It’s pretty easy to blame the animal with whom we cannot communicate when conflict arises. We see it regularly with terrestrial mammals such as bears, coyotes or cougars: most conflicts end with the non-human animal killed, and the human telling a tall tale.
The same sentiment has been echoing in coastal newspapers this spring and summer, as the number of shark-human conflicts seems to be on the rise. But researchers are saying (again) that it isn’t the sharks – it’s the people.
The Associated Press has reported that the number of Americans visiting beaches had risen by 2 million individuals from 2001 to 2010. The AP journalist also spoke with a beach protection association who noted that number has likely grown (and will continue to grow) due to improving economic conditions.
But what is most important is what some of the country’s top shark researchers are saying.
"The fact of the matter is, while shark populations rebound and hopefully come to where they once were, the human population is rising every year," researcher George Burgess told The Associated Press. "We're not rebounding, we're just bounding."
Another expert noted that as long as humans visit the habitats of sharks, some level of conflict will be inevitable.
It took driving ecosystems, entire species and, indeed, the very stability of our oceans into dust before the need to protect sharks was recognized. We can only hope we don’t need to wait that long to realize we must co-exist and protect terrestrial species, too.
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