This is weird. I’m surfing alone in Gracetown, Western Australia, at a stretch of beach that’s produced two fatal shark attacks in less than a decade — the most recent of which occurred in November. Looking to the beach, I see nothing, nobody, only a bushy sprawl all the way back to the distant car park. The sky is gray and the sea is somehow grayer. Shit’s eerie.
A few months back, I wrote an article entitled The Not So Great Shark Hunt on the Western Australia shark cull. I sided with the sharks, arguing that we should explore other preventative measures before resorting to slaughter. It was so righteous. In the comments, someone wrote, “How about you come and speak to some of the surfers here in West Aus before writing a moral high ground article from the safety of SoCal?” Touché. It was a great point. Who am I to speak on that? Just another haphazard eco-zealot whining foul while chowing on a cookie at an Orange County Starbucks.
Well here I am, sitting at a Margaret River café, Indian Ocean sea salt drying on my skin while I drink a flat white that’s to die for. And guess what? I still don’t think we should shoot sharks in the face.
“A lot of people blame the cray fisherman,” someone told me the other day. “The chumming attracts big sharks from out to sea and bring them right into the danger zone. And there’s a seal rookery just around the corner.” I have, in fact, been speaking to the surfers here in West Aus. I’ve been searching for facts. Digging for opinions. Flipping every stone from here to Perth.
Human blood doesn’t attract them. Pee does. Pee doesn’t. You gotta paint stripes on your board and wetsuit; sharks don’t like sea snakes. Myth Busters proved it wrong. My mate works on boats and swears it’s right. There’s plenty of speculation and a hint of confusion as to what attracts the beasts and how to prevent an attack. When it comes to the cull, however, information and opinions aren’t quite as glaring as a dorsal fin.
I haven’t yet had anyone look me in the eyes and roar, “Fuck the sharks! Fuck them dead!” Nor have I had someone shake my hand and shout, “Sharks are rad! Let’s get an apartment together!” Rather, it seems as though most folks can’t pick a side. On one hand, there’s that ominous back-of-the-mind awareness of the fact that hundreds of big (and often harmless) fish are dining their way into a drum line death. On the other, there’s the unlikely hope that someway, somehow, entering the ocean is now safer. Placebo’s gonna placebo.
But here we stand at the dusk of the cull. The WA government has until the end of April to pump lead into as many big sharks as the drum lines can fathom. But they aren’t done just yet. Instead, they’re gunning for a three-year license to cull. If it gets approved, you really don’t to be a shark in Western Australia’s waters between November 15-April 30 of each year. But if you must, we suggest you don’t take the bait.
The fact of the matter is that this cull — or any similar morbid experiment — has absolutely no evidence to support its effectiveness. The drum lines kill more sharks than the targeted demographic and we’re essentially playing jenga with a too-fragile marine ecosystem here. We, as surfers, willingly put ourselves at risk each and every time we go in the ocean. Go pick up a golf club if you can’t hang. Because, after all, good surfing is founded on risk.
-Shark Correspondent Brendan Buckley