Editorial: Still safe in spite of shark horror

By Dylan Thorne


The horrific shark attack at Auckland's Muriwai Beach should not give rise to fresh paranoia about what is lurking in the depths off our coastline.

The ferocity of the attack that claimed the life of father of one Adam Strange shocked witnesses.

Mr Strange, a television commercial director, was swimming around a rocky outcrop from nearby Maori Bay when he was attacked by a three-metre shark. A police source has said it was possible up to three sharks, most likely great whites, had been feeding on fish and birds, and that Mr Strange accidentally swam right into the middle of it.

Police fired up to 12 shots at the shark in a bid to retrieve Mr Strange's body, which was later recovered, and beaches along the stretch of coast were closed.

It's understandable attacks like this make people wary of getting back in the water.

Few apex predators are capable of instilling fear like the great white shark.

Consciously or unconsciously we know that by venturing into the sea we are entering their territory and that they are at the top of the food chain.

Probably more than any actual shark attack, the 1975 film Jaws promoted the image of the great white shark as being a "maneater" in the public mind. The shark was depicted as a crazed killer willing to cover a large tract of ocean to satisfy its blood lust.

This is despite research suggesting that in the real world, in most cases, attacks on humans usually arise when a shark has failed to identify its prey.

The fact that the sharks were already feeding when Mr Strange was attacked indicates that this may have also been a case of mistaken identity.

Shark attacks are extremely rare in this country and great whites should be more afraid of us than we are of them.

It is now seen as a vulnerable species and since 2007 has been protected in New Zealand waters.

The attack on Mr Strange was the first fatal shark attack in 37 years in this country. Since 1837 there have been 44 non-fatal shark attacks and 12 fatal attacks.

Experts say a repeat of Wednesday's attack is unlikely anytime soon.

I hope the latest attack does not give rise to a resurgence in irrational fears about sharks and white pointers in particular.

Despite popular belief, evidence suggests that it is generally safe to enter the water.

- BAY OF PLENTY TIMES

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