Whose Life Is More Important? Yours, Or A Shark's?
When I was growing up in the Seventies, the answer was a no-brainer. We can deduce this from careful study of a popular movie of the era, Jaws (1975). At no stage in the movie - you'll recall - is there a scene where angry Greenpeace activists descend on Mayor Larry Vaughn's office to demand he call off the hunt for the man-eater on account of it being a rare, protected and much-misunderstood species.
Fast forward four decades though, and that's exactly what the greenies are doing in Western Australia. Never mind that since 2011 this one Australian state has experienced more fatal shark attacks - six - than any comparable region in the world. Activist groups including Greenpeace and Sea Shepherd are demanding that the state government call off its newly-instituted shark-culling policy on the grounds that it is a gross infringement of shark rights.
The state's premier Colin Barnett says: "I get no pleasure from seeing sharks killed, but I have an overriding responsibility to protect the people of Western Australia, and that's what I'm doing."
This cuts no ice with environmental campaigners, who have staged rallies on beaches, trashed the state Premier's office, frozen the state government's internet system by bombarding it with over 24,000 emails and threatened fisherman. Apparently they are less concerned about the lives and limbs of swimmers and surfers than they are about the hurt and suffering experienced by the cull's first victim - a nine-foot Tiger shark.
"To think this shark had been in the water for 12 hours, possibly with a big bleeding hook in its mouth suffering, is just ridiculous," complained a Sea Shepherd spokeswoman Rae Threnoworth.
Well, maybe not that ridiculous. It was a shark of just that size and species which in 2012 lacerated the forearm of a man snorkelling with a party of eco-tourists in Coral Bay at the northern tip of Western Australia. (I snorkelled myself a few weeks later, blissfully unaware of this).
Still, to be fair on the Tiger, all the recent fatalities were caused by its larger, rival man-eater, the Great White.
They were: Kyle Burden, 21, killed while bodyboarding; Bryn Martin, 64, who vanished during his morning swim off the popular Cottesloe beach at the state capitol Perth (no body was ever found, only his lacerated Speedos); George Wainwright, 32 a U.S. tourist hideously mauled while diving off Rottnest Island; Peter Kurmann, 33, another diver, killed while as his brother tried to fend off the man-eater with a knife; surfer Ben Linden, 24; and, in November 2012, another surfer Chris Boyd.
To put this in context, there have been more fatal shark attacks in Western Australia in the last three years than there were in the seventy years between 1925 and 1995 (when there were just two fatal attacks).
These fatalities are part of a trend which has seen shark attacks increase dramatically in the last decade or so. Between 1990 and 2000 attacks in Australia averaged 6.5 a year. In the past decade they have risen to an average 15 incidents per year, the most recent a fatal attack last week by a Great White on a 28-year old snorkeller who was spear fishing in Adelaide, South Australia.
Environmental groups claim that this is not the sharks' fault but the result of human population increases - and more swimmers.
Neither of these claims is supported by evidence. In fact, according to figures from the Australian Sports Commission, the number of people participating in swimming, surfing and other marine-based activities is falling - as Australians grow lazier, more obese - and possibly more scared of sharks. Numbers fell from 2,782,100 in 2001 to 2,615,300 in 2010 - with total participation down from 18.4 per cent to 14.9 per cent of the population.
Nor is there any clear correlation with population growth. In the 1930s there were many more shark attacks (a decadal average of around 70), than there were from the Forties to the Nineties, a period in which Australia's population almost doubled.
So what is causing the increase in attacks? One possible explanation is the explosion in the local whale population as a result of the ban on whaling. In 2013, an estimated 30,000 humpback whales migrated along the Western Australian coastline, luring their main predator - the great white - from the deep oceans closer towards the surfing and swimming beaches.
The international ban on whaling coincides with the designation in the 1990s of great white sharks as a protected species. Because fishermen are now forbidden from catching them, great white sharks are much more abundant. Good news for sharks, perhaps. Less so for swimmers and surfers unfortunate enough to cross their path.
But this is not an argument you are likely to see aired in environmentalist circles. This is because, at the root of the latest anti-cull protests in Western Australia, lies the green movement's ideological antipathy to the human species. "The earth has a cancer; the cancer is man", as the Club of Rome once charmingly put it.
You can detect the influence of this green brainwashing in the kind of comments you often hear passed these days in the wake of yet another killing by a man-eater. "Oh he understood the risks. We enter their domain at our peril;" "He wouldn't have wanted vengeance. It's not the shark's fault"; "They don't mean to hurt us, you know. It's just they mistake us for baby seals...."
Well, just for the record, if ever anything like that happens to me, I do want the man-eating creature hunted down and executed. And I don't care whether it killed me deliberately or by accident. And I'm certainly not buying this line that the sea ought to be a no-go area for us just because we weren't actually born with gills and scales and fins. If God meant us to be afraid of the water, why did He give us surfing; and how come He gave us the brains to invent wetsuits and scuba equipment?
Yup, I know it's an unfashionable line to take in an age where so many people have been brainwashed by greenery. But I bet, privately, that most of the people who actually use the sea agree with me. Here's a sample email I've got from a Western Australian surfer:
"Huge protest on Cottesloe Beach today. Ecoloons galore. Thousands.
"Most West Aussies want something done about the sharks, but we are getting negative media attention from the eastern states and the rest of the world.
"Boy it's nice to live in the most isolated city in the world. They can all **** off."
With you there, dude.