Pointing at the fishing industry or beach safety nets for the drastic decline in the white shark population of South Africa isn’t a very fun story to tell.
Talking about two incredible ocean predators clashing and one defeating the other, well, that’s a sexy story that the media loves and people are more than happy to read.
This creates a problem as the more popular narrative about the decline in shark populations, as portrayed in the media is the presence of orcas when, as Dr. Sara Andreotti, a marine biologist specializing in shark research, has demonstrated, does not reflect the data.
However, as Sara told us in our recent interview, this is science, not a belief system. The data Sara shared over the years tried to warn us of the pending disappearance of white sharks in South Africa.
“You have two options, ask for my raw data, analyze it, and show me where I was wrong or go out and get even more data and prove me wrong with that data,” said Sara.
“There’s no such thing as ‘I just don’t believe you in science.’”
Interestingly, scientists on the government’s “special panel of experts” previously showed incriminating evidence that the fishery was wiping out important food species for the white shark. Later, they used the same evidence to say the decline of that species had nothing to do with the white shark disappearance because it happened before the white sharks disappeared. That’s about as disconnected from basic ecological principles as an argument can be considering that a predator leaves due to prey not being available. They are not simultaneous; one is a consequence of the other.
Sara has been studying white sharks in South Africa since 2009. She has also helped develop the Shark Safe Barrier, along with being the academic director at The SharkWise Project, a fully-immersive marine biology internship program based in South Africa.
The popular conception that orcas are behind a decline in shark populations doesn’t match the data, Sara told us,
“I sampled 17 white sharks in one day while orcas were in the same area so it is not a given that sharks will leave due to the presence of orcas.”
She added: “Let’s say for argument the orcas played a significant role in the white shark disappearance. Why only focus on that?”
Check out the full interview here for more insights on this fascinating topic