Skip to main content

Even after attacks on humans, sharks should be protected

By Mike Coots, Special to CNN
updated 5:36 AM EDT, Mon July 23, 2012
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
updated 3:30 AM EDT, Sun September 21, 2014
John Sutter boarded a leaky oyster boat in Connecticut with a captain who can't swim as he set off to get world leaders to act on climate change
updated 7:22 PM EDT, Fri September 19, 2014
Is ballet dying? CNN spoke with Isabella Boylston, a principal dancer at the American Ballet Theatre, about the future of the art form.
updated 5:47 PM EDT, Fri September 19, 2014
Sally Kohn says it's time we take climate change as seriously as we do warfare in the Middle East
updated 9:02 AM EDT, Fri September 19, 2014
Dean Obeidallah says an Oklahoma state representative's hateful remarks were rightfully condemned by religious leaders..
updated 3:22 PM EDT, Fri September 19, 2014
No matter how much planning has gone into U.S. military plans to counter the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, the Arab public isn't convinced that anything will change, says Geneive Abdo
updated 11:44 AM EDT, Fri September 19, 2014
President Obama's strategy for destroying ISIS seems to depend on a volley of air strikes. That won't be enough, says Haider Mullick.
updated 9:03 AM EDT, Fri September 19, 2014
Paul Begala says Hillary Clinton has plenty of good reasons not to jump into the 2016 race now
updated 11:01 AM EDT, Fri September 19, 2014
Scotland decided to trust its 16-year-olds to vote in the biggest question in its history. Americans, in contrast, don't even trust theirs to help pick the county sheriff. Who's right?
updated 9:57 PM EDT, Thu September 18, 2014
Ruben Navarrette says spanking is an acceptable form of disciplining a child, as long as you follow the rules.
updated 11:47 AM EDT, Fri September 19, 2014
Frida Ghitis says the foiled Australian plot shows ISIS is working diligently to taunt the U.S. and its allies.
updated 3:58 PM EDT, Fri September 19, 2014
Young U.S. voters by and large just do not see the midterm elections offering legitimate choices because, in their eyes, Congress has proven to be largely ineffectual, and worse uncaring, argues John Della Volpe
updated 9:58 PM EDT, Thu September 18, 2014
Steven Holmes says spanking, a practice that is ingrained in our culture, accomplishes nothing positive and causes harm.
updated 2:31 PM EDT, Thu September 18, 2014
Sally Kohn says America tried "Cowboy Adventurism" as a foreign policy strategy; it failed. So why try it again?
updated 10:27 AM EDT, Thu September 18, 2014
Van Jones says the video of John Crawford III, who was shot by a police officer in Walmart, should be released.
updated 10:48 AM EDT, Thu September 18, 2014
NASA will need to embrace new entrants and promote a lot more competition in future, argues Newt Gingrich.
updated 7:15 PM EDT, Tue September 16, 2014
If U.S. wants to see real change in Iraq and Syria, it will have to empower moderate forces, says Fouad Siniora.
updated 8:34 PM EDT, Wed September 17, 2014
Mark O'Mara says there are basic rules to follow when interacting with law enforcement: respect their authority.
updated 9:05 AM EDT, Tue September 16, 2014
LZ Granderson says Congress has rebuked the NFL on domestic violence issue, but why not a federal judge?
updated 7:49 AM EDT, Tue September 16, 2014
Mel Robbins says the only person you can legally hit in the United States is a child. That's wrong.
updated 1:23 PM EDT, Mon September 15, 2014
Eric Liu says seeing many friends fight so hard for same-sex marriage rights made him appreciate marriage.
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT