Sharks In Perspective


Sharks In Perspective: From Fear To Fascination

June 12-14, 2002
Tampa, Florida
Presentation Abstracts

Shark Attacks -- A Lifeguard's View Chris Brewster
U.S. Lifesaving Association, San Diego, CA

America's ocean lifeguards have two major goals - prevention and rescue. Shark bite cases create a unique challenge to these goals.

Shark bites are rare, especially when compared to the many other threats to the safety of beachgoers. Protecting beachgoers from shark bites is very difficult, considering that sharks are a natural phenomenon and shark bites are believed to be accidents on the part of the sharks themselves (prey identification mistakes). The lifeguard who responds to a shark bite typically has little if any personal protection and there are no reliable techniques for rescuing a person from a shark.

The United States Lifesaving Association has developed a position statement entitled Shark Bite Prevention and Response. With respect to prevention, it recommends that lifeguards be trained to understand shark behavior and recognize sharks common to their area, warn beachgoers when behavior appears threatening, warn beachgoers in case of a bite incident (encourage them to leave the water), and clear the water in the case of an attack (meaning repeated biting behavior).

If a shark bite occurs, lifeguards are advised to mount a rescue effort using a rescue boat with high gunwales. If a rescue boat is not available and if, as is most typically the case, the shark bite appears to be a hit and run incident, and if the lifeguard considers it safe and within agency guidelines to enter the water, it is recommended that lifeguards perform a rescue and treat the wounds of the victim. In areas where shark bites are more common than others, specific policies appropriate to local conditions are also recommended.

Shark Attack In Perspective

George H. Burgess
Director, Florida Program for Shark Research
Florida Museum of Natural History
University of Florida, Gainesville, FL

To many people the word "shark" evokes an image of a monstrous "Jaws"-inspired maneater consuming a terrified human. Ever since humans ventured onto and into the sea there has been a love-hate relationship with these enigmatic creatures, for respect as well as fear are emotions inspired by the apex predators of the sea. Human preoccupation with sharks may stem from our almost primal fascination with the unknown, especially with natural phenomena we cannot master. Our interest in tornadoes, lightning, hurricanes, earthquakes - and sharks - is at least partially fueled by our inability to accurately predict their behaviors and, more importantly, control their activities.

Shark attacks are but a small chapter in the total story about sharks, but the public's seemingly insatiable appetite for coverage has resulted in disproportionate attention on the subject in the print and broadcast media. More recently, the conservation status and fishery management of sharks increasingly and rightfully also have been the subject of media and public interest.
The summer of 2001 was dubbed "The Summer of the Shark" by one news magazine and shark attack was intensely covered by the press until September 11.

The prevailing perception was that 2001 was a banner year for shark attacks. However, International Shark Attack File data indicate that attack numbers for the United States were almost identical to those of the previous year (which did not draw particularly high media attention) and the international total was 11% lower than that of 2000. More importantly, the number of serious attacks, as measured by fatality rate, was less than half that over the last decade.

The number of shark attacks has been rising throughout the past century as a result of human population growth and concurrent rises in aquatic recreation. Greater efficiency in ISAF recording in recent years additionally has contributed to rises in recorded attack totals. Increasingly shark attack has been inter-linked with fishery management and conservation initiatives by some observers.

One erroneous notion that has appeared suggests that U.S. East Coast fishery regulations enacted in 1993 have resulted in the blossoming of shark populations, leading to more attacks. Although East Coast shark populations probably are in the early stages of recovery as a result of federal and state management measures first enacted in 1993, it is biologically impossible for these populations to have returned to their pre-fishing levels of the early 1980's in only eight years. At current harvest rates, it will take decades to get to that point.

At this time, shark attack numbers are most greatly influenced by the quantity of humans engaged in aquatic recreation in coastal waters. There is no indication that the rate of shark attack is increasing.

Shark Therapy: A View from the Other Side of Jaws Merry Camhi, Ph.D.
Acting Director, Living Oceans Program
Audubon Society, Islip, NY

Sharks suffer from an identity crisis: they are by far one of the most feared and maligned creatures in the world, yet they are also among the most vulnerable. In fact, sharks have more to fear from humans than we do from sharks. As many as 100 million sharks are targeted or killed as bycatch in fishing operations each year. Once considered of low economic value, sharks - or more specifically their fins, which are used to make the Asian delicacy shark fin soup - are now among the world's most expensive fishery products. This demand for fins has fueled global shark fisheries and led to the wasteful practice of finning, or cutting off the fins and tossing the rest of the shark back in the water. It has also led to the overfishing and the decline of sharks throughout the world, putting some populations at serious risk. Most sharks grow slowly, take many years to reach sexual maturity (some as many as 20 years), and then produce few young. These life history traits make many sharks highly vulnerable to fishing pressure. Once depleted, it can take decades for shark populations to recover. Fifteen years ago, sharks were barely on the radar screen of fishery managers and traditional wildlife conservation organizations. Fortunately, attitudes are changing and the vulnerability of shark populations is widely acknowledged. This talk will explore the various threats to these fascinating ocean predators and current efforts to ensure that sharks continue to roam the seas for millennia to come.

Shark Attacks - View from Hawaii Randy Honebrink
Division of Aquatic Resources, Honolulu, HI

Statistical information about the history of shark attacks in Hawaii.
Shark control programs and the formation of the Shark Task Force.
The Hawaiian cultural perspective and current attack response protocols.

A brief statement of the state's newly enacted shark feeding ban.

Media Perspective Kevin P. Lollar
The News-Press, Fort Myers, FL

In many respects, the media demonize sharks, using sensational language and treating even minor shark attacks like major tragedies. Concerning language: Television and newspaper stories often use terms such as "beast," "monster," and "mindless killer" when talking about sharks. Even the term "shark-infested waters" is sensational: Virtually all tropical and sub-tropical waters are shark infested (i.e.: sharks live there), but if a boat sinks anywhere in salt water, the reporter or headline writer will say it sank in shark-infested waters makes for a sexier story. As to how the media treat shark attacks: Any shark attack is big news, and the media almost always make more of an attack than is necessary. Certainly, the media must cover an attack as news, but they need to cover it in a balanced, logical way, informing readers and viewers that shark attacks are extremely rare. The media should deal more with shark research so the public can learn to be more fascinated than frightened by these beautiful fish.

Sharks: Local Impacts Rich Novak
Charlotte County, Port Charlotte, FL

Sharks have significant impact on recreational fishing and recreation in general. Not only are sharks an issue with fisherman, but divers and swimmers also interact with sharks. In Charlotte County for instance, there are two shark fishing tournaments that benefit local economics, at least four tarpon fishing tournaments where sharks interact with tournament organizers and fisherman, two dive shops that have suffered from the shark feeding ban, beaches that have reduced use during certain times of the year due to the presence of sharks and wade fisherman have suffered wounds from rays or been chased off the flats by sharks. These are only a few of the local issues that can be attributed directly to sharks and rays. Probably the biggest factor affecting recreational user however is misinformation or partial information regarding sharks in local waters.

Sharks are big news locally. In May of this year, tarpon fisherman had a difficult time getting tarpon to the boat for release or to a tournament weigh site for release because bull or hammerhead sharks were killing the fish. Other tarpon fisherman couldn't use live bait because sharks would beat the tarpon to the bait. There are other local instances where the waters at beaches had to be cleared of surf fisherman and swimmers because large sharks were inside the bar.

Wade fisherman are frequently "gotten" or "stung" by rays as they shuffle their feet along the bottom in relatively shallow water of both Charlotte Harbor and the Gulf of Mexico. Another threat to wade fisherman is the presence of sharks feeding on bait fish in these same shallow waters. When mullet or other white bait fish is schooling, there is always a threat of a shark encounter.

On the other side of the coin, sharks have become a popular target for fisherman because of their often large size, abundance and in some cases, table value. Two fishing tournaments in Charlotte County target sharks and rays. As many as 400 anglers will enter a tournament and even though there are rules limiting the minimum size/species shark that can be entered, fishermen kill a large number of sharks and rays in a single evening.

Divers are another group of recreational users that are affected by sharks. Both divers and fisherman frequent artificial reef sites in the Gulf because of limited hard bottom and structure. By having both groups on the same site, a conflict sometimes occurs due to the use of chum by fisherman to attract fish and sharks. There is also the issue of shark feeding by divers (recently banned by the State) that brings divers and sharks together. Two local dive shops operators have complained about the shark feeding ban creating an economic hardship on their business.

Most of the shark issues/concerns addressed in this presentation are local, but obviously have a wide application. We all agree there is a universal need to manage and conserve the shark population but what is the best way of accomplishing this goal? How do we weigh the various aspects of recreational use relative to the shark and combine them with the multitude of other variables to provide a plan that benefits all concerned, including the shark population?

Shark Attacks - View from California Alex K. Peabody
Lifeguard Supervisor I
Santa Cruz District, CA

The focus of California ocean lifeguards is water safety. With thousands of rescues each year, the greatest danger in the water is not the predator of History Channel fame -- the Great White Shark, it is the less known and understood rip current and death from drowning. As millions of visitors stream to the beaches of California they shouldn't be thinking of the theme music from JAWS, they should be concerned about where the nearest lifeguard tower is open.

However, the issue of dealing with shark sightings, reports, and even the rare shark attack victim is a reality for lifeguard agencies.

Stinson Beach, part of the National Park System falls within the famed "Red Triangle", an area well known for great white sharks. Stenson has had two shark attacks in the last four years. The most recent was May 31, 2001.

Santa Cruz County has approximately 42 miles of coastline and straddles both a portion of the Monterey Bay as well as the open ocean of its North Coast, including the Red Triangle. A popular beach community, Santa Cruz that has had three documented shark attacks since 1961. This compares to the 165 drownings that have occurred in this county between 1976 - 1999!

From a public safety standpoint, shark incidents cannot be ignored. In Santa Cruz and Stinson Beach, it is common to receive reports from beach visitors such as, "I SAW A SHARK!" Today's presentation will include recommendations as to how to most effectively deal with shark sightings and incidents, including:

  • How to substantiate sightings
  • Posting warnings
  • Beach closures
  • Working with the media
  • Systematic evaluation and use of an operational plan
  • Providing emergency services for attack victims

Commercial Fisheries From a Commercial Fisherman's Experience Eric Sander
Florida Marine Research Institute, South Daytona, FL

Sharks provide man with a wide array of useful products such as vitamin rich oil, nutritious flesh, and a very tough leather. A resurgence of the U S commercial shark fishery occurred in the mid 1980s and was due to increased demand for shark fins, the introduction of shark fillets into seafood shops, and the encouragement of shark fishing by some fishery service departments which thought that sharks were an underutilized resource.

I began full time commercial shark fishing in 1984 with my brother on a 32' boat we named Jawsome. We day-fished sharks close to Ponce Inlet with less than a mile of line which we pulled in by hand. By the end of the 1984 we had sold 50,000 lbs of shark. By 1989 there were 18 boats working shark out of Ponce Inlet alone. Similar growth was happening at nearly every inlet or port.

I bought and worked a larger vessel in 1989 and landed on average 92,000 lbs of shark the next three years. The implementation of shark regulations in 1993 brought about a derby style fishery that produced a real change in the attitudes of the fishermen. And, while extended large coastal shark closure periods forced vessel owners and captains to enter other fisheries until the next opening, I supplemented the reduced large coastal shark catches by targeting the small coastal group of sharks which remained open. But by 1996 I had become tired of the constant grind of going to sea and retired from shark fishing in 1998.

Sharks in Perspective: From Fear to Fascination Margo Schulze-Haugen
NOAA Fisheries Presentation

Research, Regulations, and Relationships: The 3 R's of Shark Conservation and Management

Sharks are a valuable part of marine ecosystems and NOAA Fisheries is committed to conserving shark populations and the fisheries dependent on them. Sharks are vulnerable to overfishing because they are long-lived, take many years to mature, and only have a few young at a time. Because recovery from overfishing can take years or decades for many shark species, sharks need protection. Domestic law and international agreements require NOAA Fisheries to protect and manage marine species, including sharks. To provide protection and rebuild and maintain sustainable shark fisheries, NOAA Fisheries is conducting research, implementing regulations domestically in partnership with stakeholders, and pursuing international conservation with other shark fishing nations.

NOAA Fisheries implemented management measures for sharks in the Atlantic Ocean, Gulf of Mexico, and Caribbean Sea in 1993 and is currently developing similar management measures in the Pacific Ocean. These management measures include harvest limits in commercial and recreational fisheries, data collection programs, permitting and reporting requirements, identification of essential fish habitat, bycatch reduction of sharks in all fisheries, and promoting safety at sea for shark fishermen. In 2001, NOAA Fisheries implemented the Shark Finning Prohibition Act, a national ban on the practice of removing the fin(s) from a shark and discarding the remainder of the shark at sea, and released a National Plan of Action for the Conservation and Management of Sharks. NOAA Fisheries is also encouraging other countries to develop similar shark conservation and management measures and national plans of action for their shark fisheries.

Shark Feeding - State Perspective Roy Williams
Assistant Director, Division of Marine Fisheries
Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission

Florida prohibited the feeding of sharks and all other fishes by divers in November 2001. This prohibition was originally requested by the public in September 1999 and was the subject of numerous, well attended public hearings during the next two years. The Commission found this to be a very difficult issue and saw logical arguments to both allow and to prohibit feeding. However, the Commission ultimately concluded that feeding marine life disrupted the natural behavior and feeding habits of fish and conditioned them to associate food with humans. This is undesirable from both a conservation and a public safety perspective. The Commission also prohibits feeding of other species of wildlife such as alligators, bears, and sandhill cranes.

Sharks in Perspective: View from Florida Joe M. Wooden
Deputy Beach Chief
Volusia County Beach Patrol, Daytona Beach, Florida

The state of Florida typically leads the world each year in the number of shark bites and the coastline of East Central Florida is the location of most of those bites. Management of an ocean beach that leads the world in shark bites each year can be very difficult. With 22 shark bites recorded last year in Volusia county alone, international media kept the shark frenzy in high gear. During a 14-day period last August; Beach Patrol officers conducted over 300 shark bite interviews.

The most common sharks that frequent the surf area and cause problems for humans are the Black Tip and Spinner sharks. Most sightings determined the average length of the sharks to be between 3 and 5 feet.

This talk will focus on steering media inquiries toward fact-based situations. Discussion will include the annual cycle of media attention with sharks. This talk will also include how to manage beach areas when shark sightings and or bites are high.