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Op-Ed: Aussie shark ‘death coast’ babble in global media is garbage

By Paul Wallis     Jul 17, 2012 in Environment
Sydney - Following the recent death of a surfer off Western Australia, the world’s media idiots have been having a field day talking about The Death Coast. Great White sharks are good copy- If you don’t have a brain or an education.
The mere fact that 5 fatal shark attacks occurred in 10 months, in areas where Great White sharks have been known for centuries, has been enough to produce a media feeding frenzy:
The death of 24-year-old surfer Ben Linden has prompted a flurry of worldwide media interest, with a leading American TV network describing the "hunt for a man-eater" and others writing of WA's "death coast".
As tourism chiefs warned the latest fatality would hit the State's marketing brand, the websites of some of the world's biggest news organisations carried stories about the attack's grisly details.
Now have a look at the local reporting from The West Australian as reported by Yahoo on the same subject.
The local reporting does reflect local worries about the shark that attacked, not so much “sharks” as a problem. Shark attacks are often a result of a shark’s own behaviour. Like crocodiles, there may be hundreds of them around, but it’s usually only a few that are actually causing trouble.
Shark attacks facts
There’s no book called How to Cover Shark Attacks for Dummies, so perhaps we’d better explain the situation to the foreign media:
There are no “cute” shark attacks. The trouble with Great Whites is that they’re huge sharks. When they hit, they do a lot of damage, unlike the smaller species. Tiger, Bull and Mako sharks are the other major offenders, being on the big side.
“Jaws” notwithstanding, Great Whites are typically seal hunters. They’re big fish, with big appetites. There’s not much big prey closer in to shore, so bumping into one near land isn’t that easy. Accidents therefore happen when they do come inshore. A big 4-5 metre Great White is a large set of teeth travelling at roughly the speed of a car. They can’t check a calorie guide before they strike, so if they hit a human, the result is inevitable.
In this case, the surfer was literally bitten in half. It must have been a huge shark, and probably a hungry one in “bite it and see what happens” mode. Big sharks have been known to attack practically anything that’s in striking range. The locals are naturally trying to find it and get rid of it, which should be the end of the problem. They’re also a bit worried that some tagged Great Whites have been hanging around, but shark movements aren’t well understood, so their presence anywhere could be seasonal or related to hunting movements.
Sharks in Australian culture
Since Aboriginal times sharks have been, let’s say, noticeable. The modern culture is based on one simple fact- Sharks are dangerous. If you’re on an Australian beach when a shark alarm sounds, you’ll notice the Aussies don’t stick around looking for a fin- They get out of the water, ASAP.
The statistics for shark deaths and attacks are interesting reading, particularly when they’re dated from 1791.It looks like this surfer was just unlucky. You’ve got more chance of getting hit by lightning than attacked, let alone killed, by a shark in Australia. Only about 30% of shark attacks are fatal. That’s a total of 200 unprovoked attacks since 1791, by the way. (Bizarrely, there were also 189 cases of “provoked” shark attacks, resulting in 17 fatalities since 1832. )
Actually, if you’re worried about accidental death in Australia, cars are six times more dangerous per year than sharks have been in the last two centuries. 1292 people died on Australian roads in 2011.
The BS factor
You’ve got much more chance of getting buried in BS about sharks. To read the news, you’d think it was impossible to go swimming without a movie crew on standby. That’s not quite the case.
Sharks are attracted by things like blood from people gutting fish or noises which sound like an animal in distress, not headlines. One theory is that swimming dogs attract them to beaches used by humans, because they make the wrong noises.
When I was a kid, I was up in Queensland sitting in a boat while the adults were gutting fish we’d caught near a jetty- And saw a huge black fin about the same size as me sail silently past then dive under the boat. Wouldn’t have even known it was there unless I’d happened to be looking that way.
It’s well known among surfers that there’s always a slight chance of bumping in to a shark. I know three guys who spent about half an hour sitting on their boards out in deep water while one of the local sharks checked them out.
The most common reason for a shark attack is encountering them in shallow water or in rivers, where the sharks get more aggressive because they’re out of their element.
The working rule about the sharks, like the crocs, is “Don’t be a bloody idiot”. The story is the same as anything to do with wild Australia- When someone says “Don’t do that, it’s dangerous”, it means “Don’t do that- It really is dangerous”. So when someone tells you get out of the water, get out of the bloody water- Because if a shark feels like attacking, it’ll be your blood.
Just get that right, and you’ll never have any problems with sharks.
Unless, of course, you’re a global news ghoul- In which case do please come out to Australia, and we’ll personally introduce you to all the Great Whites, one at a time. We’re sure you’ll hit it off with at least one of them and get your own exclusive shark stories.
Alternatively, perhaps you'd like to find out what you're talking about, before publishing it? First time for everything, isn't there?
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of
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