Christopher X J. Jensen
Associate Professor, Pratt Institute

Shark attacks are down, but you still have to make good decisions out there on the ocean

Posted 20 Oct 2015 / 0

2015-10-20aFrontiers in Ecology and the EnvironmentReconciling predator conservation with public safety

The predators that survive us are often the predators that we survive: shy mountain lions have done better than wolves where people live, perhaps because our interactions with them have selectively removed the most aggressive predators. Sharks are a whole different story because we interact with them on their own turf… or should I say “on their own surf”. As a result interactions with sharks can often prove quite dangerous for humans. This study quantifies that danger in order to understand just how much tension exists between efforts to conserve sharks as important large marine predators and efforts to keep people safe in the water. The declines they report are fascinating because they are not fully explainable: there may be fewer sharks, but sharks and people may also be altering their behaviors in ways that reduce the risk of shark attack. Fascinatingly, allowing seal species to rebound may be offering protection to people: if sharks are attracted away from areas of human activities by the lure of eating more-abundant seals, we would see a decline in attacks. But we might also be behaving differently, avoiding areas and times when shark attacks are most abundant. I thought that it was interesting that scuba divers are experiencing a larger decline in shark attacks than surfers: is it possible that scuba divers are more likely to heed advisories as to when and where to limit their activities? The data in this study will provide a better assessment of risk, which should lead to better advisories, so future swimmers, scuba divers, surfers, and abalone divers (that’s right, read the article) who pay attention should be less at risk of getting bitten.

I do wonder whether it is possible that the sharks have evolved to be less aggressive over time in response to how we deal with them. I suppose that most sharks that attack are not tracked down and killed with the same efficacy as dangerous big cats or other terrestrial predators who attack us, so the potential for natural selection that produces less aggressive shark behaviors may not be as great.

A Minor Post, Articles, Biodiversity Loss, Community Ecology, Predation, Public Policy

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