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In Reply to Shark Attacks and Shark Diving

Published:February 20, 2015DOI:https://doi.org/10.1016/j.wem.2014.11.018
      To the Editor:
      In his letter, Dr Juerg Brunnschweiler expresses both astonishment and concern regarding our paper when stating that it “devises a far-fetched and illegitimate connection with shark diving, in particular with shark feeding.” We do not agree with Dr Brunnschweiler’s comments, because 1) our paper is not a “criticism” of either shark diving nor shark feeding but yet a description of an attack that might have had some kind of connection with the growing industry of shark diving in the Azores; 2) we clearly expressed a legitimate concern that, contrary to shark species with residential habits, the blue shark that caused this attack has pelagic habits and roams coastal areas of oceanic islands, and is the only species targeted by the Azores commercial shark diving companies; 3) the possibility—although rare—of interactions with humans and eventual attacks are real and may cause collateral damage to many upstream and downstream areas of maritime tourism in the Azores; and 4) panic and disproportionate fear, something that is worldwide associated with sharks, are critical issues and may lead to other types of accidents.
      We understand and respect the diving operators’ will to capitalize on this specific niche of tourism. However, we think that it is our duty and even a responsible obligation to describe well-documented events and discuss them within the scientific community. Throughout the world, many accidents presenting several degrees of gravity do occur. However, it is known that many remain unreported, either because they occur in remote areas or because there are many types of political pressures to avoid their knowledge precisely not to harm some types of touristic initiatives. That is one of the reasons why Dr Brunnschweiler’s comment when asking for “facts and figures” is so difficult to achieve. And yet, in his last paragraph, Dr Brunnschweiler expresses a very inelegant affirmation when he doubts our ability to use the “scientific method.” We are certain that he knows perfectly well that we did use it, but numbers do not appear—and probably that will remain as it is for a long time simply because (and may we add, fortunately) shark attacks are rare.
      Our arguments are precautionary and cautious. Enticing predators and especially apex predators with food will lead to conflicts between humans and wildlife, and these happen all the time and in many places.

      Conover MR. Why are so many people attacked by predators? Human–Wildlife Interactions. 2008;2:139–140. Accessed 14 November 2014.

      This is not the first time that the description of an attack with a discussion on possible causes is criticized, and we thank Dr Brunnschweiler for doing precisely that. Discussing these aspects, however, may well lead to more caution and common sense when dealing with these types of animals. That will certainly improve human-wildlife relations, reduce conflicts, and certainly diminish high degrees of intolerance toward wildlife
      • Treves A.
      • Bruskotter J.
      Tolerance for predatory wildlife.
      —and that will ultimately be of great help in protecting precisely these animals, including sharks.
      In conclusion, we would like to add that, apparently, Dr Brunnschweiler expressed his legitimate concern for the industry of shark diving. We express our deep concern on behalf of the welfare of both humans and sharks.

      References

      1. Conover MR. Why are so many people attacked by predators? Human–Wildlife Interactions. 2008;2:139–140. Accessed 14 November 2014.

        • Treves A.
        • Bruskotter J.
        Tolerance for predatory wildlife.
        Science. 2014; 344: 476-477

      Linked Article

      • Shark Attacks and Shark Diving
        Wilderness & Environmental MedicineVol. 26Issue 2
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          It is with great astonishment and concern that I read the letter to the editor by Barreiros et al1 in which the authors report an attack by a blue shark on a spear fisherman in the Azores. Whereas the first part of the article accurately details the circumstances of the accident, Barreiros et al, in the second part, devise a far-fetched and illegitimate connection with shark diving, in particular with shark feeding.
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