A few days ago, a 26-year-old bodyboarder named Alexandre Naussance was killed by a shark on Réunion Island. It happened in an area where authorities had banned water activities and was the twentieth incident involving sharks since 2011. Eight of them were fatal. Somewhat surprisingly, Kelly Slater weighed in on Instagram, calling for a cull. He was quickly hit by a shit storm of epic proportions, which he is currently still weathering. Michel Bourez, though, just threw his hat in the ring, and he’s in Kelly’s corner.
“What would you do if going into the sea just 2 metres from shore put your life in danger?” Bourez wrote on Facebook. “Nobody wants to kill sharks, they are in their element. But right now, the situation is getting out of control. Bull shark populations are out of their natural balance and still rising. Bull sharks don’t attack to ‘taste’ like the Great White or the Tiger… they attack to kill whether the prey is edible or not… Don’t be too quick too [sic] judge what Kelly Slater and Jeremy Flores have said.”
A few days after Kelly posted his thoughts, Jeremy Flores jumped to his defense. “For those who criticized Kelly Slater’s comment,” he wrote, “I just want to say none of you have ever done as much as him for the protection of the environment. Can you stop 1 minute and think why would he position himself on such delicate subject? Instead of judging, please try to at least understand what is going on in Réunion island. It’s too easy to judge from far away without even knowing the nightmare that is happening here. It’s like nowhere else in the world, the numbers of attacks comparing to how many people go in the ocean is unbelievable. Nobody is talking about erasing the sharks. We are talking about regulating a non-protected shark, the bullshark, who happens to kill everything including many other species of sharks, turtles etc… when it gets too close to our shoreline.”
It’s a complicated subject–the bull shark population around Réunion Island is undoubtedly larger than it’s supposed to be. Although researchers have given many different explanations (rising water temperature, falling deep water fish populations, etc), the vast majority agrees that the spike is related to humans. What to do about it, however, is even more complicated. It’s been proven that shark culls don’t work as well as many believe. Netting, too, is a viable option, as are total bans in certain areas. Maui, in fact, has had more shark attacks than Réunion in the same period of time (although less have been fatal, and it’s not quite as simple as the numbers might make it sound), but because of the higher death rate on Réunion, it’s become a scapegoat of sorts for those calling for a cull.
While many (understandably) see it as choosing sharks over humans, what it comes down to is this: are we actually proposing killing thousands of vitally important creatures just so that we can slide around on top of waves? Because that makes no sense. What does make sense, though, is if bull shark populations are indeed far higher than they should be in the area and it’s because of humans, they do need to be managed, much like axis deer on Maui or wolves in Alberta.
Whether we like it or not, our presence on earth is hyper-destructive to nearly every other species. Although culling is, for the most part, an extraordinarily dumb idea, in certain situations it needs to be looked at on a case-by-case basis. Réunion Island has a problem, and people are dying. If all other options have truly been exhausted, and we’re to blame for a damaging spike in bull shark populations, then perhaps a cull is something to be considered.