Friday, January 16, 2009

Riding the wave of seasonal stupidity

It is almost impossible not to love writers like Malcolm Knox. Tackling the hysterical media bias of three near simultaneous shark attacks in Australia recently with an article formula based on two parts searing humor and two parts serious thought.

Read, be amused, become informed:

Full Story

On Tuesday a rampant great white shark, rows of teeth bared and bloody, lunged out of the front page of The Manly Daily. In case readers weren't already running, the headline shouted: "Coming to a beach near you?"

The annual shark hysteria always devolves into the debate between the head - someone saying that you're more likely to get hit by a car on your way to the beach - and the guts - an unfortunate surfer in hospital letting the teeth marks speak for themselves. By playing the impossible game of measuring probabilities and evidence against the bottomless pit of basic human fear, the hysteria is a distraction from the main issue affecting beaches in summer: the seasonally adjusted spike in stupidity

Shark Attacks-Meeting Two Criteria

I was on the phone today with another production company. We were talking shark attacks. With the recent spate of attacks in Australia the question of "shark evolution" has reared it's ugly head in the media.

Are sharks "evolving" to attack humans?

The answer is no (sorry Vic Hislop). But humans are ever increasing in shark waters, unwittingly providing these predators with the criteria for attacks.

Let me explain.

To understand sharks you have to dumb the conversation down to the basics and strip away the incessant anthromorphication of these animals that we see both in the media and with well meaning shark-ophiles. Sharks are not misunderstood, cuddly animals, who just need a break.

Sharks are predators, they are fish, and most have a brain the size of a walnut. For the most part sharks behave on triggered criteria. Presented with just one of three criteria most sharks will not be triggered into predation mode, presented by two, the chances become much greater.

Case in point. Last springs attack on a tri-athlete off Solana Beach, California. A well documented and sadly fatal encounter. In this case the swimmer was with a pack, in the morning, wearing a black wetsuit and paralleling the shoreline.

Criteria one was met for a Great White that feeds on seals. This was a pack of seals and the animal became interested. But the animal did not attack because a second criteria had not yet come into play.

The swimmer, perhaps not as fit as the rest, dropped back from the pack and became a solo straggler trying to catch up with the rest of the group.

Criteria two, straggling prey item, was met for a Great White which triggered the unfortunate attack. These animals are not evolving to hunt humans, humans are presenting themselves as food items to sharks by triggering a predation response. It has long been established that 90% of shark attacks on humans are in fact mistakes. The traditional bump and bite is the norm for most shark attacks and the animals very rarely come back for a second attempt.

Knowing that sharks are in fact the lesser intelligent animal of humans and sharks, why is it that humans cannot understand how our own actions trigger unfortunate attacks, and how with just a little foresight we might avoid many of them in the future?

Patric Douglas CEO

Basking Sharks: A Global Perspective, Kudos

When disparate research interests, conservation groups, and fishing interests get together you know two things are going on:

1. What brings them together is usually grim news
2. There's still hope

to the Save our Seas Foundation and others who have initiated this conference:

THE Isle of Man is to host a conference on basking sharks this summer following four years of ground-breaking research. Experts from all over the world are expected at the three-day scientific event, Basking Sharks: A Global Perspective.

It will be hosted by the Manx Government, the Manx Wildlife Trust and Save our Seas Foundation.

The Island's basking shark population has received worldwide attention since a shark tagged in Manx waters crossed the Atlantic in 2007. It was previously believed basking sharks on this side of the Atlantic were a completely different group to those off the Americas.

It is estimated there are now only about 8,200 basking sharks left.

'We are close to losing them,' said Jackie. 'This practice must be stopped and our tagging work lends power to the scientific argument against it.