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Is shark culling ethical?
Transcript of Is shark culling ethical?
Managing human-wildlife interactions is frequently a challenge between balancing and integrating anthropocentric (human-focused) and eco-centric (environment focused) viewpoints. In the case of sharks, the number of unprovoked shark bites globally is increasing, and a percentage of these result in fatality or serious injury to humans. That said, the risk of an unprovoked shark bite is and will remain exceptionally low. It is a very low likelihood, but high consequence interaction. At the same time as the number of unprovoked shark bites has risen, an understanding of the important role of sharks in the ecosystem and the conservation status of a number of shark species. The white shark (Carcharodon carcharias) is one of three species commonly implicated in fatal shark bites, but is a nationally and internationally listed threatened species.
One approach to mitigating the risk of unprovoked shark bite is to implement shark control activities. These government funded programs (= taxpayer funded) have historically operated in NSW and Queensland. Recent attempts to operate more modest shark control activities in Western Australia met with vociferous opposition, and ultimately were not permitted to continue due not being able to meet contemporary environmental assessment legislation.
Is the culling of sharks through shark control activities to protect human users of the coast ethical?
Consequentalist Decision Making
Situation Best outcome Worst outcome
Shark Culling No more shark attacks Trophic Cascade
Probability Very Unlikely Likely
No Shark Replenishment of Increase in shark
Culling endangered shark attacks
Probability Likely Likely
Sharks and the Media
Popular media has created an image of sharks as omniscient killers of humans - epitomized by the
movies. Ongoing reporting of 'shark attacks' and 'rouge sharks' reinforces this stereotype. However, the rogue shark theory is an unsubstantiated one with no scientific backing.
Prompts SYSTEM 1 response esp by those affected by unprovoked shark bites
'Knee jerk' (over)reaction by politicians
Results in the culling of 1000's of sharks
Focus on the SYSTEM 2 response and think rationally
If you can prevent a terrible harm coming to another person without sacrificing anything of comparable importance, then you ought to do it.
"For the Greater Good"
Case study 2:
(as applies to shark culling)
"The ends don't justify the means"
The Virtue Rule
Ferretti, F., Worm, B., Britten, G. L., Heithaus, M. R., & Lotze, H. K. (2010). Patterns and ecosystem consequences of shark declines in the ocean. Ecology Letters, 13(8), 1055. doi:10.1111/j.1461-0248.2010.01489.x
McPhee, D.P. (2012) Likely Effectiveness of Netting or Other Capture Programs as a Shark Hazard Mitigation Strategy in Western Australia. Fisheries Occassional Publication 108.
McPhee, D. (2014). Unprovoked shark bites: Are they becoming more prevalent? ().ePublications@bond.
Cury, P., & Shin, Y. (n.d.)Marine Ecosystems : towards responsible and sustainable fisheries. Retrieved March 31, 2015 from http://www.suds-en-ligne.ird.fr/ecosys/ang_ecosys/intro2.htm
EPA Assessment Agrees Shark Cull is Environmentally Unacceptable. (2014) Retrieved from http://www.seashepherd.org.au/news-and-media/2014/09/11/epa-shuts-down-shark-cull-program-1620
Fraser, M.W. (2014) Confessions of a Marine Ecologist. Retrieved from
Fletcher, P. (2014)The ethics of shark culling. Retrieved from
lead to a decrease in unprovoked shark bites
Although this was not the case in Hawaii
Sharks are apex predators
Slow to reproduce
Generalists: they eat a whole variety of prey
Some species are the sole predators of smaller predators and marine fauna
Influence connectivity and stability of ocean food webs
Ecosystem models predict loss of large sharks
Increase in marine fauna = loss of sea grass sustainability
Proliferation in smaller predators causing a decline in commercial fish
A non-consequently theory judges the rightness or wrongness of an action based on properties intrinsic to the action, not on its consequences.
Sharks do not willfully bite people. They may bite people out of curiosity. Moreover, most sharks have never bitten people. So we cannot kill sharks just because a minority of sharks bite people.
Would a truly virtuous person condone the indiscriminate killing of 1000s of sharks to lessen our fear of an unprovoked shark bite?
Sharks play a vital role in the oceans in a way that the average fish does not.
1.Sharks are being fished at a rate faster than they can recover
2.Killing sharks effects entire ecosystem
3.Shark meat contains toxic mercury
4.Sharks prevent prey from over-grazing vital habitats
5.Sharks are worth more alive than dead
6.Sharks are good indicators of ecosystem health
7.Sharks keep our oceans healthy and productive
The preemptive culling of 1000's sharks and marine animals that are in close proximity to beaches, to the unlikely event of an unprovoked shark bite.
History of Shark Control Activities
1930s NSW introduce the Shark Meshing Program
1962 QLD introduces the Shark Safety Program
2014 WA attempts to introduce shark control activities but fails as unable to meet contemporary environmental assessment legislation