Sharks' crucial role in nature

I REFER to the letter from Andrea Hung headlined, 'Swimmers deserve safe sea' (South China Morning Post, June 16).

As I understand it, the thrust of Ms Hung's letter was that the Government is failing to protect the public from the well-publicised shark problem in Hong Kong's waters.

She went on to embellish the letter with her own master plan 'as a conservationist' of eating a second bowl of 'Amex' shark's fin soup to counter the threat.

As a diver who has swum with sharks on a number of occasions, it has been with more than a passing interest, and growing anger that I've followed this debate.

The facts are clear. At present we have a shark problem - three people have been attacked and killed by a shark or sharks whilst swimming in Hong Kong waters in recent weeks. It has been suggested by experts that the frequency of these attacks would indicate a seasonal visitor to our waters.

Only two of our beaches are netted, and people have been told to stay out of the water. People do not heed this advice and when an attack occurs, blame the Government for failing to protect them. We clearly need a solution to our problem. In South Africa, a dedicated organisation known as the Natal Shark Board was set up following similar attacks in the waters off Durban.

As well as the netting of gazetted beaches, their answer was to develop a system of electrical barriers which interfered with the shark's sensory organs and repelled them from the beaches.

It was highly effective, and unlike netting posed no threat to other creatures. Implementation of any system does not however happen overnight, so until then the answer is simply to stay out of the water or accept the consequences.

Now, if I may go on to paraphrase Ms Hung and her right to 'stand . . . waist deep in water on both legs', what about the shark? Does she not accept that they have a right to be there too? Evidently not. Sharks as we know them today evolved around 160 million years ago - they were highly evolved before we could even stand upright, let alone cook soup.

As the apex predator, the role they play in maintaining a delicate marine ecosystem far outweighs any threat to humans. Of the 350 species of shark, none habitually feed on humans; quite the reverse, it is we who feed on them, and justify slaughtering 100 million of them every year to stuff our faces. Unlike us, they do not kill for pleasure nor in hatred, and of the 100 or so documented attacks which occur annually throughout the world, less than 35 are fatal; you'd better buy a fly swat or eat more honey Andrea because more people die from bee stings each year.

What I am simply saying is that ignorance breeds fear, and I am fed up with reading the kind of mis-informed and vindictive drivel which prompted this letter. Shark 'lover'? No, but I'm not a shark hater, I appreciate what they are.