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.