Friday, January 16, 2009

Shark Attacks-Meeting Two Criteria

I was on the phone today with another production company. We were talking shark attacks. With the recent spate of attacks in Australia the question of "shark evolution" has reared it's ugly head in the media.

Are sharks "evolving" to attack humans?

The answer is no (sorry Vic Hislop). But humans are ever increasing in shark waters, unwittingly providing these predators with the criteria for attacks.

Let me explain.

To understand sharks you have to dumb the conversation down to the basics and strip away the incessant anthromorphication of these animals that we see both in the media and with well meaning shark-ophiles. Sharks are not misunderstood, cuddly animals, who just need a break.

Sharks are predators, they are fish, and most have a brain the size of a walnut. For the most part sharks behave on triggered criteria. Presented with just one of three criteria most sharks will not be triggered into predation mode, presented by two, the chances become much greater.

Case in point. Last springs attack on a tri-athlete off Solana Beach, California. A well documented and sadly fatal encounter. In this case the swimmer was with a pack, in the morning, wearing a black wetsuit and paralleling the shoreline.

Criteria one was met for a Great White that feeds on seals. This was a pack of seals and the animal became interested. But the animal did not attack because a second criteria had not yet come into play.

The swimmer, perhaps not as fit as the rest, dropped back from the pack and became a solo straggler trying to catch up with the rest of the group.

Criteria two, straggling prey item, was met for a Great White which triggered the unfortunate attack. These animals are not evolving to hunt humans, humans are presenting themselves as food items to sharks by triggering a predation response. It has long been established that 90% of shark attacks on humans are in fact mistakes. The traditional bump and bite is the norm for most shark attacks and the animals very rarely come back for a second attempt.

Knowing that sharks are in fact the lesser intelligent animal of humans and sharks, why is it that humans cannot understand how our own actions trigger unfortunate attacks, and how with just a little foresight we might avoid many of them in the future?

Patric Douglas CEO


RTSea said...

And don't forget one other important criteria: the animal has to be on the hunt which, despite the media's portrayals, these animals are not 24/7.

A whole series of stimuli typically come into play: hunger, vibrations, scent, visual, and electrical - not to mention evolved predatory behavior for the specific species (whites hunt differently than bulls, etc).

As you say, any one of these factors not being present diminishes the possibility of a non-provoked shark/human interaction.

I know we fire back at the media quite often, but I just put up a posting on my blog to give local San Diego media a pat on the back for recent responsible environmental and shark coverage. There's hope . . .

DaShark said...

Excellent posts guys!

The long & short of it is that with all those aquatic recreationists out there, there will be incidents - regardless of how many precautions we may take.

They are exceedingly rare and we should stop freaking out about them, but instead learn to accept them as the inherent risk of being in the Ocean - like we've long accepted that driving cars will lead to road fatalities.

After all, there's 100% Shark-proof behavior and that is, to stay out of the water - as always, it's just a matter of one's personal choices.

Felix Leander said...

I think RTSea makes an excellent point - the criteria mentioned in this post are once the shark is engaged in its hunting mode.

Also, sharks are a lot smarter than we believe - their brains are definitely larger than a walnut and very complex:

And as DaShark says - if you can stand the heat - get out of the kitchen.