The major obstacle to the film's success, however, is reality itself.
A new pro-shark film called Envoy: Shark Cull is about to hit the big screens in Australia, tonight in fact.
The filmmakers claim that anyone who watches the film will “become an advocate against the QLD and NSW shark control programs”.
I haven’t seen the film but watching the trailer and a live webinar broadcast last week gives me a good feel for the central planks of the argument. Argument is too strong a word, the film aims for the maximum emotional gut punch to prove four things.
Sharks ain’t a danger to humans, and we shouldn’t fear them.
The NSW* and QLD shark control programs (nets and drumlines) are both ineffective and outdated.
Shark control programs using nets and drums are barbaric anachronisms of a superseded old school world view.
The risk of shark attack is so low as to be essentially meaningless.
This forms part of a world view that sees the future of human-shark interactions as not one of human self-defence via control programs but one of “co-existence”. To make that case a major rebranding effort on behalf of sharks, seeing as they can’t talk or make films, is necessary.
I see the major obstacle to the film’s success as an advocacy on behalf of sharks, particularly our favourite pal the White shark, as reality itself.
Let us examine the ways.
First, a quick back-up.
It’s a common view in this neck of the woods that the whole shark scene has become a very fine hustle with many vested interests. Notably: shark babes, certain scientists/advocates, purveyors of certain products etc etc.
This film will only strengthen that impression, for good or ill.
S’funny what an impact Jaws still makes. According to the scientists and filmmakers the main reason we think sharks attack people is due to an almost half century old Hollywood (very good) B film.
Never mind that half the people getting bit now weren’t alive when Jaws was released. Never mind that the QLD shark program was introduced in 1962, thirteen years before Jaws was released or, in the case of the NSW shark program, over a half-century before it scared people witless.
The solution, according to scientists, to this fear and inappropriate image, is to change the language.
“Shark attacks,” according to Chrisso, “are a lie”.
This logic comes about due to Chris’s belief that the problem of shark attack risk is largely psychological and thus if we change our minds by changing the language the problem is solved.
The other angle on shark attacks is the historical one based on actual reality, evidence in other words.
That involves surfers like Brad Smith, who as a fully grown male in the prime of his life was torn to bits by two Whites at Lefthanders in 2004. According to the official case file: Brad Smith was surfing with a mate and three other people when a large shark snapped his board in half, knocking him into the sea.
“Another large shark launched itself out of the water and got him and that was it,” said a surfer.
Smith lashed out with his fists to try to keep the sharks at bay as they came at him repeatedly.
Surfer Cameron Rowe, a 16 year old who witnessed the attack, said: “These [sharks] were massive. When the first one came up a bit I could see its fin and it was almost a yard high. When it came out of the water with Brad still fighting it, I could see its body was about the width of a car and its open jaws were as wide as a man’s arm. One of Smith’s friends, 17-year-old Mitch Campbell, said: ‘It was the worst thing I have seen. There was so much confusion out there it was impossible to tell which shark was attacking, but they kept coming at him time and time again. You could see Brad trying to whack at them to keep them away.”
But after just 45 seconds Smith disappeared beneath the surface.
INJURY: Fatal. The surfer suffered extensive injuries to his torso, and a large bite to his leg. He suffered “massive injuries to pelvis and abdomen”, according to a St. Johns Ambulance spokesperson.
Other more recent fatal “bites” were also only recovered due to bystanders taking on lit-up Whites who were intent on dragging the bitee down to Davy Jones’ locker.
But yeah, no attacks.
According to Dr Leo Guida, a prominent shark researcher for the Australian Marine Conservation Society and expert in the film, avoiding the term attacks “helps improve the public’s understanding of sharks and how they behave”.
To which I would respond, yeah, but nah.
If it quacks like a duck and walks like a duck, the public is capable of calling it a duck.
There have been some mixed messages in the re-brand.
According to a SMH article, the problem for sharks, who have swum in the ocean for 450 million years, is they don’t recognise the more recently arrived humans. That seems very disrespectful to sharks, one of the most evolutionary successful apex predators. Hominids have been on the Earth for two million years at least.
Do these scientists think sharks are that stupid they can’t learn to recognise a human being in 2 million years?
It’s obvious from the film trailer that the segment of the general public whose minds need changing the most are surfers. The methodology here is using “A-listers” like Layne Beachley and Tom Carroll.
Layne rolls out the argument that shark netting has no relevance anymore. The gist of the Beachley beef is that we are using over fifty-year-old technology and we don’t accept that in any other field.
We updated the abacus and the carrier pigeon to calculators and I-phones. But what about the wheels on your car though, Layne. Do we ditch the wheel because it’s been around forever?
The reason the nets stick around is because they work.
This question of effectiveness will be the hardest battle against reality for the filmmakers/advocates. In the webinar being used to promote the film Dr Guida constantly referred to science backing up the claim that the Queensland shark control program did not work and that there were alternatives ready to roll out.
He implored the public to refer to the scientific review of the alternatives commissioned by the Queensland gov.
So I did.
It seemed pretty clear cut.
From the report: “There has been only one fatality and 27 unprovoked bites on an SCP (shark control program) protected beach since 1962. There were 19 fatalities and 36 bites in the whole of Queensland prior to 1962.”
Unfortunately, make that two fatalities after poor Nick Slater ended up grey at Greenmount in September last year. If you saw the video footage, it’s hard to unsee, but I’m sure Chris Pepin-Neff could reclassify it to suit the new regime.
Nineteen fatalities before nets and drums, two after. That’s despite the huge increase in population and water usage. Numbers don’t lie, it’s hard to rename them, and that’s going to be the biggest obstacle for Envoy.
The scientific report on the QLD SCP makes a conclusion that is obvious to almost any-one with half a brain: “It is not unreasonable to conclude that local fish-downs have reduced the risk of shark bite to water users by reducing the potential for overlap between water users and potentially dangerous sharks.”
The film will be on much firmer emotional terrain running the barbarism argument against nets and drums. Two hundred and fifty dolphins killed in the nets in the last twenty years in Queensland alone. Turtles, rays, harmless hammerheads, etc etc.
All dead so people can play splash splash in the ocean.
I know this argument against by-catch will be a potent one, because I’ve seen it play out in my hometown.
Ironically, despite Tom Carroll’s advocacy in Envoy it was his brother Nick Carroll’s pro-net piece in Coastalwatch that was the decisive intervention in enabling a trial of shark nets in Lennox-Ballina during the summers of 16/17 and 17/18.
Just as decisive was the shift in community sentiment against nets when the reality of by-catch was made public by the DPI. Local surfers didn’t want Flipper’s blood on their hands in exchange for surfing with lower risk.
In the grand scheme of things is the dismantling of the QLD and NSW shark control programs for the greater good?
I predict we will find out very soon because I believe the film will be massively successful at shifting public sentiment and politicians will have no choice but to pull the gear.
The next stage of “co-existence” will take place.
We will cede the space and nature’s most successful apex predator will have won another battle, perhaps its most decisive one.
I view this near-future with a doomy pragmatism.
Already, in the last half-decade I know more people that have been attacked by Whites than have had car crashes. Expand that out to the people who were there, the ones who dragged in mates, the families and pals, and it’s an ever expanding circle.
By contrast. I know no one in this community who has had COIVD-19, died of bee sting, fallen coconuts, lightning strike, even drowning.
Statistics are meaningless at the local level.
But the film won’t concern itself with that.
The signs will go up: buyer beware. White shark territory. Enter at own risk.
That’s an argument, that once lost, will never be won again.
*Nets in Sydney area, Smart drumlines in Northern NSW.