Surfer Mick Fanning’s escape from a great white shark made headlines worldwide last week, but after viewing video of the incident, experts have asserted that the shark wasn’t attacking him.
The shark incident occurred at the J-Bay Open tournament in South Africa and was broadcast live online and on TV, as Vox reports. Onlookers were stunned when a shark fin approached Fanning from behind, catching him off guard and thrashing through the water in surprise. Fanning was able to escape the situation without injury, and the competition was immediately cancelled, as officials feared the possibility of an attack.
The original video of Fanning’s encounter has so far garnered over 17 million views on YouTube, sparking global interest. After viewing the clip, however, several prominent shark experts have asserted that the predator wasn’t intending to strike Fanning, but was instead trying to remove itself from the situation.
— SURFER (@SURFER_Magazine) July 22, 2015
Christopher Neff, a political scientist who focuses on media coverage of sharks, has pointed out that Fanning has the right to call his encounter a shark attack. The media, however, should be more responsible, he says.
“The reality is that a shark, in great proximity to a person, didn’t bite the person, didn’t bite their board, swam away — and [yet] we have gone full tilt on ‘shark attack.’ That’s not what sharks do when they’re trying to bite people. You don’t see all that splashing.”
Alison Kock, a marine biologist at the University of Cape Town, concurred with Neff’s assessment, pointing out that the short clip was too vague to accurately gauge what the shark was attempting.
“Based on the footage we’ve seen, we don’t know its intentions. It looks like the shark was trying to get out of the situation as fast as Mark [sic] was,” she said.
Andy Casagrande, who films sharks for Discovery and National Geographic, among others, believes that the animal was simply reacting to Fanning’s surfboard leash, in which it was likely tangled, as Outdoor Magazine reports.
“I’ve seen this time and time again working with sharks. When they touch a rope – tethered to a cage you’re in or an anchor line – they react immediately. It’s like someone pouring cold water down your back. You want to get away.”
While the semantics of shark interactions may seem unimportant to some observers, they have very real consequences in situations where public policy concerns the animals. Governments faced with irrational fear over sharks often result to killing individual animals, as the Inquisitr has previously reported, with dire consequences for the predators.
“When these things get characterized as shark attacks… it creates a domino effect,” Neff observed. “All of it is predicated on assuming that sharks are intent on getting humans.”
[Image: WSL via the New York Daily News]