25 Julio 2017 09:40
The 11-time surfing world champion did nothing to help the sport’s reputation
The attacks suffered by surfers at the hands - or more precisely teeth - of sharks often have much in common. The surfer waits for a good wave in murky waters, a shadow pulls at his board and he only realises he’s been bitten when he sees the water around him reddened by his own blood. The worst thing of all is that in most cases, they don’t even see the shark coming, they just feel it.
Very few victims lose their lives. Those that do, often die because they fail to get medical help and bleed to death or go into shock and end up drowning in the sea. Unlike what Hollywood would have us believe, almost no one has ever been devoured by sharks, because we’re not their natural prey.
In fact, as strange as it may sound, just one diver was attacked by sharks last year, while surfers accounted for nearly 60% of all incidents involving sharks. This is because surfers tend to spend most of their time around reef breaks - a popular hunting ground for sharks - kicking up the water and falling in spectacular, and very noticeable, fashion. Unsurprisingly this attracts the attention of the local species'.
In 2016, 81 people were attacked by sharks, but only four died. Too many for Kelly Slater, the 11-time surfing world champion, who demanded a selective culling of the species. The sport’s biggest media figure, who should be setting an example, is harming the sport’s reputation thanks to a hateful attack on the animal kingdom that will haunt him for the rest of his life:
His comments came following the death of Alexandre Naussance, a surfer who lost his life on France’s Reunion Island, close to Madagascar, where there is currently a serious problem with shark attacks.
However, nothing can justify such a grossly misjudged attack on sharks. The mighty champion was himself mercilessly lambasted on the social networks, where he was put in his place by some telling him statistics, such as: millions and millions of surfers took to the water in 2016 and only 45 of them had run-ins with sharks, and out of those only three died. He was reminded in no uncertain terms that the invader here is the surfer and not the shark.
A few days after his outrageous remarks, he apologised saying, ‘I did not think my words through’, which, although a little weak, is at least a recognition of his mistake. Undoubtedly Slater was blinded by the anger and dismay at the loss of a friend. But what his emotions were hiding from him was the fact that you’re 132 times more likely to die from drowning than a shark attack, a probability that increases to 290 if you’re talking about a boating accident. And what’s more, there are 1,000 cyclists who die worldwide, for every life claimed by a shark.
As for Reunion Island, it’s enough to say that in the last 10 years, there have been 21 attacks in its waters, 7 of which claimed lives. On the face of the Earth, in the same period, there was a total 766 attacks including 61 deaths.
The real problem is that the island has one of the world’s best surf breaks, which makes the area a hotbed for potential shark attacks. It is, therefore, not as easy as simply demanding the selective culling of one of the sea's predators. Not to mention the fact that it would destroy the island’s ecological balance.
The argument ‘kill these sharks, ‘cos I want to surf in peace’ is no kind of solution. It has already been tried and tested in Hawaii, where 5,000 sharks were caught over 16 years to prevent attacks, and the number of incidents involving sharks remained the same. Maybe surfers should be more careful not to break the basic rule of not surfing at dawn or dusk in murky waters. Or reef sharks should be brought back to the area, instead of wiping out other species.
In all likelihood, when someone goes into the sea, they won’t come across a shark. However, when surfers go into areas that are known for having large shark populations and change the environment with brusque, sudden movements, they are, logically, more exposed. For many environmentalists, the moment surfers believed they were the kings of the seas, they were asking for trouble.