The ocean is a very strange place sometimes (Burgess)

Predictions: Sharks… Nothing Will Change!

Episode Five

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Not so long ago, an unprecedented series of shark attacks along the far NSW North Coast triggered a huge national conversation about great white sharks.

The events were pretty horrible. Two deaths and several near-deaths, and some very close calls. The conversations were polarised, stung with fear prejudice and uncertainty.

Various governments and their departments were tasked with sorting it out. The result in NSW, a significant investment in shark mitigation and research, including catch and release tagging, smart detection buoys, and most apparently fraught, the use of meshing off some North Coast hot spots.

Whenever you get groups of people taking opposite sides, though, you’ll find politicians trying to take advantage, so sure enough, egged on by various media, a few members of the Federal Coalition got on the case. There’s too many of ‘em! Fucking Greenies! Kill ‘em all, etc.

It’s not that simple, but it plays well.

The biggest point of contention was the numbers. Great white sharks had been under vulnerable species protection since the late 1990s. Had a population explosion somehow occurred? Some cooler heads in the Feds decided to settle it. They gave the CSIRO a chunk of change to put a number on the Australian white shark population.

If it had blown out as a result of protection, they might have an excuse to kill a few.

Well the CSIRO’s report is in, and guess what, it’s pretty inconclusive.

Using DNA family analysis, they estimate there’s about 5460 white sharks swimming off Australian coasts, including a bit over 2000 adults.

There’s a lot of leeway in the numbers. The report suggests that given the DNA mapping, there may be a lot less or a lot more than that: anywhere from almost 3000 to almost 13,000.

But that middle estimate is pretty much a match for what the CSIRO had estimated before the Feds gave ‘em that money. Back then, at the time of the attacks, they figured there were about 6000 of the species.

And today the DNA mapping indicates that whatever else is going on out there, the adult population has remained stable since protection began.

The report is interesting. But it’s not any kind of call to action, either way.

So, yeah, nothing will change on this front in 2018. Governments will tick boxes, everyone in the conversation will remained convinced they are right, and we devoutly hope nobody dies in the process.

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Nick Carroll