is not the shark attacks but the public perception of sharks that lingers after the movie Jaws in 1976.
Little half point cloaked with pandanus palms with wedgey lefts. Miles of unattended beach leading to a rivermouth. Paperbark swamps behind the dunes where brolgas dance in the spring time. The dirt road to the break winds past a lake of sweet fresh water – the town water supply – where, if you’re discreet, you can slip in for a quick skinny dip to wash the salt off post surf.
It’s an area saved from crowds by distance from the highway and mostly B-grade spots that hipsters, eurokooks and paid freesurfers eschew.
There’s a growing disconnect here between science and reality…and I come from the side of science.
Spent three years at Queensland’s premier sandstone institution in front of the lions of the marine biology game. The White shark remains a cypher, both in its abundance and even the basic biology.
About the size of the one that swooped me last year. How old is that animal? Estimates vary.
The established science states Whites are slow growing and long lived but a Japanese study found much faster growth rates and age to maturity. They age an eight-footer as young as two years old and age to reproductive maturity as young as seven for gals, half the time quoted in other studies.
Which would make the currently established numbers in the east Australasian population – a range between 2909 to 12,802 – about as meaningful as the racing guide on a fish-and-chips wrapper.
Not to disparage shark scientists but their form is patchy.
I stood in a hall nursing a brown sanga* with 200 of my fellow brethren and sistren on Sunday August 9, 2015 in the midst of the first shark crisis.
People wanted something done.
Infamously, lead shark scientist Dr Vic Pedemoors, a fine South African stud, came on the radio on the eve of a tagging program instigated by the pressure from that meeting and said local surfers were a bunch of pussies ( I paraphrase, but that is the gist) and that he expected very few sharks to be located and caught.
The fuel guage barely moved in the shark boat such was the fine fishing for White sharks found right outside the rivermouth.
Two were tagged with the opening hour.
Science does not have a good handle on the White shark population of eastern Australia. Growth rates, time to maturity, fecundity, transition from juvenile to adult survival rates, seasonal aggregations have all likely got bigger than expected error margins.
That’s before we get to the question of why they bite us.
Meanwhile, by accident and on purpose, an almost ideal world for the White shark has been created. Protected in Australia since ’99, but likely, according to the supplementary material on the CSIRO population study, to have faced decreasing threats from humans since the late 80’s, bolstered as adults by increases in whale and seal numbers.
Boosted as juveniles and sub-adults by decreases in commercial fishing in NSW and the establishment of marine parks along the Australian coastline.
We’ve created a world tailormade for our old pal the White shark.
But if you create such a world, and the White Shark Recovery Plan makes clear such a world is a desirable and wondrous thing then ain’t there a slight ethical obligation to consider the kiddies and old sea dogs who wind up in the jaws of nature’s most long lived apex, opportunistic predator?
The people who have to drag them in, watch them turn grey while they wait for the chopper to arrive?
The Mums, Dads, school mates, drinking pals, girlfriends and boyfriends etc etc etc?
Is there an end state where we can say, OK, too many, let’s go fishing?
I almost daren’t say it, but it feels like we could be close.
* A dry argument horrifies me only slightly less than getting hit by a white.