Spearfishing Shark Bite Incident

On Monday in WA, a 17-year-old boy was unfortunately fatally bitten on the leg by a shark while spearfishing. That same night Channel 7 aired “Jaws”. Coincidence? Perhaps not. The mainstream media, like the government, seem to be lagging behind both the science and the public sentiment. The premise of “Jaws” is that a ‘rogue shark’ stalks the bathers of a coastal town. Many scholars including Dr. Christopher Neff have dismissed this theory. Yet, Collin Barnett and his government are playing the role of Quint and exacting revenge on these sharks they believe are stalking bathers.

The ABC has reported that bathers were in the water while the shark was around long before the bite incident. It seems the bathers were aware and were willing to make the choice to swim anyway. Their actions should speak volumes to the WA government and also to the NSW and Queensland governments about bathers’ willingness to make choices without the protection of lethal government legislation. None of the bathers were injured.

What is disturbing here is that the Guardian has reported that people had seen a large shark in the area days before but had not reported it to the water police. Barnett is saying this is why the shark spotter program is ineffective and won’t be deployed in WA. Could we surmise that people didn’t report it because they knew the government would kill the shark? There is no reason for the public to think any different. Could the public’s loss of faith in their government be the reason it wasn’t reported? If so, it is a indictment on this type of lethal government policy and a sure sign that drum lines should be completely abandoned to restore public confidence in their government.

The unfortunate bite victim had apparently already speared and caught some fish. Spearfishing, it is well known, can be a very provocative act if sharks are nearby. Their highly evolved sensory systems, which include their lateral line and the ampullae of Lorenzini, have had over 400,000,000 years of evolutionary tuning to hone in on the vibrations of struggling fish.

The ABC has also reported that the shark was speared in the mouth during the incident and may be injured and that WA Fisheries are looking for the shark. They have also set up two drum lines in response. Hopefully the public will not settle for this backward step response of yet again hunting a protected species. If WA does in fact catch and kill this injured shark and leaves the drum lines in the water, their intentions will be made clear for all to see.

The Guardian has reported that the Barnett government has spent $26 million on ineffective “shark hazard mitigation measures” yet refuse to use South Africa’s method of spotting sharks and warning bathers to get out of the water which only costs $265,000. Although Barnett say he takes no glee in killing sharks, it begs the question why they continue to do it. Scholars have all dismissed the “rogue shark” theory as being false, so then why does the government continue to hunt and kill sharks that injure bathers? It seems to be revenge.

Let’s hope they move forward, as they had been doing before this incident, and follow the science and the public sentiment by removing the drum lines and allowing bathers and sharks to make their own choices about sharing space at beaches. We don’t need governments to decide for us.

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