It seems wildly out of character for a self-proclaimed conservationist, and yet here we are. Pro-surfer Kelly Slater has called — unbelievably — for a shark cull around Reunion Island in the aftermath of a bodyboarder’s death there after a fatal attack on February 21. The island sits off the east coast of Madagascar in the Indian Ocean.
A shark bit Alexandre Naussance, a former shark spotter for a surfing association, in the leg while he was bodyboarding. The area was marked as off-limits to swimmers and watersports enthusiasts, precisely because of the danger posed by sharks. Bitten in the femoral artery, Naussance bled to death before fellow bodyboarders and fishermen could stanch the wound. The area commonly attracts sharks, according to a quote from Saint-Andre deputy mayor Marie-Lise Chane in The Sun.
“The dangers of the site were indicated by signs prohibiting swimming and water activities, but they were sawn off over the weekend,” Chane said.
The BBC further reported that fishermen had warned the bodyboarders of sharks in the area that day. And finally, local authorities had issued an island-wide ban on swimming outside tightly supervised areas earlier in February.
According to The Daily Mail, “The fact that the victim was unaware of the danger prompted fears that he was a holidaymaker who had no idea that the waters were so dangerous. Locals later said that the man was part of a group of bodyboarders who had arrived on Sunday or Monday.”
Despite this, it’s still not clear whether Naussance ignored the warnings or didn’t know about them.
What gives, Kelly Slater?
Since 2011 there have been 20 shark attacks off Reunion Island. Eight of the attacks have been fatal, including this one. This relatively high number led Slater to call for a cull in the area on an Instagram post in tribute to the victim. Slater’s comment in full read as follows:
“Honestly, I won’t be popular for saying this but there needs to be a serious cull on Reunion and it should happen every day. There is a clear imbalance happening in the ocean there. If the whole world had these rates of attack nobody would use the ocean and literally millions of people would be dying like this. The French govt needs to figure this out asap. 20 attacks since 2011!?”
This from a “conservationist”?
This comment is especially backward given Slater’s foray into conservation with a partnership campaign between his company, Outerknown, and the Ocean Conservancy. Called “It’s Not Okay,” the tagline for the campaign is a quote by Slater: “We need to shift our awareness. It’s not ok to destroy our ocean.”
Rather than revisit the dubious science behind any shark cull, the bottom line is that when we get in the ocean — as divers, swimmers, surfers, snorkelers, paddleboarders, etc. — we are entering their environment.
Sharks belong in the waters around Reunion Island; we are just visitors. If we decide to get in the water, we must know the risks and be comfortable with them. Shame on you, Kelly Slater, for behaving as though you and other surfers have more rights in an environment in which you have no natural place. Let’s hope that the French government ignores ridiculous, vengeful proclamations like this and instead relies on science and focuses on marine-species education for those who choose to get into dangerous waters.