Politics

Please Calm Down About The 5500 Sharks Hanging Out Off The East Coast

Breaking: Sharks found in natural habitat.

This morning, the CSIRO released a new study that aims to accurately estimate, for the first time, the number of great white sharks out and about in Australian waters. The number it landed on for Australia’s east coast was around 5500, a big scary number that caused some people — and some news outlets — to freak out a bit.

At least two different publications ran a headline using the word “lurk”, the Sydney Morning Herald pivoted to “protecting swimmers” in their first paragraph, and there have been more than a few big, toothy pics of sharks around.

Meanwhile, The Australian described “an explosion in adult great white shark numbers off the west coast”, despite the main finding of the study being that shark numbers have been pretty stable, actually.

In fact, the goal is actually to have more great white sharks than this — they’ve been a vulnerable species since 1999, and they’re protected in Australia.

And yet, despite shark attacks being extremely rare, Environment Minister Josh Frydenberg responded to the study by calling for the West Australian government to take “stronger action to protect its citizens”, on the grounds that the study found…more sharks in the west coast ocean than the east.

Still not an increasing number, to be sure, just a higher one (the final figure for the west coast has not yet been determined, but the study estimates it might be double the east coast one).

As University of Sydney lecturer and shark attack researcher Dr. Chris Neff told us, it can be so easy to fearmonger about sharks, but it also pays to just calm down a bit.

“This can be a very emotional issue and there is ample space for fear-mongering, but the facts here show that shark numbers are stable, not growing,” he said.

“As always the safest thing is to swim between the flags, and stay close to shore. If you need to go out far, pay attention to water temperature (cooler water, less than 20C is a higher risk) and the lunar cycle (sharks come closer to shore on new moons)”.

Who knew sharks were actually werewolves?