Bad publicity: No evidence any shark species develops a taste for human flesh
Surfersvillage Global Surf News, 4 January, 2012 : - - Rogue sharks exist only in Hollywood. And it is time the term 'shark attack'' was rejected as sensationalist and misleading, according to Christopher Neff, a researcher at the University of Sydney carrying out the world's first PhD on the politics of 'shark bite incidents'.
''Swimmers are in the way, not on the menu,'' he said. ''There is no evidence any shark species develops a taste for human flesh.'' Mr Neff does not want to downplay the tragedy of serious or fatal encounters with these apex predators of the sea, particularly during this summer of heavy rain, when swimmers will have to be extra careful about where and when they take a dip.
''Shark bites are scary,'' he said. But persistent myths and sensationalism can lead to ineffective, political solutions, such as the recent authorisation of a shark hunt in Western Australia after three deaths, which would have made no swimmer safer if it had gone ahead, he said.
Rather, straight talking and good information is needed, such as the facts that shark numbers increase in summer in Parramatta River and Sydney Harbour, and people shouldn't swim there for three days after heavy rain because sewage attracts sharks.
''Then people can determine their own level of risk, based on their behaviour.'' Mr Neff, an American, said it was wrong for incidents always to be described as attacks, when bites are often defensive or done out of curiosity. ''The public is unable to tell scratches from fatalities, boats from people, or wobbegongs from great whites,'' he said.
About 13 per cent of so-called shark attacks in NSW are by wobbegongs, for example. ''That means someone was stepping on it or pestering it.'' Mr Neff has been fascinated by sharks from childhood. His first research project in Sydney was on conservation of a different carnivore, lions, which provided a telling comparison.
Unlike with the ocean, people easily recognise that the African bush is the wild, and it is unwise to wander alone when and where lions feed, he said. Before the ''rogue shark'' concept was developed, shark attacks were often referred to as ''shark accidents''. And after some fatalities in the 1920s, a NSW government committee nevertheless concluded ''sharks do not patrol the beaches on the off-chance of occasionally devouring human prey''.
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Source: Sydney Morning Herald
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