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?”
This is really part one, where Graeme talks briefly about himself then touches upon how little assistance was provided by the government. I feel I must repeat that whether you think he made the wrong decision to accept the contract or if you would have accepted it for half the pay, being upset with Graeme accomplishes little. In our discussion he repeatedly made it clear that he felt he was helping and making the public safer. Some of us believe that, some don't. But those who believe it, why? Because of what the government said? If the cull was wrong, those who justified and spent tax payer dollars on the cull are to blame, much more than this contractor. This employment opportunity did not exist without the government. And it can only exist next year if the people accept it (silence is a form of acceptance, btw.) It is clear Barnett, Baston, Buswell, Hunt, and co. can't be trusted to tell the truth under oath, in press conferences, or to do the right thing. It appears to be in their best interest and their intention to mislead the public, so if you don't want this to happen next year, what exactly are you going to do about it? Something more than vent on Facebook I hope....
Meet Graeme Pateman, the contractor who was paid $5,000 a day killing sharks in the southern region of Western Australia. He's a nice guy, really he is...nice enough to invite me on his boat and explain his standpoint on things. The full 1.5 hour interview is a lot to take in so I'm releasing it in doses.
The point is not to like or dislike Graeme, in fact if you are going to praise or hate anyone then focus on his employer, the government of WA, not the employee. The point rather is to examine our mindset as a species when it comes to our place vs. other animals' places on this planet (for those of you that are unaware, yes, humans are in fact part of the animal kingdom.)
What did we learn from this interview? Well, first, and perhaps most importantly, this cull was not about killing the animal responsible for the handful of fatalities over the last several years, rather, it was about making the public FEEL as though something was being done. In fact, it was just practice!! Practice that cost the lives of many animals that had nothing to do with public safety. That's straight from the mouth of the man hired by Colin Barnett to carry out the task of killing the wrong animal at the wrong time of year at a price that would make Jane Goodall consider culling chimpanzees. continue below video
So, for all the recreational ocean users who told me the cull was good because it made you safer, you can stop with that nonsense now. Not only did this cull NOT make you safer, it was always intended ONLY TO MAKE YOU FEEL safer without actually accomplishing the task. If you still insist that baited hooks near your beach are a good thing, please go surfing with a piece of fresh bait hanging off your board from now on.
Next, listen to Mr. Pateman try to rationalize first, that only sharks at a certain distance (1,000 meters) from the beach would fall victim, as though sharks would magically know that if they crossed that line they were asking to be killed. Consider the following: The shark (presumably illiterate) needs to simultaneously understand that the baited hooks are intended for animals over three meters (next season Fisheries will have signs in 4 of the most popular WA languages posted next to the hooks explaining the three meter rule) while also understanding that if it wants to approach the beach it should swim between the drum lines and try not to alarm any recreating humans with its presence. When I challenged that perspective Graeme switched to stating that "people come before sharks", continuing to explain that there was plenty of beach for the sharks to use without encountering areas that are popular recreational areas for humans. (Gee, I think I heard something similar from another ecological scholar). Again, the shark is required to know where it is allowed to go and not go based upon the convenience of our recreation.
Sadly, the mindset of this fisherman is not unique nor is it limited to the uneducated or even the mentally challenged. Instead it seems to be shared by the premier of a state (who happens to look like a bad guy from the Lord of the Rings). Well, Western Australia, congratulations, you now know what it's like to have a George Bush representing you.
Look, it doesn't even matter if you love sharks or hate sharks. Hate'em all you want. As a taxpayer, shouldn't you be upset that your government just spent $2 million (and counting) on a sham in order to secure votes from people who don't have a clue what's actually happening in the ocean?
The Danger of Ignorance
I may have stumbled upon Colin Barnett's environmental advisor at the beach yesterday. Take a minute to watch the below video which is simultaneously funny and disturbing.
While filming part 1 of The Price of Existence I've become aware of a trend in people, myself included, to stubbornly hold onto ideals we have already adopted as truth. Two of the most extreme examples are OCEARCH supporters followed by shark cull supporters such as the man in this video. One of the reasons miseducation is so dangerous is the difficulty of reeducating those who have been led astray. The lyrics "Hearing only what you want to hear...knowing only what you've heard" come to mind each time I encounter someone on the street who tells me that the shark cull "had to be done", quickly followed by admitting that they don't know what it is, but they heard on the radio or the TV that the prime minister said it was going to make them safer and preserve the economy. Those are both lies by the way, and I, unlike the WA government, have the evidence to support my claims (revealed in the film).
The fact remains that most people will continue to believe what they choose to believe despite the fact that we live in the "age of information". Global warming is a myth, SPOT tags don't damage fins, the war in Iraq wasn't about oil, the world is flat, and baited hooks at beaches will make us safe from sharks. I'm accepting donations for my shark school, by the way, so we can teach them which beaches they are allowed to swim past.
Enjoy your commute...especially if you are employed by Colin Barnett's Administration.
Whether you love sharks, hate sharks, or are indifferent, can the niche of the shark...its purpose and contribution to the planet be questioned? Of course that requires one to have a clue what the shark does on a daily routine, which, believe it or not, has nothing to do with eating people. Now, examine your contribution to the planet today, this week, this year...maybe even your lifetime. How has the planet benefitted from your presence?
white sharks, great whites, white shark video, tiger sharks, shark cull
Just want to share a few thoughts from a quick excerpt of an interview with Phil Waller, Director of Extinction Soup, while we were at the San Francisco International Ocean Film Festival.
For those that don’t know, Phil and executive producer Stefanie Brendl made a movie documenting the battle to pass a shark fin ban in Hawaii. The film provides gorgeous footage and takes the viewer on an emotional ride as we see the beauty of sharks juxtaposed against the same animals being slaughtered in inhumane fashion. But I found the political battle particularly unnerving as it brought back memories of California’s own struggle to pass a shark fin ban only a few years ago. Just like in San Francisco, the fishing industry resorted to hiring lobbyists to declare the ban as racist attack on Chinese culture (If you still want to send him hate mail, the senator in San Francisco was Leland Yee).
"Almost nothing under the moon kills less people than sharks do!" - pw
Politics led our discussion to Western Australia where sharks are being slaughtered in the very waters they are supposed to be protected in. Public Safety, not culture, is the scapegoat for this political agenda, and it was while discussing the concept of trying to make people safe from sharks that Phil stated the glaringly obvious; not only do sharks kill a very small number of people, but they KILL LESS PEOPLE than almost ANYTHING ELSE on this planet. Repeat that in your head a few times. We’ve all heard the stats about coconuts and vending machines, etc., but I think the concept really sinks in when you try to list things that DON’T kill more people than sharks rather than what DO. How can public safety be a reason to kill sharks when it’s not enough of a reason to dispose of the rest of the offenders on the list?
Phil did a great job of being positive, but I’m obviously a bit of a pessimist when it comes to conservation and politics living happily together. But as he said, all we can do is keep trying and spreading the word because ignorance still outweighs knowledge and that can only change by sharing information. So, keep spreading the word and fighting the fight!
And yes, I know I look homeless in this interview. I’ll clean up when the film is over.
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.