The Inertia

Surfers have always, and will always, face the risk of shark attacks. But that danger always becomes the subject of intense media attention when attacks actually happen, all in the context of a society that admires both surfers and sharks as veritable icons of nature. This situation has created a schism within the surfing community, which has a tradition of protecting the environment and marine animals. Should the surf community’s priority be protecting each other or protecting sharks in instances where the two can’t coexist?

Ever since Mick Fanning’s encounter with a great white during a contest, the business of professional surfing has become more and more concerned with the threat posed by sharks. This was made apparent once again when the WSL made a decision in 2018 to stop the Margaret River Pro due to shark activity in the area.

In general, wildlife protection policies have worked well for iconic predators by proposing coexisting and conscious management. But unfortunately, the radical postures of ocean protection organisations care little for the tragic reality faced by surfing communities exposed to excessive risk. The challenge of risk reduction is confounded by intense campaigning by environmental lawyers, who attribute the terrifying image of man-eating predators to the movie Jaws.

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This strategy has consequences for the reputation of surfers, whose efforts to manage risks, such as culling in Australia, are routinely denounced as uncivilized barbarians wanting to slaughter an entire species for the sake of mere recreation. We are therefore faced with the challenge of solving a profound problem, which will only get worse as more and more hardcore environmentlists declare shark attacks as a necessary sacrifice to atone for the evils of humanity.

Can we accept this contention without reacting? Must surfers become unwilling martyrs for this popular antihuman ideology?

Editor’s Note: You can find more from author Jean Francois Nativel in his book Sharks attacks, a modern tragedy, Reunion Island’s story as well as another lecture about the similarities and comparative parallels emerging between the situation in Reunion and other world ‘shark hot-spots’ like Australia, South Africa, Hawaii, Recife (Brazil) and Florida. 

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