Skip to main content

Even after attacks on humans, sharks should be protected

By Mike Coots, Special to CNN
July 23, 2012 -- Updated 0936 GMT (1736 HKT)
Five people have been killed by sharks off Western Australia in the past 10 months.
Five people have been killed by sharks off Western Australia in the past 10 months.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Five have died in shark attacks off Australia in the past 10 months, says Mike Coots
  • As a shark-attack survivor myself, I feel these losses keenly, Coots says
  • Coots: Still, a healthy shark population equals a healthy marine ecosystem
  • Australian law protects the great white, and that law must stay, Coots says

Editor's note: Mike Coots is a shark-attack survivor, shark conservationist, surfer and photographer.

(CNN) -- The latest string of fatal shark attacks in Western Australia is creating a climate of fear that could haphazardly undo a very important environmental law that protects great white sharks.

Last weekend, 24-year-old surfer Ben Linden was attacked by a great white near Perth, becoming the fifth fatality off that coast in the past 10 months. In response, the Western Australia Fishing Minister, Norman Moore, promised to write the federal government "to know if there has been any update on the status of the white sharks and the sustainability level at which the Federal Government will lift protection." If Mr. Moore has his way, hundreds if not thousands of sharks will be killed in Australia. I have a problem with that.

Yes, my heart goes out to the victims' families and friends who are mourning the losses of these tragic events, and I in no way downplay the pain and sadness an attack has on an entire community.

Shark attacks: Is 'Jaws' back?

Mike Coots
Mike Coots

I know, as I lost my leg and nearly my life after being attacked by a large tiger shark here in Hawaii. I do feel that these predators play a very important role in the health of our oceans, and I strongly oppose any type of shark hunting or culling program. Let me explain.

By fishing for the great white shark, the bycatch will surely be a bunch of other shark species that have never had a history of munching on people. They did a shark culling program in Hawaii in the 1960s and early '70s, and 4,668 sharks were killed. Only 554 were the targeted species, the tiger shark.

If a judge put one criminal along with eight innocent people on death row for a murder, would that be justice? And what if the guilty criminal was found guilty only because he belonged to the same race as the suspect in the crime? This type of rationale doesn't make sense, and it surely doesn't do anything to solve the crime.

Shark attack victim speaks
Shark rips surfer in half in Australia
Divers surprised by great white shark
Branson new venture to help save sharks

White sharks, by most scientific studies, have been shown not to be territorial. The shark that attacked Ben Linden is very probably hundreds of miles away, quite possibly in the waters of another country. The odds of a culling program capturing the same animal responsible for any one of the attacks is very slim.

Sharks, the dominant predators in the sea, by nature need to be on the move to be efficient eaters. The element of surprise is their weapon of choice, and if they hang in the same area for too long the fish get spooked and they lose out on an easy meal. Moving ensures a more efficient way of consuming food. Great whites tracked off of Australia's northwestern coast have been known to travel to South Africa, and have been recorded traveling more than 12,000 miles in just nine months.

China bans shark fin soup from banquets

In Australia, the great white is protected by both domestic and international law, having been cited as "vulnerable" by the International Union for Conservation of Nature in 1996. In 2002, with input from scientists, environmentalists, fisheries, and fishermen, Australia's government initiated the White Shark Recovery Plan. This law took a long time to be put into place, and undoing it would jeopardize the marine ecosystem.

Any marine biologist will tell you that a healthy shark population equals a healthy marine ecosystem. Sharks predate dinosaurs, and millions of years of evolution have positioned them in a critical and vital role as an apex predator. Predator removal can cause a cascading effect that destabilizes the entire marine food web and, in turn, our oceans.

Great whites are slow to mature and have very few offspring, so any type of culling program, even if done for a limited amount of time, would put their existence in peril.

From what I have learned about Ben Linden, his entire life revolved around the ocean. So does mine. And so do those of millions of other people across the globe who surf, fish, swim, dive and feel more comfortable in water than on land. The ocean is a complex web of marine life, with many species being driven to extinction year after year. For humans and sharks to coexist is for us to respect their place on Earth.

Follow @CNNOpinion on Twitter

Join us at Facebook/CNNOpinion

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Mike Coots.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
July 21, 2014 -- Updated 1235 GMT (2035 HKT)
Frida Ghitis: Anger over MH17 is growing against pro-Russia separatists. It's time for the Dutch government to lead, she writes
July 21, 2014 -- Updated 1227 GMT (2027 HKT)
Julian Zelizer says President Obama called inequality the "defining challenge" of our time but hasn't followed through.
July 21, 2014 -- Updated 1157 GMT (1957 HKT)
Gene Seymour says the 'Rockford Files' actor worked the persona of the principled coward, charming audiences on big and small screen for generations
July 21, 2014 -- Updated 1417 GMT (2217 HKT)
Daniel Treisman says that when the Russian leader tied his fate to the Ukraine separatists, he set the stage for his current risky predicament
July 18, 2014 -- Updated 1642 GMT (0042 HKT)
Andrew Kuchins says urgent diplomacy -- not sanctions -- is needed to de-escalate the conflict in Ukraine that helped lead to the downing of an airliner there.
July 19, 2014 -- Updated 0150 GMT (0950 HKT)
Jim Hall and Peter Goelz say there should be an immediate and thorough investigation into what happened to MH17.
July 18, 2014 -- Updated 1507 GMT (2307 HKT)
Pilot Bill Palmer says main defense commercial jets have against missiles is to avoid flying over conflict areas.
July 20, 2014 -- Updated 1755 GMT (0155 HKT)
Valerie Jarrett says that working women should not be discriminated against because they are pregnant.
July 21, 2014 -- Updated 1953 GMT (0353 HKT)
David Wheeler says the next time you get a difficult customer representative, think about recording the call.
July 18, 2014 -- Updated 1933 GMT (0333 HKT)
Newt Gingrich says the more dangerous the world becomes the more Obama hides in a fantasy world.
July 18, 2014 -- Updated 1011 GMT (1811 HKT)
Michael Desch: It's hard to see why anyone, including Russia and its local allies, would have intentionally targeted the Malaysian Airlines flight
July 17, 2014 -- Updated 1914 GMT (0314 HKT)
LZ Granderson says we must remember our visceral horror at the news of children killed in an airstrike on a Gaza beach next time our politicians talk of war
July 17, 2014 -- Updated 1206 GMT (2006 HKT)
Sally Kohn says now the House GOP wants to sue Obama for not implementing a law fast enough, a law they voted down 50 times, all reason has left the room.
July 17, 2014 -- Updated 1214 GMT (2014 HKT)
A street sign for Wall Street
Sens. Elizabeth Warren, John McCain and others want to scale back the "too big to fail" banks that put us at risk of another financial collapse.
July 17, 2014 -- Updated 2016 GMT (0416 HKT)
Newt Gingrich writes an open letter to Robert McDonald, the nominee to head the Veterans Administration.
July 18, 2014 -- Updated 1601 GMT (0001 HKT)
Paul Begala says Dick Cheney has caused an inordinate amount of damage yet continues in a relentless effort to revise the history of his failures.
July 18, 2014 -- Updated 1404 GMT (2204 HKT)
Kids who takes cell phones to bed are not sleeping, says Mel Robbins. Make them park their phones with the parents at night.
July 17, 2014 -- Updated 1729 GMT (0129 HKT)
Buzz Aldrin looked at planet Earth as he stood on talcum-like lunar dust 45 years ago. He thinks the next frontier should be Mars.
July 16, 2014 -- Updated 1804 GMT (0204 HKT)
Mark Zeller never thought my Afghan translator would save his life by killing two Taliban fighters who were about to kill him. The Taliban retaliated by placing him on the top of its kill list.
July 17, 2014 -- Updated 1518 GMT (2318 HKT)
Jeff Yang says an all-white cast of Asian characters in cartoonish costumes is racially offensive.
July 17, 2014 -- Updated 0124 GMT (0924 HKT)
Gary Ginsberg says the late John F. Kennedy Jr.'s reaction to an event in 1995 summed up his character
July 16, 2014 -- Updated 1641 GMT (0041 HKT)
Meg Urry says most falling space debris lands on the planet harmlessly and with no witnesses.
ADVERTISEMENT