Don’t Slaughter Your Sharks, Australia, Shark-Attack Survivor Says

A spate of recent shark attacks off Australia may have the government on the warpath against sharks again, but a famous Australian shark-attack survivor says conserving sharks is tantamount to saving humanity.
Three fatal shark attacks have occurred recently of Australia’s east coast, and a shark is suspected in a fourth attack on a woman making a documentary about sharks on the Great Barrier Reef. The attacks have produced dramatic headlines worldwide, but according to one survivor, the world is alarmed about the wrong slaughter.
“You probably know that over 100 million sharks are killed every year by humans,” said Paul de Gelder, a former Australian Navy diver who lost his right hand and right leg to a bull shark in 2009. “That’s over 11,000 per hour. In contrast, only seven humans on average die from sharks per year around the world. Seven to 100 million. When I learned that I began to question, who should be afraid of who?”
The main culprit, according to de Gelder, is commercial fishing, but the Australian government isn’t helping.
“The fueling of public fear in Australia is the reason that Australia has had an active shark cull since the 1930s,” de Gelder said last month at the EarthXOceans Conference.
“Even in the world heritage site of the Great Barrier Reef, one of the greatest natural wonders of the world, sharks are being killed out of fear by the very people tasked to protect them.”
The culling, which employs baited lines and underwater shark nets, creates a false sense of security, de Gelder said.
“The nets don’t span the whole beach. They don’t even go to the bottom. Sharks can swim around, over and under the nets. And most of the sharks are caught on the inside of the nets anyway.”
So are many other species, including turtles, rays, dolphins and whales. “These nets are destructive to all life along the Australian coast.”
de Gelder made these comments before the recent attacks. I reached out to him to ask if he wanted to comment on the recent attacks specifically. If he responds, I will insert his comments.
The Government of Queensland spends $3.3 million per year culling sharks. In testimony to the Australian Senate, the government admits that shark nets are not impenetrable to sharks and that they kill many other species. The government said it “is committed to investigating all avenues to minimise the impacts on these species.”
But the government argues the nets are effective because there has been only one shark attack off of Queensland during the program’s 54 years.
de Gelder doesn’t want to preserve sharks just for their own sake. As top-level predators, he said, they regulate the health of the ecosystems they patrol.
“Sharks aren’t just important to the balance, they’re essential. They’re what’s known as a keystone species, which means without them their ecosystem would be destroyed.”
In addition to lobbying against the cull, de Gelder urges a seafood boycott.
“The human hunger for seafood is pushing our oceans to the breaking point. And scientists have recognized if we don’t stop eating seafood at the rate we are, our oceans will be empty by 2048. And you know what that means: no more humans. We rely on our oceans to provide us with oxygen and if they die, then so do we.”

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