In the criminal underworld, the term “shark” applies to those who loan money and stand over those who will not, do not want, or cannot repay the debt. For the prey, the shark must attack in order to keep his (usually it is a he) reputation. Pimps are also referred to as ‘sharks’.
Pimps are almost always men, and they also must be fierce and gruesome in order to maintain their place in the food chain without being culled.
The irony is that when debate centers on crime, most Australians are unsympathetic to those who get caught in a shark’s deadly grip. You live by the sword, you die by it. You walk into the underworld; there are only two ways out; a cell or a coffin. But wander into the salty water on any coast along the 100,000 miles of beach around Australia and the rules change… for some.
As winter in Australia comes to an end and Spring rolls in another shark attack has the nation divided. Unlike many previous attacks in Western Australia, this incident occurred in the hip east coast town of Byron Bay. Close to the Gold Coast and the conservative Queensland border, where shark nets provide “some” protection for tourists and surfers, this happened just a few miles south… just out of reach for a cull.
Unlike previous attacks that have made nation and even global headlines, this incident has in many ways leveled the playing field and displaced the umpire in the never ending game of catch and kill the sharks. Even the widow of the deceased, who was on the beach when the great white took her husband’s life, only 15 meters from the shoreline, has said she doesn’t blame the shark.
An extract from the Courier Mail, where a video link to the EMS response can be viewed reads:
Victoria Wilcox says she wants to stay in Byron despite the heartbreak of losing her husband of 24 years in last week’s attack, but cannot go back to the house they shared.
“I want to reach out to the Byron community,” Mrs Wilcox told the local paper.
“I don’t blame the shark, or the town or anyone. The beach is such a health-giver.”
Mr Wilcox, 50, died after being mauled by a suspected great white at Clarkes Beach on Tuesday. He was swimming only about 15m from shore when he died.
Mrs Wilcox is being supported by family and friends and a Byron Bay-based company is organising a memorial service. Born in the UK, Mr Wilcox was a corporate trainer and author who founded a successful business called Refocus Learning. The couple had moved to the area around five years ago.
In 1975, Steven Spielberg was just 21 years old when he directed a film adapted from a book that would change the way people felt about sharks across the world. Jaws became the biggest box office hit in Hollywood history and shaped the way movies were marketed.
During the making of Jaws, footage of real sharks shot by marine biologists Ron and Valerie Taylor in the waters off Australia was used, with a smaller-framed actor in a miniature shark cage to create the illusion that the shark depicted in Jaws was enormous. Almost 40 years later and the issue of how sharks and humans interact is still the subject of debate and divided opinion, and to this day both Valerie and Ron Taylor (now in their 70’s) continue to act in defense of sharks.
As with the doomed Malaysian Airlines flight 370, shark attacks on humans are statistically rare, but when they do happen they make a big slash. In Australia, the large section of the southern coastline is known as the Great Australian Bight. Given the coastlines popular surfing locations and beach townships, a larger proportion of shark attacks occur in this region than in other parts of the country, lending itself to the unflattering nickname.
In Western Australia, where a number of recent attacks have occurred, the government response has been to choose between human life and that of the sharks via the use of baited hooks. Under this policy, any shark caught larger than 3 meters is shot, a practice that has divided the population and led to the involvement of the Australian charter of the Sea Shepard conservation group (normally known for battling Japanese whaling vessels in local waters) to get involved.
The removal of baited hooks aimed at catching sharks that come close to popular West Australian beaches could be ordered as early as Wednesday afternoon when the WA Supreme Court decides on a legal bid by marine activists, Sea Shepherd, to halt the state’s controversial shark culling program.
In a late-night hearing in Perth, lawyers for Sea Shepherd sought an injunction to have the shark cull halted pending a judicial review into the way the program was implemented.
Great white, tiger and bull sharks are protected species in Western Australia and cannot legally be hunted. In order to cull them the WA government had to grant itself a special exemption, which Sea Shepherd argues was passed following an incorrect legal process.
The WA government maintains that the correct process was followed. Justice James Edelman has reserved his decision until 4pm on Wednesday.
Typically, WA premier Colin Barnett said he was “absolutely confident” that the policy in place is the right policy and he intends to continue it. At this point it doesn’t matter what the Sea Shepard does, or how many people protest, if the court orders the baited hooks removed today, the WA government will simply pass the shark-cull exemption again hours, this time following the correct process.
To the supporters of the policy, its an important public safety program. To opponents, it’s a knee jerk.
The culling program was implemented in January after seven fatal shark attacks in three years off West Australian beaches. In a touch of irony, the first shark was killed on Australia Day, 26 January.
One of those fatally attacked by a shark was 21-year-old Kyle Burden, whose mother, Sharon, joined Sea Shepherd in bringing the case. She said the sight of baited hooks off the beach where her son lost his life “disturbs me greatly”.
The policy has been the subject of international condemnation, including from actor Ricky Gervais and billionaire businessman Richard Branson. Protests held on beaches around the world have drawn thousands and polls have consistently shown that Australians oppose the measure. But premier Barnett is standing by shark baiting, arguing that “many West Australians who love to use the ocean – divers, surfers, swimmers and families – want increased protection from dangerous sharks at these beaches.”
So what are the stats?
According to the Australian Shark Attack File, kept by researchers at Sydney’s Taronga Conservation Society, there have been 893 shark attacks in Australia since 1791. All up, about 30 per cent of attacks are fatal. Below is a short lime line of recent fatal shark attacks in Australia.
29 November, 2013: Zac Young, 19, dies from cardiac arrest after being attacked by a shark while bodyboarding with friends near Riecks Point north of Coffs Harbour in NSW.
23 November 2013: Chris Boyd, 35, is attacked by a shark, believed to be a great white, while surfing at the popular surf break Umbries off Gracetown in WA.
14 July 2012: Ben Linden, 24, is killed while surfing near Wedge Island, Western Australia, 180km north of Perth. A witness who tried to help said the shark swam away with the body.
31 March 2012: Peter Kurmann, 33, is taken in south-western WA while diving in the Port Geographe Marina. His brother, who was diving with him, tried to fight off the shark with a knife.
22 October, 2011: American tourist George Thomas Wainwright, 32, sustains horrific injuries and dies while scuba diving off Rottnest Island.
10 October, 2011: Bryn Martin, 64, disappears at Cottesloe Beach and is presumed a shark attack victim. Only his damaged Speedos were found.
4 September, 2011: Kyle Burden, 21, is taken by a shark while bodyboarding with friends at Bunker Bay, near Dunsborough, in Western Australia.
17 February 2011: An abalone diver is taken in an attack by two sharks, believed to be great whites, while surfacing near Perforated Island in Coffin Bay, South Australia.
17 August 2010: A 31-year-old man dies from serious injuries after being attacked by a shark while surfing near Gracetown in Western Australia’s south-west.
27 December 2008: Fisherman Brian Guest, 51, is taken by a great white while snorkelling at Port Kennedy in Perth’s south. His son and beachgoers saw the shark attack and swim off with him in its mouth.
8 April 2008: A 16-year-old boy from Wollongbar is killed by a shark while bodyboarding off Ballina’s Lighthouse Beach on the NSW north coast.
7 January 2006: Sarah Kate Whiley, 21, is mauled by up to three bull sharks while swimming in waist-deep water with friends at Amity Point, off south-east Queensland’s North Stradbroke Island.
24 August 2005: Marine biologist Jarrod Stehbens, 23, is taken by a shark, believed to be a great white, while diving for cuttlefish eggs with colleagues off Adelaide’s Glenelg Beach.
Sounds like a hitman’s black book of triple-strikes, but if sharks really are the Apex predator of the sea, let’s compare this to the number of sharks killed by humans, in particular the practice of shark finning – the brutal but lucrative practice of cutting fins off live sharks and throwing them back into the ocean.
Whilst this is banned in Australia, we import 10 tons of dried shark fin every year from countries that have not banned finning, including China and the Philippines. This equates to an estimated 26,000 sharks. Multiply that by the number of years since Steven Spielberg directed Jaws and you’re in the vicinity of over a million sharks killed simply for their fins for the Australian market alone. Worldwide, you’d need a bigger calculator as well as bigger boat just to make an estimate.
Dried shark fins are widely available in Melbourne and Sydney for up to $1400 a kilogram. A bowl of shark-fin soup in an average restaurant costs more than $150 AUD.
It begs the question of who is the real victim and who is the hunter? It also begs the question of where the real Australian bite is, in the ocean or in the restaurants and fish & chip shops.
Little wonder the Sea Shepard is now involved. With any luck their legal actions will be just as effective as their actions on the water. If not, I think they’ll make an even bigger splash with their new ocean liner when the sun goes down and the courts are closed. That much we can count on…
Pink Tide is available in paperback and amazon via Kindle eBook.
A revised edition of head Shot is now available from Arcadia Press… http://www.scholarly.info/book/397/
“Catch and kill your own…
The underworld lives by this code.
When somebody gets out of line, they handle it themselves. The victim ends up face down in a driveway with three bullets in the back of the head. Bowling ball style.
The families don’t call the cops and they don’t expect our help. They wash their own dirty laundry and they do it on their own terms.
It’s been that way since I can remember, probably since anyone can. This is how they live. And how they die…”