The first survey conducted before and after a shark attack has found that public support for great white sharks was virtually unchanged. The academic journal Marine Policy published the results online this week in a paper by two University of Sydney researchers, doctoral candidate Christopher Neff and Dr. Jean Yang. The surveys of 100 total Cape Town residents in the neighboring beach suburbs of Fish Hoek and Muizenberg were taken in June and again in October 2011, following a non-fatal shark attack at Fish Hoek beach on September 28.
Of the 50 people surveyed before the attack, 31 combined to report "average" and "a lot" of pride in white sharks, while 19 people reported "little" pride. After the attack, an additional 50 people were surveyed and 33 combined to report "average" and "a lot" of pride, with 17 reporting "little" pride. Importantly, a quantitative analysis was done that showed no significance between the way people answered the question regarding pride in sharks and the shark bite incident.
Neff stated, "These results show that the public is much more sophisticated at understanding shark attacks than previously thought. It was not ‘Amity Island’ from Jaws and the public was not panicked. Cape Town residents often said ‘it’s the shark’s domain’ and this was consistent before and after the incident. These results challenge the premise that Governments’ need to punish sharks to relieve community anxiety."
Residents were asked how much "pride" they had in the local marine life, which included great white sharks, dolphins and seals. The survey also asked how much “confidence” they had in beach safety programs such as Surf Lifesavers, Shark Spotters and the National Sea Rescue Institute. The results showed steady support for the partly government-funded Shark Spotters program as well as volunteer Surf Lifesavers and NSRI.
The survey used “pride” as a measure to test endemic value against the presence of a human-wildlife conflict. Research has shown endemism to be a key factor in species conservation. While support for sharks was low in comparison to measurements for dolphins and seals, it did not drop and this provides valuable information for shark conservation education.
A copy of the paper is available from Marine Policy: