The sight of a dorsal fin knifing through the waves might send many swimming for the shore, but a survey of surfers shows it won’t deter many from catching a wave.
A University of South Australia study published in Marine Policy reveals 44% of surfers say a shark sighting would not stop them from being in the water. While more than half of the 391 surfers surveyed had seen a shark while they out on the water, 60% were not afraid of the marine creatures.
The survey also revealed more surfers have been bitten by sharks than we think.
But the global survey of surfer attitudes towards sharks, undertaken by behavioural scientist Dr Brianna Le Busque, found surfers had generally positive views on these apex predators.
Le Busque told Cosmos, to date there has been very little research on surfers’ perceptions of and interactions with sharks.
“A lot of the shark policies, shark nets and things like that are implemented, in part to protect surfers. But there hasn’t really been a lot of research to actually ask them what they want,” she says.
Le Busque says the study may help to change people’s negative perceptions of sharks. This is important because fear of sharks can act as a barrier to conserving them.
“Shark conservation is important. As apex predators at the top of the food chain, if sharks become endangered or extinct this can have flow on effects for the entire ecosystem.”
But conserving sharks is complicated because they can harm humans, and many people fear them.
“When people are afraid of sharks, they don’t want sharks to be conserved … it’s also a driving motivation for having certain shark policies. So things like shark culls, shark nets, they are implemented because of people’s fears of sharks,” Le Busque says.
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Le Busque says research indicates the public have a higher perception of risk when it comes to sharks, compared to the low likelihood of encountering one.
Surfers’ relaxed views on sharks contrasted with those of the wider public.
This was despite the survey finding quite a high share of surfers (17%) had been bitten, or knew someone who had been bitten by a shark. Le Busque says, this is quite a high percentage, higher than shark attack statistics suggest.
Petra Stock has a degree in environmental engineering and a Masters in Journalism from University of Melbourne. She has previously worked as a climate and energy analyst.
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