France Plans Shark Massacre After 15-Year-Old Girl Dies in Reunion Island’s Second Fatal Attack This Year
Authorities on the Indian Ocean island of Réunion have announced a plan to kill 90 sharks along its coastline, in addition to 24 already killed over the past year, in response to five human deaths from shark attacks there since 2011.
George Burgess, director of shark research at Florida Natural History Museum and an expert on shark attacks, immediately denounced the killing program to GrindTV.com and later, in an interview with TakePart, as “an archaic, knee-jerk reaction that seems more borne of vengeance than of science.”
Burgess warned that such revenge killings would do more to hurt the tourism trade on Réunion than the sharks themselves: “This likely will blow up in their faces because most visitors to Réunion have a more sophisticated conservation ethic than the authorities are apparently giving them credit for.”
At the same time, the authorities also announced a seasonal ban on surfing across much of the island, according to Surfer magazine, which broke the story. This measure has caused further outrage among surfers, many of whom had lobbied in the past for a shark culling program.
These controversial decisions came in the immediate aftermath of the latest killing. When 15-year-old Sarah Roperth decided to go snorkeling with a friend on a Monday afternoon two weeks ago, she chose a beach where she has been swimming all her life. According to the friend, who witnessed the attack, they were about 15 feet from the shore when the shark hit, instantly biting Roperth in half and carrying away part of her body. Fishermen sent out to hunt in the area immediately after the attack killed a tiger shark and two bull sharks, about eight to ten feet in length. Their stomachs contained no evidence of human remains.
Roperth was the second person in Réunion killed by a shark this year, following the death in May of a 36-year-old surfer on his honeymoon. Worldwide, shark attacks have remained stable in recent years, though steadily rising as human populations and ocean recreation both increase. The global population of sharks has meanwhile sharply declined, because of the commercial killing of about 40 million sharks annually.
The International Shark Attack File confirmed 80 unprovoked shark attacks on humans last year, seven of them fatal. Fifty-three occurred in the United States, a distant second is Australia with 14, and then South Africa with four. But Réunion, a much smaller place roughly the size and population (800,000) of Jacksonville, Florida, has seen three attacks in 2012, a disproportionately high number, thus causing the intense local reaction.
In one particularly dramatic attack last year, a shark grabbed a well-known champion surfer by the legs and stood him up out of the water. Then a second shark broke the surface and bit into the victim’s torso. His body was never recovered.