More than Maverick’s, more than Kelly Slater, more than barrels and way more than alley-oops, sharks are what separate surfing from every other sport. They lurk, those morbid creeps, under blankets of ocean and can end a man’s life in the blink of a bull shark's distant eye. It's what makes surfing unique. In tennis, Rafael Nadal mustn’t worry about getting mauled by a black bear as he serves. In basketball, Kobe Bryant wastes no time in pondering the threat of a Siberian tiger when he's going hard in or around the paint. But as surfers, the presence of sharks is something we have to face day in and day out. When we enter the ocean, we hand over our fate.
Sometimes fate can be a bitch. A savage, toothy bitch. There have been seven fatal attacks in the last three years in Western Australia. Seven. Staggering numbers like that are hard to ignore. So a shark hunt was declared. Turns out, it’s not so great.
The West Oz shark cull, which began on January 26, is a catch-and-kill carnival. Commercial fishermen troll the seas, trying to bring sharks aboard. Any shark they catch over 3 meters (approximately 9'10") is shot in the face with the hottest lead.
Shooting a shark in its face is a surefire way to turn some heads. Hoards of people have descended upon Australia's coast, waving picket signs and hollering chants. Surprisingly enough, the signs they waved do not say, "Rape The Tiger Sharks!" and they are not chanting, "Good-night, great white! Good-night, great white!" It's quite the contrary.
The shark culling has largely been met with outrage. While most folks aren't very fond of death via Jaws, they're not too big on the mass slaughter of animals either. After all, the relationship between humans and sharks is a two-way street.
“The activity in Western Australia is compounding the human tragedy involved in shark attacks. It is very sad that a government that could be seen to take positive initiatives with regards to shark-human interactions by testing alternatives to indiscriminate killing, has ignored the best advice and opted for an approach that is ineffective and counter-productive,” said Richard Pierce, Chairman of an organization called Shark Trust. His educated opinion is accepted and supported by most.
The marine ecosystem is delicate thing, demanding both balance and harmony. Top predators like sharks have important roles in their environments. When you replace a shark with a rifle at the top of the food chain, the effects trickle down. Because of the shark culling, there could be a boom in the stingray population. And that would lead to a depletion of scallop colonies, which would instigate a rise in plankton populations then affect the beluga whales and cause John John Florence to dye his hair black or Marco Polo to get back on tour. A delicate balance, you see.
Regardless, the culling is set to continue until April. In Brazil, they've been catching sharks near the beach and relocating them hundreds of miles from shore. And while nobody really ever wants to move away from the coast, thus far, the efforts have been successful. There's been no evidence of the sharks returning to shore.
With enough collective angst, there's a chance Australia could re-think their outdated approach to shark control. With enough of an outcry, we can save the treacherous beasts. Because we need sharks. We need them to live, to breathe, to eat — just preferably not us. —Brendan Buckley