"There's more than one shark expert shaking their head right now."
The New York Times is a daily broadsheet that recently blamed a French school teacher for his own beheading.
It could hardly be accused of being anything but on the liberal side of the ledger.
So it comes as a surprise, pleasant or otherwise depending on your bias, that the paper has dived into Australia’s Great White Shark Crisis, something so far untouched by the Australian press.
Under the headline, “Death by Shark Is at a High in Australia. What’s Going On?“ we read,
What’s behind the increase in deaths? The question is vexing many in Australia, where public pressure is rising for authorities to take tougher measures to protect the country’s picturesque coasts this summer as people emerge from coronavirus lockdowns and eagerly head to the beach.
Scientists find the high numbers shocking, and they wonder what forces may be at play.
“There’s more than one shark expert who’s shaking their head right now, thinking, ‘What on earth is going on?’” said Culum Brown, a professor of marine biology at Macquarie University in Sydney who studies shark behavior. “Eight is certainly off the scale, and we haven’t even finished the year yet,” he added.
Maybe ’cause Whites have been protected since 1999?
Six years ago, I called a South Australian shark fisherman for his opinion on the then surge in Great White attacks.
Turned out he didn’t just have a theory on the dramatic increase in Great Whites in Western Australia, he was positive it was due to the AFMA (the Australian Fisheries Management Authority) shutting down vast areas of fishing areas to gill nets because of the by-catch of Australian fur seals and Great Whites.
What fisheries didn’t know was that skippers were under-calling the number of Whites coming up in the nets; the skippers afraid they’d be shut down if fisheries knew just how many Whites were destroyed as by-catch.
In the end, they were closed, anyway.
The irony was, he said, if fisheries knew just how many Whites were coming up, perhaps the White wouldn’t have been regarded as a threatened and endangered species.
“Think about this,” he said. “Ten years ago, there were nine or 10 boats operating and killing 200-to-300 Pointers a year. We were allowed to have an incidental catch of Pointers. They’d get tangled in the nets and come up dead. Now, say, if we work with a conservative kill figure of 200, and 50 of these Whites are mature, and of those 50, 25 are female, they are going to have one baby every two years. So, instead of the population growing like it was, or sustaining at a certain level, it’s blowing out. It’s growing faster and faster. The number of Pointers is increasing dramatically.”
As we spoke, he texted me a clip of a five-metre White attacking his boat, taken the day before on his iPhone. “This thing was breaking its teeth off on the boat,” he says.
“It’s only a matter of time before attacks surge again,” he told me. “That’s if people stay in the water. If they don’t, problem solved.”
The NYT, meanwhile, goes around in circles for a while before concluding,
“It’s probably just really bad luck.”