Tell people how happy you are that the Great White Shark population is on the rise, and you won’t find many who will join in the celebration. Which I suppose is understandable considering we have an inherent and sensible fear of predators that can eat us as we enjoy a summer swim. But, healthy shark populations are part of a healthy ocean, and we depend on a healthy ocean for our very existence.
Like it or not, sharks are part of a balanced ocean ecosystem. After a decline of up to 90% for some species in the United States, they are beginning a gradual rise toward the numbers of a century ago. That suggests some of the damage we’ve done to the oceans has been reversed, and that’s something to celebrate.
But it won’t be a rapid change. White sharks take years to reach sexual maturity; females need to grow to about 15 feet (4.6 meters) long. Pregnancies likely last between 12 and 18 months. And after females give birth—typically to 2 to 14 pups at a time—they need about a year before they’re ready for another pregnancy. So we won’t be seeing a shark baby boom.
If it seems that sharks are turning up in ever greater numbers, it’s because incidents are more visible now: there are (millions) more of us now and we are all ready with our smartphones, capturing and sharing footage whenever someone yells “Shark!”
These encouraging Great White Shark numbers are thanks to federal and state regulations put into place in the 1990s to protect Great White Sharks and many of the marine mammals that Great Whites consume. Action had to be taken in a response to declining Great White numbers in the 1970s and 1980s, when commercial and recreational fisheries pressured the predatory species. (Especially after the release of JAWS!)
With the passage of the Marine Mammal Protection Act in 1972, seal and sea lion populations began to rebuild along the West Coast of the United States. As seals and sharks return to their former numbers and territories, we will need to make adjustments.
A growing White Shark population is a success story where few are to be found. And while the battle to protect Great Whites and allow their populations to recover is going well, it’s only one battle in the greater conservation war. The ultimate goal is to get all species of sharks and rays going in the same direction.
For decades, people didn’t give sharks a second thought, but now we will have to. That’s part of the give-and-take in any relationship. Think of it as a compromise that keeps the marriage between us and the natural world going.
Changes in our behaviour will help, but a change in our mindset is also in order. We’re going to have to accept that when we swim in the ocean, we enter a world that is not our own, one where we have no guarantee of safety. We know there’s a risk of drowning, even for strong swimmers, and we accept this risk when we go into the ocean. The risk of shark attack is – and will always remain – much lower than that of drowning. If we can make some adjustments in our thinking and our behaviour, we can minimize conflicts between sharks and people. They may be the ones blessed with the brawn, but we’re the ones blessed with the brain.
Read more about the Great White Shark:
South Africa’s Great White Sharks: http://www.tourismtattler.com/south-africas-great-white-sharks/
Great White Shark Behavior: http://www.tourismtattler.com/great-white-shark-behavior/
How Sharks fit in with Responsible Tourism: http://www.tourismtattler.com/sharks-fit-responsible-tourism/
Extreme Adventure – White Shark Diving: http://www.tourismtattler.com/extreme-adventure-white-shark-diving/
Visit White Shark Projects for more information.