Stab Magazine | What Should The WSL Do About Their Terrifying Shark Problem?

What Should The WSL Do About Their Terrifying Shark Problem?

With shark sightings all week, multiple attacks near the Margaret River Pro in the past 24 hours, WSL officials are left facing an existential quandary: to surf, or not to surf?

news // Apr 17, 2018
Words by stab
Reading Time: 3 minutes

Yesterday, in Gracetown, WA, there were two shark attack incidents. The first resulted in a badly injured surfer and the other produced only minor wounds.

Just around the corner from those incidents, the WSL was holding the second round of the Women’s Margaret River Pro. After the first attack, the WSL took a brief pause in competition but eventually resumed. Competition had finished for the day by the time of the second attack.

Both attacks are presumed to have been by a four-meter Great White, perhaps even the same one.  Also worth noting is the dead whale that washed up at Lefthanders, another nearby break, which could be drawing sharks into the region.

Armed with this knowledge, the WSL has a decision to make: Do they send their surfers out into potentially, nay definitely dangerous waters, in order to finish the event, or do they cut their losses and move onto the next event?

For the record, ending a WSL competition early due to a shark problem would not be unprecedented: in 2015, when Mick Fanning was hit by a White Pointer in the opening stages of the Jeffrey’s Bay final, the Commissioners’ Office rightly decided to call the event rather than chancing another encounter. 

The WSL released this message on their Instagram just minutes ago: 

Screen Shot 2018 04 16 at 2.05.02 PM

The caption reads: WSL continues to assess the current situation at the Margaret River Pro where there have been two confirmed shark incidents near Gracetown in the last 24 hours. We have actioned our well established safety protocols and are gathering all the latest information to determine next steps. We will continue to liaise with all involved, most importantly the surfers, their safety remains paramount. Today’s competition (Tuesday in Western Australia) has already been called off and all surfers have been advised not to surf in the area. We are constantly evaluating the situation, and will update as soon as possible.

This is a very difficult situation to navigate.

On one hand, the safety of the surfers should be the WSL’s primary concern.

On the other hand, the men and women of the Championship Tour risk their lives every single time they paddle out, whether in competition or not, be it to sharks, reef, or any other obstacle that could cause them to lose motor functions and drown.

So really, the surfers’ safety is never guaranteed. That’s just reality. 

At the same time, if there were crocodiles swarming all over a golf course, bears constantly intruding on baseball games, or vicious, giant prehistoric gophers on the footy field, there’s no way the PGA, MLB, or AFL would allow competition to resume. It’d just be too dangerous. 

This is especially difficult to manage in an ocean-based sport like surfing, where predators move more or less invisibly beneath the water’s surface.

I don’t care how many “safety protocols” you’ve implemented; there’s no stopping a hungry White. (Just ask John John, who was maybe almost eaten mid-wave in his Round 1 heat, and also once before the event.)

Surely the WSL knows this.

So the decision then becomes moralistic in nature: Do they risk the surfers’ lives for the sake of competition, or clicks, or whatever it is they (and we) stand to gain from this event’s completion, or do they leave with their tails between their legs but all limbs in tact?

And taking this even further, if the WSL does decide to cease competition, will they ever come back to Western Australia? What about Bells, Snapper, and J-Bay, all spots which have enjoyed large shark populations, historically?

While there’s no “right” call here, there definitely might be a wrong one. 

We wish the WSL and all of its competitors the best of luck in these coming days. 


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