Doomed Planet

If Only Sharks Ate ‘Experts’

shark netThe legal protection of sharks and ever-increasing restrictions on commercial fishing have resulted in a significant increase in coastal shark populations around Australia. Combined with a growing population and more people in the water this has also led to a significant increase in attacks over recent years.  Government now faces conflicting pressures in demands to save the lives of both people and sharks.

Politicians simply cannot take the time to become well informed on the myriad issues they must deal with so they have to rely heavily on the advice of experts.  This works well in matters where there is a firmly founded body of knowledge, but less so in areas where knowledge is sketchy, conflicting and uncertain.  Unfortunately we now have certified “experts” for every occasion, including topics about which we are in fact quite ignorant. Such “experts” know only what they have been taught in the degree mills, and what they offer is not so much evidence but more opinion and ideology. In environmental matters this situation is both common and compounded by a vigorous suppression of any questioning where a particular perspective has been deemed ethically correct by an academic community which leans overwhelmingly to the political left.

Although employing shark nets off popular swimming beaches has a well-established record in greatly reducing attacks, academic “experts” now deem this to present an unacceptable risk to “endangered” marine life. If their proclaimed expertise included any practical knowledge of sharks and shark fisheries they would know nets are not only effective but pose little risk to overall shark populations.  It simply causes them to avoid the netted area.

In World War II night vision was critically important in many military activities, and good night vision depends on a healthy intake of Vitamin A. This is normally supplied from fresh vegetables but these were impossible to provide in many situations. The synthesis of Vitamin A had not been achieved at that time but shark liver oil was known to be a particularly rich natural source.  As part of the war effort shark fisheries were initiated in a number of different areas and the fishermen soon learned that taking the liver and discarding the bodies quickly drove other sharks away from an area. Decaying shark flesh appears to be a strong shark repellent.

When shark netting is employed off beaches there is an initial high catch which quickly declines along with sightings in the general area.  The overall catch and area affected is tiny relative to the wider population.  Most importantly, to be maximally effective the carcasses of any sharks caught should be left in the area, not disposed of elsewhere.

Like most animals, sharks are attracted to areas where they are fed and likewise soon learn to avoid areas where they are in danger. No marine fish or invertebrate has ever been exterminated by fishing and the effect of introducing a few danger zones for them so that we too can enjoy the sea with minimal risk would be only a small price to pay for them or us.

In my personal experience, I have encountered two situations clearly confirming the effectiveness of this form of deterrence. The first was as a child growing up on an island in the Florida Keys.  My family had a dock where several fishing boats were based. In the evening, when the boats returned from fishing, catches were cleaned at the dock, with fish heads, backbones and entrails tossed into the water, where half a dozen or more sharks gathered to quickly consume them.  This was a normal daily situation for years but at one point I decided to catch one of the sharks to make myself a set of shark jaws like I had seen on the wall in a local bar.  After cutting out the jaws I threw the body back in the water. The next day it was still there clearly visible on the bottom in a couple of metres of water. Over the next week as it decayed and was eaten by crabs and small fishes the other sharks stayed away and only started coming back some days after it was gone.

The other instance was in the Solomon Islands, where I spent three years in the mid-1970s. A Japanese company had established a small tuna cannery at Tulagi Island.  Tuna offal from the cannery was disposed of daily by dumping it in deep water just off the island where large numbers of predatory fish and sharks quickly devoured it in a feeding frenzy of remarkable intensity. Several species of sharks were involved, predominantly dozens of the largest, fattest grey reef sharks I have seen anywhere.  This continued for several years until some of the local villagers discovered the market for shark fins and started to catch them. As they were fishing from small canoes they couldn’t handle big, thrashing fish, nor did they have any use for the whole shark, so they simply cut off the fins and left the bodies to sink. The result was again an immediate and dramatic disappearance of sharks from the area.

Half-baked notions of environmental evangelism being presented as sound science by self-proclaimed “experts” have played a major part in driving a majority of our small primary producers out of their industry. These were the flexible, low-overhead operations which played a key role in providing abundant low cost food and raw materials. The result has been steep price increases in food, housing and energy going from among the most affordable in the world and rising to among the most expensive.

Now we have the highest level of personal debt in the world, half the population signed up as indentured servants to the banks for most of their working lives and much of the remainder in an ongoing battle to pay for rent, food and energy. Regardless, the eco-salvationists are doubling down on demands for still more restrictions.

Genuine expertise is firmly based on evidence, not just proclaimed authority.  We should always be mindful that what we need from experts is evidence, not just opinion.

Walter Starck, a regular Quadrant contributor, has been researching coral reefs for more than 50 years. His biography can be found here







8 thoughts on “If Only Sharks Ate ‘Experts’

  • says:

    A most infuriating but also informative example of the curse of the eco warriors. To qualify for such exalted status, it is useful to be an academic, but most importantly you must have a well established reputation of being morally superior to regular people. Actual knowledge or practical experience relating to the subject matter is of little or no consequence.

  • Warty says:

    Not being a polymath, I restrict my reading, indeed my research (if I can so dignify my scratchings) to areas of interest, and so climate-change, shark strokings, or their under-carriage ticklings; detecting the screams of pin-stuck cabbages with ultra sonic equipment; measuring the responses of trees to my warm embraces, all fall outside the ambit of my limited research.
    Indeed I’m ashamed to admit I am far more interested in the various Arab Israeli wars, Like Benny Morris’ text 1948, Abraham Rabinovich’s The Yom Kippur War: The Epic Encounter That Transformed the Middle East, or Michael Oren’s Six Days of War. Reading about a people ordained to be driven into the sea, kicking the butts of those who repeatedly call them pigs and apes: this somehow appeals to my sense of justice.
    But, if our elected members cannot take the time to read up on the preferred diet of the Great White vis a vis that of the Grey Nurse then I feel justified in not doing so myself. But therein lies my downfall, because I then resort to an ignorant, instinctive fear of sharks, and the perverse desire to know that there are none of those creatures beneath my inviting, white, wrigglely legs, when swimming out from the beach; and that there are those unseen, impenetrable nets to protect me when I do.
    My callousness is such that I believe I am worth more to the politician and his election considerations than the odd imperiled shark, or their Green protectors, who’d never in a flying fit vote for my sort of politician anyway.
    So forgive me if I take a leaf from Rodrigo Duterte’s compendium and give the bird to the Green experts . . . for, truth be told, I don’t give two dingo’s droppings what they think.

  • Warty says:

    Totally off the topic: how on earth do the tech savvy ones, amongst us, manage to introduce italics into their responses?

  • Mohsen says:

    I don’t understand what’s wrong with a handful of shark attacks a year?

    According to the Australian Shark Attack File, kept by researchers at Sydney’s Taronga Conservation Society, there have been 1003 shark attacks in Australia since records began in 1791, and 232 of them have been fatal. All up, about one-quarter of shark attacks are fatal, and the average fatal attack is one person/year.

    What’s the problem with knowing that there will be close to zero percent chance one would be attacked by a shark, if one goes into water?

    Speaking of ideology, I have a solution to injuries and fatalities from car accidents. Reduce the speed limit to 20 km/h everywhere, increase the number of cops as many as needed to enforce it.

    Or sports injuries: Completely ban all sports.

    • Peter OBrien says:

      The remedy for shark attacks, as Walter has pointed out, is simple and cheap. If we could eliminate sports and car fatalities at such low cost/impact we, no doubt, would do that also.

      • Jody says:

        Consider this; some of those shark attacks – particularly in the north of the state – are probably dealing with serial dole bludgers. I have a home on the south coast of NSW and that area has huge employment because the people would rather live there than surf than move elsewhere to find work. Let’s hope these are one and the same demographic that the shark has been able to identify for his/her feasting. Ergo, doing us all a favour.

        Please consider the opportunity cost of mitigating shark attacks and the save to the public purse of the sharks being left to their own devices.

  • Rob Brighton says:

    In my home town my children serve as life savers and in the case of the eldest lad, life guards. The surf life saving movement is one due our respect as it has helped teach my kids about public service, caring for others and themselves.
    It is common knowledge amongst the serving members that you get a greater population of shark when you have a river mouth adjacent to a marine park. The combination of the safety of the marine park along with higher levels of food seems to be the general view of what brings the shark to be there.
    One of the older guys who has served 75 years in the life saving movement tells me that this is so.
    Combined experience and knowledge amidst the clubs members of the sea in our area would be measured in thousands of years, yet apparently they are all wrong.
    Just ask any of the con artists at greenpeace.

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