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Byron Shire
April 23, 2021

Mandy Nolan’s Soap Box – Where the wild things are

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Shark in a net
Shark in a net

In the last 18 months it would appear that humans in northern NSW are no longer the top predator in the food chain. Right now we have second billing to sharks, and that’s pissing us off. ‘Look, buddy, you’re not just killing us. You’re killing our business.’

As the superior life force, the hairy opportunist perched on top of the food pyramid, we don’t take this kind of thing very well. We’re outraged. We’re frightened. We’re gunna take sharks down. Flesh versus Cartilage. We love a good revenge killing. If a shark eats us, we’ll bloody well hunt the bastard down and teach that primitive unevolved murdering selachimorpha a lesson.

Like that ever achieved anything. Sharks don’t have annual general meetings where they are warned ‘don’t eat people. That’s angry meat. And it’s not just there’s not plenty of humans to go around. There are. It’s just that it affects their tourist industry. And if there’s one thing that makes them angrier than the very occasional spot of mutilation or death, it’s an economic downturn. Have you seen the price of real estate, Barry?’

Right now there’s a debate raging about the increase of sharks and subsequent attacks on our beaches with a call to net some of the beaches in the Ballina shire. Maybe I’ve got this wrong, but when you’re marketing yourself as a key whale-watching destination, doesn’t this send a mixed message? I guess whales are much easier to spot when they’re tangled in a net. ‘There’s one, Mum. Why is it just sitting there? Is it hurt?’ Because that’s what nets do. They kill animals. Not fluffy ones with big eyes that stare into your soul. But slimy, scaly, animals with teeth and spikes. So we feel disconnected. And it’s easier to care a little less about the by-catch if it means we won’t be bitten on the arse while surfing and our hotels have full occupancy.

Let’s be honest, the real reason we are looking at netting beaches is economic. We’re scared the tourists won’t come back. Most of the people I have heard interviewed who have been attacked by a shark or have lost a loved one have been very clear about their belief that sharks shouldn’t be hunted and that beaches shouldn’t be netted. Shark netting is more about business than human safety.

It’s not even the number one approach. Shark spotting is. But netting makes people feel safer. Because we think it stops them. The other day I read that since netting began in Queensland, 5,056 sea turtles have been trapped and died. If we lined them up end to end that would be more than five kilometres of dead turtle. Must they die for our sins?

Netting is part of a human mindset that is obsessed with dominating wild places. The sea is a wild place. You can’t make it safe. And you shouldn’t. As human beings when we swim in the sea we take a calculated risk. It’s not like the shark knocked on our door and entered our home. We entered theirs. We’re the home invaders here. Maybe sharks should be netting us.

More people are killed by white cars than white pointers, but we don’t see the RMS netting our highways. And people aren’t scared of white cars. The biggest threat to tourism isn’t sharks, it’s human fear. Perhaps instead of using nets, we should try to combat fear with education. With a rational understanding that the ocean isn’t a theme park like Wet and Wild. It’s a real place. It’s not made of concrete and chlorine.

It’s beautiful and rejuvenating because it is full of life. And death. The ocean doesn’t belong to us. It’s another world we can visit. Like the Amazon. Or the desert. We need to learn how to co-exist with more harmonious adaptive behaviours. We could learn shark spotting. As a sport. Or an industry. Seems ridiculous? Well, we have whale watching. Why not shark spotting?

We could market the fact that we have a flourishing population of white pointers. We could map them. Take photos. Make posters. Calendars. Run workshops in shark dreaming. Maybe cage diving. Has anyone tried cage surfing?

Now I’m not saying this as a passionate shark lover. I’m no Valerie Taylor. She terrifies me almost as much as sharks. Every swim I take these days I am flinching at shadows. Screaming when something touches my foot. Right now I’m not even game to get in the bath. But my fear is my problem, and human contagion shouldn’t be used to inform decisions that in turn sanitises our amazing wild places. Spotters not Netters.

For those interested in protecting wildlife mark Tuesday 15 November in your diary when Jennifer Croes – or Jungle Jen – shows her documentaries and talks about the Wildlife Trade.

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  1. Thank you Mandy for pointing out the truth as always: it’s down to economics as is often the case: environment vs economics. Humans DO have a primal fear of sharks, but the ocean is not a swimming pool for humans. The stats quoted are a shocking reminder of the impact that netting will have on wildlife……..wildlife, that belong in the ocean. Humans left there years ago!

  2. Thank you Mandy .As Anne Breitenbach the animal communicator told Ballina Council that Sharks have no interest in eating Humans but because we empied out their hunting grounds,they have to come closer where Humans are and a surfer sends out the same signals as an seal when he is excited to catch a wave. Really it is a bit of a mistake on the shark side,but then Humans really sending out pray signals when fear sets in so sharks come in again. Yes and I think white cars are much more dangerous.

  3. What about building an ocean pool at Ballina, that would be a draw card for tourists and locals who are worried about sharks! They have them in Sydney and the Sunshine Coast and are used and loved by many.

  4. Yes this is so stupid short sighted and abusive. We humans are full of contradictions (hypocrisies) which don’t bode well for our future or say much about our sanity. We fight to protect our ground water from Coal Seam Gas and then allow toxic thyroid poisoning, pineal gland shrinking FLUORIDE to be added. We fight to protect animals rights and the environment and most people continue their addiction with meat and dairy which is devastating to our health, supports industries of mass torture and IS THE SINGLE BIGGEST THREAT GLOBALLY to our environment (watch the documentaries FORKS OVER KNIVES and COWSPIRACY and EARTHLINGS for some environmental and health truths and a big wake up). We say we love/care about our children then we shoot them full of deadly VACCINATIONS..and on it goes. YES its time to CHANGE or DIE. Respect and Gratitude for your caring and sharing about/for our marine life. We can and must and I believe we will..do better. THE TRUTH WILL SET US FREE..which truth I hear you say? Why MOTHER NATURES of course!!! Peace Out xxx

  5. Mandy, I have a solution to the shark problem – but you’re not going to like it.

    If all the humans became vegan, there’d be plenty of fish in the sea (this is getting funnier by the second) and sharks would have other things to snack on apart from human a la marine.

    Just a thought…

    • I am partial to meat ….[Sorry!], but this blinding flash of light is simple brilliance, when you see the volume of unsustainable fishing for human and pet consumption [i.e consumption of meat eating worldwide].
      Yes, there are noahs bumping into many snack sized objects to check if they fit into their ‘good food pyramid’!

  6. Well written Mandy, you are a great communicator. I grew up on the Goldie in the 70’s where the ocean was everything. It was the soul of our community. Northern NSW remains one of the great places where people still connect with the sea; surfing, diving, swimming, paddling out to see whales, strolling along a beach or just smelling those life invigorating aromas.
    Unfortunately perceptions blur into reality. That human sense of relaxation, wholeness, success, mirvana compromise and a sense of place beside the sea changes quite significantly when the joy of the ocean changes to morbid fear. Whether it is movies like Jaws or just a natural born ‘fear’, as you so well describe, that oozes into the rolling liquid pounding our shores, it translates very quickly into real and tangible things like lower accommodation occupancies, fewer casual hours required, declining incomes, lower levels of interest in real estate, declining retail sales (surfboards, wetsuits, bathers, beach towels) and a less positive feeling around town. I’m an environmentalist and I would not swim next to a school of baitfish, but to pretend that we should not protect our mates or our guests from a superior ocean predator is not fair either.

  7. Great article Mandy!. Now let’s get the news to the Chambers of Commerce and Destination NSW
    how iconic places such as Cape Cod thrive BECAUSE of shark sightings.

    1. As sightings of great white sharks mount off Cape Cod in real life, however, businesses in the Massachusetts town of Chatham are embracing the frenzy.

    2, The Chatham Shark Center™ offers an in-depth look at one of the ocean’s most magnificent and misunderstood species: the Great White Shark! Through interactive exhibits, videos, displays, and virtual reality experiences, the center offers many ways to learn about groundbreaking research and one of Cape Cod’s most captivating summer residents.

    3, Sure, this animal could theoretically devour everyone in this video, but that didn’t stop anyone from coming to its aid when it was near death.

    A male great white shark found itself in the hands of humans when it became stranded in Chatham, Massachusetts on Monday. While they waited for rescuers to arrive, beachgoers continually splashed water on the shark to keep him alive. Officials from the Atlantic White Shark Conservancy were able to tow him back into the water, much to the delight of the crowd.

  8. “As the superior life force, the hairy opportunist perched on top of the food pyramid” ha ha. Ms Nolan, the only person who can make white death seem funny. A downturn in popularity is just what Byron needs and is our best shot at affordable housing. I might even come back!


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