I've been asked repeatedly to release my entire conversation with the shark cull contractor in the south of Western Australia so here it is (and it's long). Whether you agree with the cull or not, this conversation offers a unique platform to analyze the cull. It's pretty clear from watching the video that Graeme Pateman is a likable guy even if you don't like how he makes his money. For the record, despite my personal opinion, I was very nice during this interview, in fact, I barely had to open my mouth...Graeme just kept talking. So much so that I had to break this interview into multiple parts. I have not cut out or changed any of his or my words, but I have inserted topical footage from my time.
Graeme is correct when he says makos, black tip whalers, etc. are not protected in Western Australia (the full list of protected fish can be seen here). All species of hammerhead sharks are listed as either endangered or vulnerable on the IUCN red list, but that is not the same as being protected in state or federal waters, which they are neither in WA.
Part 1 primarily caused me to think about the press releases prior to the cull in which the Government said they were taking careful measures to make sure the mitigation was carried out in as humane and professional manner as possible. That just doesn't seem to be the case, nor does it seem to be financially efficient as you'll see in part 2.
Part 2, among other topics, discusses the payment of the cull contractor. The press released the number $5705, based upon the estimated total amount to be spent on the contractor in the south alone over the trial period. Graeme told me $5000 per day in the interview. When I double checked on that he explained that it was actually $5500, however, this number subtracts Goods and Service Tax. Calculate the total however you feel comfortable, but I usually don't get to claim that my income is less than it is because of taxes. One young deck hand, fuel for two runs a day, and bait ( which was not always changed as I witnessed with my own eyes ) seems like rather minimal expenses. So, debate all you want whether his profit range was $4,000 a day, $5,000 a day, or somewhere in-between, whichever total you come to is an obscene amount of money.
Something else I can't shake from this interview is the fact that it was a trial run during a period of time that white sharks are known to not frequent the ares. Simultaneously the WA Government stated they wanted the drum lines in the water as soon as possible for public safety. So was it for public safety or was it to conduct a trial run?
Perhaps the most common theme throughout all my interviews with pro-cullers across Australia was the phrase "something had to be done" and the government was "doing what it could to increase human beach safety". Delivered by itself, the phrase "doing what we can to increase human safety" sounds great. The problem is the evident lack of understanding or rationale when you ask these people to explain what the cull is, how it works, how it makes the beaches safer, and why they feel safer with drum lines in the water. While actual rationale was missing from these explanations the conversations also had something else in common; the words "feeling better". So, animals were killed to for a placebo effect...what was actually accomplished was a calming of fear buzzing in the brains. Whether you love sharks or hate sharks, perhaps the first step is realizing this is a battle with ourselves rather than a battle with the sharks before we can even touch the topic of whether it is right to kill other animals in their own homes.
I would bet good money that 98 percent of people out there will say they are more afraid of sharks than lions. But why?
Shark enthusiast that I am, I still find it easier to IMAGINE myself having a fun-filled, cuddly day with a lion instead of a shark. Why? Not because of my knowledge and experience with lions, but because of WHAT I THINK I KNOW about lions. I’ve never encountered a lion in the wild. In fact I’ve only seen one in a zoo, TV, or book. But my impression of lions is one of a mammal that lives in a social, family-oriented lifestyle that is warm, furry, licks its cubs, and eats small, deer-like things such as antelope (not people). All of that information I gained because of what I read or saw on TV. In summary, I’ve never encountered a lion yet fear is far from the first thing on my mind when a lion is brought up in conversation.
Contrast that with a shark. Despite a growing number of shark enthusiasts there remains an extremely small percentage of people on this planet who have encountered or seen a living shark. Yet the majority of this same percentage of people who have never seen a shark will tell you they are afraid of sharks. Again, not based on what they actually know of sharks from experience, but from what they have heard or seen on TV, the theater, other people, the news, etc.
"...The cull is a security blanket that won’t protect people from sharks any better than a nightlight will protect us from monsters under the bed."
Statistically this makes no sense. By the numbers, lions blow sharks out of the water in terms of people killed and even numbers of people eaten. Yes, that’s a bit of a loaded statistic since humans and lions are both land-based animals, but still, the bottom line is that lions can, do, and will kill continue to kill a !$#%* load more people than sharks. Shouldn’t that scare you? ONE lion named, Namvelieza, killed 43 people. That single lion more than doubled the number of people killed by every shark of every species on the ENTIRE PLANET on average per year!! Aren’t actual statistics of people killed and eaten what we should base our fear on? No. Because that’s not how fear works.
Here’s a little psychological exercise about fear I performed on myself that leveled the playing field between lions and sharks a bit. I imagined myself magically alone in the Serengeti with an adult lion not too far away from me. Next I imagined myself on SCUBA, alone in the ocean, with an adult white shark not too far away from me. Guess what? I am less concerned about the white shark than the lion. Why? I am more familiar with the shark than the lion. I’ve encountered white sharks enough times over the last decade that I feel confident that my chances of survival are quite high. Note that I’m not declaring myself a shark whisperer or that I am even correct in feeling safer, in fact that’s the point; the feeling I have is a product of my perception of a situation I am familiar with. The lion on the other hand I don’t really know much about. I can try to apply what I think I know about encountering a lion in the wild, but that pales in comparison to the confidence of real life experiences with the white shark.
When we cull sharks, we aren’t saving people from sharks, we’re saving them from fear. We fear what we don’t know; what we are unfamiliar with. Naturally, we are less familiar with the world under the ocean (sadly, we’re rather unfamiliar with the world above the surface as well). This allows us to fall victim to false information and even our own imaginations. When it comes to sharks, fear is the real problem, not the shark. Sooooo many things on this planet kill soooo many more people than sharks do. In fact the numbers are so low it’s debatable whether shark incidences should even qualify as “a problem”.
The issue is unfounded fear. The cull helps solve unfounded fear with unfounded mitigation. It makes people feel better. Therefore the cull actually does solve a problem so to speak as long as one admits that the problem is fear and the cull is a security blanket that won’t protect people from sharks any better than a nightlight will protect us from monsters under the bed. But once you admit that you have to ask the question, “is it to OK to kill things just because we’re afraid of them?”
Debra Canabal of Epic Diving in the WSV hoodie. Get yours!
About the Author
Skyler Thomas is the primary blog contributor, cinematographer, and lead editor at White Shark Video.