Sharks versus Wolves: Comparison of Human Fear, Hatred, and Attraction to predators. An article in April 25th New York Times discusses how there is a growing debate in Australia on what to do about sharks who have attacked and sometimes killed (14 people since 2012) people. The Federal Environmental Minister of Australia criticized states that had not taken measures such as culling of sharks which he contents would reduce the attacks on people. However, the state’s Fisheries Minister countered that there was no evidence that culling of sharks would protect people from attacks and argued that people had to simply accept the statistically small risk that they could be killed or seriously harmed by shark attacks. The issue is controversial because overall shark species are threatened especially because they are being harvested for shark fin soup and many species are threatened. According to the Eleanor Whitehead, author of the article, white sharks are protected but states can “seek exemptions” to cull them too if they show evidence that they are “hurting tourist revenue.” Culling is done through the use of “baited drum lines — hooks suspended between a float and the ocean floor — to trap sharks” and they are then dispatched by rifles. The article states that 68 sharks were culled in Western Australia in 2014 but there is no evidence that the culling affected the number of attacks. As with wolves, there are attempts to use preventive measures such as nets that protect two of Australia’s bays—environmentalists dislike the nets because they kill other endangered species. The article states that personal devices that emit electromagnetic fields can prevent attacks by sharks that are merely “curious” but do not stop sharks that are in a determined “hunting mode.” Similar to wolves, surveys show that 75 percent of Australians who live near “shark-afflicted” areas prefer “non-lethal approaches.” Another similarity to wolves is that the statistics of being harmed by sharks are very small and, according to the article, have gotten smaller through time when you factor in the population growth of humans using the affected areas. However, as with wolf attacks on livestock, a single incident becomes huge news and pressures authorities to do something about the attacks. There are major differences: wolves almost never attack and threaten human lives—virtually all of their attacks are on livestock of economic value to humans or on prey such as elk and human hunters dislike the competition. Both species have what I call in my book “charisma”—both negative and positive charisma. Many people hate wolves and, in the U.S., especially hate their being “forced on them” by the Federal government under the Endangered Species Act and often their hate goes way beyond any rational calculation of costs or threats from the species. Since media have played such a role in creating fear and hatred of these species (e.g., through sensational stories and movies such as Jaws), it is incumbent on the media to present a more balanced rational perspective on these species. It raises a “philosophical” issue for humans—do you prefer to live in a world where there are no sharks to threaten you when you swim or wolves that will eat livestock and elk? Or do you prefer to live with the threat they present of attack (in sharks case) or loss of economic value (in case of wolves)? The article on the sharks is available as follows: Eleanor Whitehead. Surfer Is Killed, and Australia Asks: Do More Sharks Need to Die? New York Times. 4/25/17 from https://www.nytimes.com/2017/04/25/world/australia/shark-attack-esperance-surfer-laeticia-brouwer.html?emc=edit_tnt_20170425&nlid=10365419&tntemail0=y
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