Changing perceptions.

Changing Perceptions

So why the need to protect them, or any other shark?  The need to be ‘eco friendly’, the desire to ‘protect our planet’… this is something that is being increasingly embraced across the globe.  There is a worldwide recognition of the dwindling resources, massive pollution and endangerment to natural habitats around the world.  National conservation efforts on North and South as well as on out-laying islands are reestablishing indigenous forest land and animals such as the brown kiwi.  Areas deforested for timber are also being re-planted.  What is seemingly not fully considered is our impact on the oceans or the roles the oceans play in our existence.   Put in very simple terms, the oceans are as vital to terrestrial survival as is the sun.  The oceans provide worldwide moisture and filter our atmosphere.

We have recognised the need to protect apex predators such as Tigers and Lions but the actual reason for the need to preserve these, outside the fact that they are beautiful creatures, seems to be generally lost.  While governments have taken steps to protect the white shark, the public (driven largely by poor media representation) remains to be persuaded they are just as deserving of protection as the more familiar land-based top predators.  We all studied food chains in third year biology classes, but none of that seemed important then, nor does it seem important now…. WRONG!

The balance of life held by the food chains that exist in the wild is very precarious.  As soon as a species’ numbers are significantly depleted, or worse – eradicated – the balance of that food chain is thrown out which has a massive detrimental and irreversible effect the environment.

The shark is one of the ocean’s apex predators.  It has been so for over 350 million years.  As an apex predator, with no natural predators preying on it, it has evolved with no need to produce huge numbers of young.  Competition for food at the top of the food chain is hard enough without saturating numbers…The great white shark will produce up to 12 pups, but many will perish before being born live as they are preyed upon by their brothers and sisters while still in the womb.  Survival of the fittest starts at an early age for  the shark.   White sharks live approximately 25 to 30 years.   We are unsure that they live any longer… In fact, we know so little about a lot of facts about this animal, effective protection is much harder than for other animal species.  Sexual maturity is thought to be reached at 8 to 10 years though again we know very little about the great white’s reproduction.  Mating or birth has never been observed.   We are only just beginning to learn about the migratory habits of the great white shark through satellite tagging programs.  Recently a female white shark nicknamed Kerri, travelled 3000 kilometres from Stewart Island to the Great Barrier Reef, setting a new distance record for a local shark.  The 4.4 metre shark carried an electronic tag for 9 months, recording the shark’s movements.  As we learn more about the behaviour of these animals, it becomes more and more apparent how warped and plain wrong the public perception of the shark actually is.

Man bites shark

In 1975, Peter Benchley’s novel, “Jaws” hit the big screen.  Overnight the great white shark went from a relatively insignificant sea creature to the mindless killing terror of the seas.  Suddenly the public felt it must be wiped out to protect our survival… and thousands were slaughtered.  So much so, that the species never fully recovered.  Today the animal remains clinging on to survival.

Learning more

It seems strange that despite so much public interest, the animal still lives clouded in obscurity.  We still know very little about this animal.  It is immensely difficult to find out more without adequate funding, largely because there are so few of them worldwide and they tend to be migratory (with little known about their migratory habits or patterns).

For many years sadly, public interest remained driven more by macabre fear than anything else.  For many now, interest has altered to fascination, but there remains little objection to the careless and arrogant slaughter of one of natures most perfect creations.  Pro-activity is now called for across the globe.  The White Shark Trust is not going to single-handedly save the white shark, but it can help and contribute to a wider effort to ensure our future generations not only have this fantastic and beautiful creature to marvel at, but more importantly, the white shark has a sustainable and balanced habitat.


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