Ocean News

People and Sharks: A Delicate Relationship

4th October 2011

The recent shark incident in Cape Town, South Africa, has again catapulted the relationship between people and sharks into the public eye. In light of the recent attention, we have published two articles examining the subject in-depth:

The first is by SOSF project leader Christopher Neff, which looks at the shark bite prevention system Cape Town has in place, and its effectiveness. Praising the effectiveness of the system (the beach was closed at the time of the incident) Chris writes:

The City of Cape Town and local residents should be proud to have the earliest-early warning system in the world, with scientists tracking sharks at sea. Cape Town also has the best-trained beach spotters in the world, who also provide emergency first-aid, and who in this case saved Mr. Cohen’s life. And Fish Hoek should be proud of its brave community members, who risked their lives to save a stranger. This is a story of success done courageously.

While no system is perfect in an always-active beach ecosystem, this three-pronged approach serves as a global model for other beach locations. In all, telling this total story is important because shark bite incidents are a tragedy for individuals and for communities. It is common for these events to stoke fears spread through myth and media, which reinforce old stereotypes about sharks. To be clear, the safety of bathers and surfers is paramount, but this status is not a blank check and in fact comes with greater responsibilities to the environment around us.

The second, by SOSF scientist Alison Kock, is an excellent look at the realities of our co-existence with sharks, stressing the importance of these animals to the health of the ocean and dispelling many of the myths surrounding these creatures:

Great whites keep the ocean balanced. They feed on a variety of animals including numerous species of fish (in Cape Town those include yellowtail, steenbras and cob), other sharks (smooth hounds and guitar sharks), marine mammals (seals) and they even scavenge on dead whales. Furthermore, great whites are often the primary, and sometimes only, predators of some of the larger prey animals like seals. This means that there is a cascading effect in the ocean between the way sharks keep a balance of their prey and the hundreds of different species that are impacted (ecological dominoes if you will), and thus play vital roles in ecosystem function and biodiversity.