Jordan Rivkin

The human frenzy of shark attack revenge

AAP Image/Rebecca La May

I’m going to come right out and say it.

While I have the utmost empathy for the families of Chris Boyd and Zac Young, I have never understood the quest for retribution that ensues in the wake of shark attacks on humans.

WA Fisheries promptly issued a ‘catch and kill’ order for the shark after the attack on Boyd, initiating a pursuit for vengeance (for one cannot reasonably call it justice) that astounds me.

The offender is not some deranged human, bereft of empathy, who needs to be brought to justice. It is an animal, searching for food in its natural habitat as it has done for some 400 million years. An animal that occasionally mistakes humans for its usual diet of fatty marine mammals.

This is clearly why most shark attacks aren’t fatal. Of those that are, there is usually a human body that makes it to shore alive before bleeding out. Were a large shark wholly committed to the consumption of humans, I’m guessing there would be little in the way of remains left to identify.

But even this fails to address the issue at hand. Headlines tell us that ‘the hunt for the killer continues’. I’m curious as to how the killer is precisely identified. Do authorities round up a bunch of sharks for questioning, determining the alibi that holds up least? Is there an interrogation process that aids in ascertaining which shark was in the vicinity at the time?

It’s preposterous to think that there’s any guarantee the shark caught is culpable. But I guess that’s the point. Even if it isn’t, who cares? It’s just a fish, right? Perhaps the bloodied carcass of any shark, hauled back to shore, is enough to quench our thirst for revenge?

It’s not about revenge, you say. It’s about punishment.

So, perhaps that’s the goal of WA Fisheries, to punish the offender. Okay, well let us examine this rationale. Human society employs punishment to achieve four primary aims.

  1. To reform of the offender. Needless to say, the shark’s subsequent destruction at the hands of WA Fisheries is unlikely to see much reform in its behaviour. I guess at the very least it won’t re-offend.
  2. Deterrence.  So, maybe that’s it? If we ‘catch and kill’ the shark responsible we might just dissuade all those other pesky sharks from engaging in similar acts of impropriety in the future. Doubtful.
  3. Vengeance or retribution. Some prefer to call this an effort to restore order, or to ‘balance the equation’. I accept that seeing a guilty person punished can afford an iota of relief to families of victims, but I’m sceptical as to whether the shark’s execution brings any comfort to the victim’s family.
  4. Safety and the protection of society. I fail to see how the removal of one shark from the ocean, arbitrarily caught I might add, is going to make the ocean safe once more. There are other sharks, and as long as we venture into the ocean, there will be other incidents.

Call it revenge, punishment or whatever, but I suspect it’s nothing more than a vain attempt to control what is beyond our control. We like to see this planet as ours and ours alone. Be it land or sea, we consider ourselves as landlords, and any squatters in our domain who dare affront us must be dealt with.

For those of that view, you can take comfort. For every 10 of us lost to a shark attack, we claim around 30 million of them.

So rest assured, they are already being punished.

Jordan Rivkin

Jordan Rivkin is a freelance writer, psychology student and animal-welfare advocate. After nearly two decades in the stock market, he left to complete his 4th year honours in psychology. His main interests are social justice and mental health issues, and he teaches ethics to primary school children in his spare time.

2 Comments

  1. south arm said:

    Mosquitoes kill far more people than do sharks!

  2. Jeremy B said:

    Let’s not forget another reason – tourism dollars lost if there’s a loose shark out there eating us…..no one wants to see empty beaches at Christmas time, remember Amity Island

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