Remember the rules of nature

Jaws of controversy: The "one rogue man-eating shark" theory doesn't hold water, expert says

Jaws of controversy: The "one rogue man-eating shark" theory doesn't hold water, expert says

News_Great white shark
Great white shark
News_Rottnest Island, Australia
Rottnest Island, Australia
News_shark attack_Australia_George Wainwright
George Wainwright Photo via Facebook
News_Jaws_movie poster
News_Great white shark
News_Rottnest Island, Australia
News_shark attack_Australia_George Wainwright
News_Jaws_movie poster

With the death of Houston resident John Wainwright near Perth last week, Australian authorities are taking extreme measures to tackle what area officials believe to be a string of great white shark attacks.

Scuba diving with friends off the coast of Rottnest Island, Wainwright was killed in an apparent shark-related attack — the region’s third in two months — spawning a controversial state-sanctioned hunt to destroy local white sharks, an internationally-recognized vulnerable species.

Immortalized in the classic 1975 film Jaws, the great white shark can weight up to 5,000 pounds and stretch nearly 20 feet in length. Of the more than 100 shark attacks reported annually around the world, one-third to one-half are linked to great whites. Most bites are not fatal.

 “The rogue shark theory has never been proven scientifically,” Collier explained. “Researchers though they found one recently in Egypt. After five consecutive attacks, we found that tourists were feeding a group of sharks in a popular swimming area.” 

As in the Steven Spielberg blockbuster, only a dissection of the shark’s stomach can prove its culpability in an attack. (Remember when they pulled the license plate out of that shark?)

“Judging from eye witness accounts in Australia, this is likely not the same shark,” Robert Collier, founder of the Shark Research Committee, told CultureMap. “Reports from the two earlier attacks described white sharks well over 15 feet. This recent one appeared to be much smaller.”

In the 1930s, Collier said, Australian scientist Sir Victor Coppleson promoted the “rogue shark theory,” claiming that certain sharks turn to humans for an easy-to-catch food source. Sharks, like the legendary Jaws, simply develop a taste for humans according to Coppleson.

“The rogue shark theory has never been proven scientifically,” Collier explained. “Researchers though they found one recently in Egypt. After five consecutive attacks, we found that tourists were feeding a group of sharks in a popular swimming area.”

Collier offered a word of advice: “Remember the rules of nature. Sharks are very intelligent and have an amazing sense of smell. They’re not afraid to take a sample bite of something, which is how most attacks occur.”

Like many marine scientists, Collier warned against the mass killing of sharks.

“After Jaws, shark hunts increased and disrupted the balance of the ecosystem in a number of regions. In California, for example, seals and sea lions were able to thrive without a natural predator, leading to a depletion fish populations that eventually effected bears. It’s a domino effect.”

While most of us don’t associate the Gulf of Mexico with shark infested waters, Texas had at least two incidents this past summer — one in Galveston and another Port Arnasas near Padre Island. Like a majority of attacks, neither was fatal.

“Bull sharks and hammerheads have been caught just off the coast of Galveston, even at a few piers,” said George Brandy, aquarium curator at the Houston Zoo. “While many face thinning populations, dozens of shark species are found in the Gulf of Mexico. It’s important to remember for both safety and ecological reasons.”