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Kelly Slater Elaborates On His Call For A "Serious Shark Cull" On Reunion Island

“There needs to be a serious cull on Reunion, and it should happen every day.”

Those were Kelly Slater’s words on Instagram in response to Jeremy Flores commiserating another fatal shark attack on Reunion Island. Considering his outspoken stance on ocean conservation, the 11-time world champ’s comments came as a surprise. Aware of the backlash his words may ignite, he continued, “If the whole world had these rates of attack nobody would use the ocean and literally millions of people would be dying like this.”

Slater finished with an impassioned plea for the French government to take action. There’s zero question that when it comes to saving our seas, Slater’s top of the class, but given the controversial nature of his comments, Stab reached out to him for some clarification.

On the subject of culling, we put it to him that with the increasing attacks and encounters in the Ballina, Lennox and Byron area, what makes Reunion different?

“Ballina seems to be seasonal and migratory sharks, but I don’t know that for sure,” Kelly told Stab. “Reunion has had a far greater number of attacks and a higher percentage of deaths. And it seems to have been something specifically created by human interference from what Jeremy has told me. There is some unnatural order occurring there that doesn’t happen nearby in Mauritius or Rodriguez Island.”

This is not just an observation of Kelly, Jeremy and a couple of surfers. According to Smithsonian Magazine, there hasn’t been a shark attack on Mauritius since the 1980s. The local government is considering a tiger shark conservation program. Meanwhile, in 2015, the French government spent two million Euros on shark nets on Reunion. It’s quite literally the tale of two cities. 

When asked how man may be factoring into the shark epidemic on Reunion, Slater noted, “I would imagine overfishing, which isn’t the sharks’ fault but a reality for the humans dealing with it in the ocean.”

Ballina sea life from a drone. Watch for the great white around 2:12.

The reasons for Reunion’s shark issues appears to be wide-ranging and extremely hard to pinpoint. Smithsonian reports that a depleted fish stock from overfishing may be to blame, but the bathymetry of Reunion may also play a role as it is a younger island than Mauritius and is surrounded by much deeper waters. Also, bull sharks are the culprit of a number of attacks on Reunion, and they thrive in shallow, muddy waters. With the buildup of urban areas around Reunion there is more runoff flowing into the water in recent years, most notably in St. Paul, where there have been previous attacks.

When asked if the marine reserves around Reunion may be to blame, Kelly told us that “it’s hard to say because most of the good waves on the island are within the marine reserve, so it makes sense that’s where most shark-human interaction would happen anyhow. The sheer number of attacks makes no sense to the sharks’ natural feeding patterns.”

It doesn’t appear that anyone has the answer. In 2016, there were 107 “shark attacks and bites” around the world according to TrackingSharks.com. Eight proved fatal. Because waters were closed to swimming and surfing on Reunion last year, the number of attacks during 2016 isn’t indicative of the problem, but consider that since 2011, there have been 20 attacks with six fatalities. By comparison, last year there were 15 unprovoked attacks in Australia (seven in New South Wales, four in Western Australia and two in Queensland). South Africa only had one unprovoked incident all year. Surprisingly, North America led the world in unprovoked shark attacks with 53 (ten of which were in Hawaiian waters, while the lion’s share of the encounters happened in Florida). On the flip side, conservationists estimate that, worldwide, 11,000 sharks are killed by humans every hour with 100 million slaughtered annually.

“I surely don’t want to be a scientific authority in any way in this debate,” Kelly added. “It’s just one man’s opinion.” 

Jeremy Flores and Quik made this simultaneously harrowing and heartwarming film about the shark problem in Reunion Island. It's well worth your time.

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