The Problem With Problem Sharks


“Most of the shark researchers are thinking, not the wrong way, but in an incomplete way,” he said.

One of Dr. Clua’s co-authors, John Linnell of the Norwegian Institute for Nature Research, studies human conflicts with predators on land, and acknowledges that he’s not a “shark person.” Land predators sometimes stalk and attack humans until they are killed, he said.

Recent history is full of such examples, some almost mythic. Two male lions nicknamed “the ghost” and “the darkness” were blamed for killing dozens of people in southwestern Kenya in 1898. Those lions were tracked and shot by hunters. A decade later, a Bengal tigress known as the “Champawat Tiger” supposedly killed 436 people in Nepal and India. A hunter killed her as well.


Craig Packer, founder of the Lion Center at the University of Minnesota, said those stories are true, though certainly embellished by colonial authors for readers back in Britain. Dr. Packer has studied man-eating lions in Tanzania and likened the phenomenon to an “outbreak” that can spread through a pride or be taught by mother to cubs.

“Every now and then, one of them figures out we’re a free lunch,” he said.

Biteprinting won’t be as simple as sending hunters into the field to take out a tiger with a taste for human flesh, Dr. Linnell acknowledges. But he said that “anything is better than the current unselective mass killing response.” If humans reacted to bears the way they have with sharks, Dr. Linnell said it would be akin to “going out into the forest and randomly shooting the first 1,000 animals that you see.”


However people react when shark attacks do occur, Dr. Shiffman offered the reminder that such incidents are rare. According to the International Shark Attack File at the University of Florida, there were 64 unprovoked attacks on humans last year and 41 provoked attacks, meaning that a person “initiates interaction with a shark in some way.”

Five of the attacks were fatal. More people are killed by falling trees in the U.S. every year.


While shark attacks are uncommon, so are shark culls, although a prominent surfer recently called for one on Réunion Island in the Indian Ocean, which is home to bull sharks. Instead, a number of countries deploy shark nets, similar to fences, beyond the surf at popular beaches. Dangerous sharks get tangled in the nets, but so do harmless ones, along with dolphins, sea turtles and other marine life.

In place of these methods, many beach authorities have embraced more humane methods of prevention over extermination. Drones, blimps and tags connect to apps that warn lifeguards and bathers to steer clear of beaches when sharks are around. And after two fatal attacks occurred in New England in recent years, Cape Cod residents received tourniquet training.

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