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Animals

Swim on sharks, nothing to see here: could fake kelp prevent attacks?

As the brutality of drumlines and culling is exposed, ingenious new ideas are being trialled to protect humans from sharks – and vice versa

In 2017, surf champion Kelly Slater responded on Instagram to the death of Alexandre Naussac, a bodyboarder who died after a shark attack: “Honestly, I won’t be popular for saying this but there needs to be a serious cull,” Slater wrote. “There is a clear imbalance happening in the ocean there … 20 attacks since 2011!?”

Réunion Island, the French overseas department in the Indian Ocean where Naussac died, did indeed see 24 shark attacks between 2010 and 2019, 10 of which were fatal. If anywhere is a shark attack hotspot, it’s here: one-sixth of recorded fatal attacks globally from 2011–20016 happened in the island’s murky water, which appeals to bull sharks but makes it harder to spot them. Overfishing has been cited as another possible reason for the high incidence of attacks, as sharks move nearer land to find food.

Mysterious and often misunderstood, the shark family is magically diverse – from glowing sharks to walking sharks to the whale shark, the ocean’s largest fish. But these magnificent animals very rarely threaten humans: so why did dolphins get Flipper while sharks got Jaws?

Related: ‘People want blood and gore’: what we got wrong about filming sharks

Sharks can detect minute electric fields in the water. They use it for hunting

Related: Seafood fraud: why your Mediterranean swordfish might actually be shark

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