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Spearfisherman Vs. Tiger Shark

March 29, 2009

WhySharksMatterFor this week’s ethical debate, we will return to the sea and to current events. There is a news story that is taking the shark blogosphere by storm. This is a story about two men who killed an individual shark. Here’s what happened:

While spearfishing, Craig Clasen was approached by a 12 foot long tiger shark- an admittedly scary situation, since tiger sharks have been known to attack people, and there was a great deal of fish blood in the water from the spearfishing. Over the next couple of hours, Clasen wrestled with the shark, speared it repeatedly, and eventually stabbed it with his dive knife. Clasen survived and the shark did not.

This story eva12en made the mainstream news. As might be expected, the story was not pro-shark.

The shark blogosphere has been talking about this one since it happened several months ago, but there has been a lot of focus lately. As is often the case, there are very strong opinions on both sides.

Before we get into these competing blog opinions, let’s provide some background on this story.

1) Shark experts who have seen the video (yes, someone was filming the whole time) agree that the tiger shark was not demonstrating pre-attack posture at the time Clasen began fighting with it. That does not mean that it never would have attacked

2) Clasen believed that the shark was threatening him.

3) Tiger sharks can eat sea turtles whole and have attacked people before.

4) Tiger shark populations have declined precipitously- off the coast of North Carolina, there has been a decline of over 90% in the last 20 years. Big tigers like this one are even more rare.

And now, on to the myriad of strong opinions that help make my job so much fun.

Felix Leander of Oceanic Dreams has a lot to say on this issue. The title of the piece includes the word “murder”, which tells you right off the bat what side of the issue he falls on.  The photograph caption is “overkill”. Here are some highlights of his article:

He describes Craig as representative of bad spearfisherman who “spear for the photo or coverage, have no respect towards the ocean, pillage it as they please…”

“Given a choice to kill or let live a large tiger shark (that supposedly put them in a life or death situation) they decided to kill it…a process that took over two hours and various spears, stabbing, and drowning…a slow and painful death… they were looking for their 15mins of fame, media coverage, money and status among the spearo community

I think my favorite part of Felix’s post is his assertion that simply by being afraid when a 12 foot tiger shark approaches you up close while you have a bunch of dead and bleeding fish tied to you means that you are anti-conservation. Felix, I wish your father a speedy recovery, but you, sir, are a harsh critic.

The South African shark conservation group Sharklife also had a lot to say on this matter. Other than providing their members with Clasen’s contact information and telling them to tell Clasen why what he did was wrong (which I have been the victim of before, and let me tell you, it is not fun being harassed by legions of fanatics), they also wrote an article on the subject. The title calls it a “publicity stunt”, and it ends by saying that Clasen “should hang his head in shame”.

Other people are more supportive of Clasen. Mark Powell of Blogfish acknowledges that big tiger sharks can be a threat to people and that he would be afraid if a 12 foot tiger shark approached him.

Patric Douglas of Underwater Thrills actually got the chance to interview the guy who filmed this incident. Though I recommend you read the whole article, this passage is quite telling:

“This morning we called Ryan McInnis to get his take. Our conversation with him revealed a level headed and consummate waterman with a long history in water with sharks. This was a conversation with a diver who was absolutely distraught about killing a Tiger shark.

Here’s a quote from our conversation:

“I have been diving my whole life and this was unlike any shark experience I have ever had, or wish to have. All I had was my camera and no spear gun when the animal charged in, fins down, with eyes rolled back, it scared me to death. My buddies came over and saw the animal in an aggressive stance, our vessel was 100 meters away. It closed distance on all three of us and it quickly became evident that we were going to have to defend ourselves. Once the decision was made and the first shot was fired the true horror was now we had to kill it, you never leave a shark just wounded. I have seriously conflicted emotions now, the death of such a beautiful fish made me totally reevaluate spear fishing. This entire event was terribly unfortunate. I think this animal had never encountered humans because of the aggressive manner in which it charged in. We have seen resident sharks become acclimated to us, this animals was not acclimated, it was not going to back down. We postured at the shark trying to look bigger, we swam at the animal, and the last ditch effort was the shot.If getting out of the water was an option we would have taken it, we’re not out here to kill sharks”.”

Interesting- the guys DO care about sharks, they are experienced enough with sharks to know what is threatening behavior or not, and they tried other means to deal with the problem. This paints a very different picture than what Felix was saying.

Here’s what I think about this.

1) It doesn’t really matter if the shark was about to attack Clasen. Clasen BELIEVED that it was. He BELIEVED that he was acting in self defense.

2) We weren’t there, and I’m going to give the benefit of the doubt to the men who were both experienced in the water and experienced with sharks. Demonizing someone who went through such a scary experience does not serve the goals of the conservation community.

3) If I were in that situation, I would have (probably) acted differently.

4) Most importantly: Shark finning kills 100 million sharks a year. Craig Clasen killed one shark. WHO THE HELL CARES ABOUT CRAIG CLASEN? The shark conservataion community has limited resources and we need to focus them on the important issues. A man killing one shark, arguably in self defense, does not constitute a major threat to world shark populations. I probably wouldn’t want this guy as a dive buddy, but I don’t think he’s a shark-murdering monster, and I certainly won’t send him harassing phone calls and letters. Let’s leave this alone and focus our resources on what actually matters.

What do you guys think? Was Clasen wrong to kill the shark? Are some in the blogosphere wrong for demonizing him? Is this an important issue, or should we focus on other things?


61 Comments leave one →
  1. March 30, 2009 2:43 am

    I’m no expert on shark behaviour, but I have to wonder why it stayed around for two hours? If it didn’t swim away after it was first injured, that must say something about its interest in the divers? Surely it could have escaped if it wanted to?

    I have to say I find it hard to blame someone for using such fore to defend themselves when a 12-foot shark won’t go away, I can’t say with any certainty that I would have done otherwise in that situation.

    • August 29, 2009 3:37 am

      Well I think you have to remember that when you are out in the open ocean you are actually in the sharks playground and hunting areas. If you can get out of the water do it, then go to another location. If you were the shark and you were speared, dont you think you may be a little pissed off and may want to attack what attacked you.

      It is guys like you that are helping destroy our oceans as you seem to think, when I’m in the water I will nail whatever I can or anything that happens to look upon me as a meal. I freedive and Spearfish here in New Zealand. If sharks come around and bother us we move on.

      Please do me a favour and NEVER come to New Zealand, we have enough trouble with the allowance of Shark Bycatch without having trigger happy dickheads like you over here as well!!

  2. March 30, 2009 7:08 am

    Lao Tzu once said “A tiger could not lay a claw on a wise man, nor can an army lay a single blow, because the wise man is simply does not put himself into such situations.”

    Forget the whole Clasen issue, it is a debate surrounding a fool’s decision. Concentrate on how to get people to stop feeding the shark fin industry.

    • whysharksmatter permalink*
      March 30, 2009 10:07 am

      An interesting point, Ken. Certainly people who work in an office cubicle in Nebraska would not be threatened by tiger sharks, only people who enter their habitat would be. To some degree, they accepted the risk of being approached by a large tiger shark by entering the water.

      However, does that mean that they don’t have the right to defend themselves?

  3. March 30, 2009 7:30 am

    I would say this about it:

    1) Assuming they’re not lying/acting about caring about sharks, I don’t think it was intended as a publicity stunt. Of course, they could be, and if it was a publicity stunt, they’re despicable in my mind. As far as the blogosphere goes, if they have some reason why they believe this to be a stunt other than the nice, pretty picture passed around, then demonize away. If these guys did this to look cool or to get fame, then they deserve it.

    2) I agree with Lao Tzu – You put yourself in a dangerous situation and you should expect to find yourself in danger. So I do hold them accountable for that. They were in its territory, in its home, chumming the waters. What did they expect would happen? Sharks would come around and want to cuddle?

    3) However, even though they created the situation, I can’t blame them for killing the shark. If you honestly believe you’re going to be attacked by an animal that’s twice your size, you react, not think. The same thing would go if you were on a prairie hanging out near a zebra carcass and had a lion come at you, even if, in retrospect, it was just trying to scare you from its food. You wouldn’t run the stats of population status. You wouldn’t think how majestic and wonderful an animal is in front of you. You’d see a killer cat attacking you, and if you happen to have a rifle, you’d probably shoot. At least, I can’t hold it against the person who would. I haven’t the slightest clue how I’d react, and I’d fancy not to find out.

  4. SharkStudent permalink
    March 30, 2009 9:16 am

    I completely agree with the argument that you put yourself in a bad sitatuation where danger lurks, then be prepared for danger. I don’t believe that these people should be ridiculed or attacked by conservation groups, though. I think that the people who ridicule these men have never been nearly attacked by a shark or any animal at that matter. People want to jump to whatever side they feel is best without putting themselves in the situation they are arguing against. These men could have been trying to draw attention, but that’s hard to believe for me. These men were experienced spearfishermen who have had, I’m sure, their fair amount of shark encounters and this is the first one they killed. If these men were really out trying to kill sharks, this wouldn’t have been the first video clip produced.
    Also I agree with Todd that there is no way that these men could have trapped this shark for two hours. The shark upon first being attacked should have fled, right? I am not sure about shark behaviors so I am going to have leave that up to the experts, but wouldn’t a scared shark flee? Or do wounded sharks attack more?

  5. March 30, 2009 11:17 am

    Hi David – I am a harsh critic (as harsh as you are towards other topics on your blog) about this because of what these guys did with the footage / the media circus this caused / added to the bad-image of sharks / and the apparent lies these guys told. Again, I refuse to believe that these guys with the experience they had needed to kill the shark – and yes it was overkill. And if there was no other option – keep the video to yourself, keep the photos of Craig smiling with the jaws and tail to yourself…

    You should also point out Patric’s second post on this topic – I think he felt lied at by these guys…and it does not paint a different picture from what I wrote.

    Not sure if anyone saw the CNN piece with Doc Gruber – called the Tiger Shark the Buddha and made it pretty clear that this shark was not attacking…

    @David – thanks for asking about my dad – he had his surgery yesterday and is recovering in the ICU.

  6. Craig Nazor permalink
    March 31, 2009 3:14 am

    This is the type of thing that gives those who love to experience nature close up and personal a bad name. And this also gives those who would like to limit what divers can experience in the ocean all the ammunition they need to make laws that make little sense. Chumming in shark waters to attract sharks raises the amount of “benefit of the doubt” one must give a shark THAT MUCH GREATER – you are essentially calling them to you. In this case, the divers’ reaction proves to me that they were not really prepared for all the contingencies to be doing what they were doing. Plan the dive, and then dive the plan is what I was taught. Was this the plan? Of course not. But if you call a shark to you, and then the shark behaves like a shark, well, whose fault is that? What these people did was not illegal (yet), but they were totally unprepared for a very conceivable outcome, they lost their cool, and a rare and magnificent animal died as a result. No offense to anyone, but knowing what I know now, I would choose not to go diving with this bunch. If I had paid a lot of money to go on a great shark dive, and then had to watch such a majestic creature like this be killed, I would not be a happy camper, to say the least!

    And about the thought of only one shark being killed as opposed to 100 million sharks being killed: it is all a matter of magnitude, and not number. I believe that every shark has to matter, or the life of every shark is cheapened. We may live through a day in the not-too-distant future when only one tiger shark is killed in the entire world, but that one tiger shark will be the last tiger shark on earth. We have all lived through a rapidly increasing number of such days recently, almost certainly unknowingly, when the last of a species has winked out. By a funny quirk of human feeling, that last death will be much worse than all the millions of others before it, even if we find out about it long after the fact.

    I’d mark this incident down as a display of poor judgment, and leave it at that.

    • March 31, 2009 8:18 am

      Craig – great comment…

  7. Laurie permalink
    March 31, 2009 9:56 am

    From reading the article and reading the other posts, I am at a loss for words. People’s opinions are either one way or the other. From what I understand as I read the article, the divers had every right to be afraid. The way I saw it, the shark was threatning them and even taunting them. The divers knew that this species of shark was rare, but felt as though they had no choice in their actions. The shark had not acted as other sharks had when they were near them and they were scared of what this shark might do to them. They didn’t want the shark to make the first move, for if they did, someone might not have come out alive. Now, I am unsure of where or how far off their boat was to know if they would have been able to get out of the water, but according to the one recording the incident if getting out of the water was an option, they would have taken it.

    I believe that the action taken against the shark by Classon was the appropriate thing to do in that situation. They were unable to get out of the water and a 12 foot tiger shark was threatning them and coming towards them. In a situation like this, you act and don’t think about the consequences. You don’t want to wait for the shark to attack first when you can tell that it is going to.

    Considering the fact that it was a rare tiger shark that was killed, I do believe it to be an important issue. However, I also believe that if there are other more important things that need our focus and attention, then leave this matter of the tiger shark and Classon alone and turn your focus onto what really needs to be looked at.

  8. March 31, 2009 9:35 pm

    I agree with Craig, he had an insightful post. This story had more layers to it than an Outback Steakhouse Bloomin Onion. Nothing appeared as it was.

    • whysharksmatter permalink*
      March 31, 2009 9:37 pm

      God I love bloomin onions. I once ate two of them by myself.

      So Patric, having spoken to one of these guys, your initial impression seemed sympathetic. What changed?

  9. Kent Bonde permalink
    April 1, 2009 7:50 am

    The fact of the matter is that nobody’s opinion really matters here, because no one was actually there to witness what happened. One can certainly draw from personal experience to weigh in on a subject but should really refrain from being judgmental on the issue. The bottom line is that it is indeed tragic that such a beautiful animal had to die for whatever reason. What I have learned over the years is that whether intentional or accidental, anytime man comes into contact with wildlife, wildlife always ends up the loser in the long-run.

    In forming my opinions on the subject, I can only draw from my own near-fatal run-in with a bull shark back in 2001. Like craig, I was engaged in spearfishng, which depending on your location, is bound to attract resident predators. In my case, in less than a split-second, the shark got my leg, my fish and was gone, which in retrospect tells me that the shark was doing nothing more than competing for fish I had just shot. It never came back for another pass at me and considering the distance I had to swim to get back to the boat and blood trail I was leaving in my wake, not another animal showed up. In Craig’s case, I suspect that the shark definitely came up on the scent of the fish they were shooting and one of two things happened – the shark became agitated and started posturing warranting legitimate defensive action or the trophy mentality prevailed and the animal was killed just because it showed up at the wrong time. Initially, I wanted to give these guys the benefit of the doubt, but sadly I suspect the latter.

    Capt Kent.

    • Kate Adams permalink
      April 2, 2009 3:01 am

      In Reply to Kent Bonde’s opening sentence:

      “The fact of the matter is that nobody’s opinion really matters here, because no one was actually there to witness what happened.”

      According to Craig Classen and his camera guy Ryan McInnis they hold original footage of the shark when it was “attacking”. However when editing their glorified “killing” of the Tiger Shark to release to press and media none of this was shown. Instead they chose to show pictures of Craig Classen with a huge big grin on his face holding the jaws.

      I ask one question – If that were actually true, why have they not released this footage?

      No answer really needed on that one – it’s pretty obvious!!

  10. Lilly permalink
    April 1, 2009 12:17 pm

    Well in my opinion I do not think that Craig Clasen was wrong to kill the Tiger shark. It seems like he felt like he was being attacked and was acting in self-defense against the shark. I personally would be terrified in this situation and wouldn’t know how to act. Since Tiger sharks can eat sea turtles I would be terrified to go against or even be near this fish while swimming in the water. First, the fact that all of these other organizations are pressing so hard against Clasen because it was just one shark one time; it would have been one thing if the Clasen’s team had a motive to go out and hunt the innocent Tiger shark. They were not acting in this way; they were simply spear fishing other animals.
    I feel that Clasen was acting in self-defense against the Tiger shark, and clearly felt threatened for his own life, thus why he and his team members acted in the way that they did.

  11. Shawn permalink
    April 4, 2009 12:50 am

    As an experienced scuba diver, fisherman and wildlife conservationist I have a deep love and respect for all things wild. Especially the sea and its’ inhabitants. I also understand what it is to be caught in a dangerous situation with a large predator. Often the choice to use lethal force is one that is done in a split second and not done necessarily by choice but by an instinct in all living things to survive. This is the case, whether in the wild or in an urban setting. I beleive them when they say that they regret having to do what they did. I wish all outdoorsmen were as respectful of sea creatures as they were. I wish there was some way they could have kept the Tiger and perhaps donated it to a university as a study speciman. It was a beautiful shark.

    • Shawn permalink
      April 4, 2009 1:24 am

      Yes, Perhaps looking at the incident in retrospect, they should have not spent so much time in one place spear fishing. Given enough time, the blood and struggling speared fish were bound to attract unwanted and unsafe predators to that location. The best bet was to keep moving locations. Preferably up current. Other than that, I can’t really fault them. They were probably lucky, given the size of the animal. It checked them out making some passes before going in for a bite. Often, with smaller prey, it will take a quick test bite or crippling bite first. This shark gave them time to see it, then react to the sharks presence and behavior.

  12. BushBaby permalink
    April 4, 2009 12:29 pm

    I live in a small coastal town in South Africa, we are a marine reserve, and with being an avid diver and surfer I have also had my encounters with predators in the water. With saying that I agree with Kate, if they have the whole “attack” on tape then why have they not released it?
    I see allot of game fishermen come through here and have seen the “trophy mentality” that has been motioned, and I am sorry to say but I think that is what happened, a pretty photo to hang in his bar, of him and his “killer” tiger shark.
    If it was self preservation that killed the shark, then release the full tape and let us see what happened. Every shark counts, and they way that this one was used for negative shark publicity is abhorrent.
    Shutting down the big companies that fin the sharks has to start with public awareness, if the public don’t like sharks, who is going to care?

  13. Will Noble permalink
    April 4, 2009 6:05 pm

    Having dived with sharks many times in the past I feel comfortable judging Clasen actions. No where in the video do I see signs the shark is aggressive or is in a heightened sense of attack.

    1. He didn’t have to be there. If he feels threaded by sharks don’t spearfish and stay out of the ocean. Two actions he can control.

    2. Clasen doesn’t act like someone who didn’t want to harm the shark. No time do you seen any conscious action to remove himself from the situation.

    3. If it wasn’t a publicity stunt, why spend so much time doing the press circuit and only discussing the flight. Why not use the time to educate people about sharks. I do not get anysence of remorse.

    I get the fact that he only killed one shark; but making the event public and giving interviews make Clasen fair game for critisizum.

    Will Noble

  14. April 8, 2009 11:13 am

    You know, living in Miami, I know way too many sports fishermen. People who think a great time is to go out on the boat, with [six kegs] (exaggeration, obviously) and a few lines, and spearguns, and to bring in the biggest fish they can. Trophy fishing makes me sick, because the VAST majority of the people who do it do not understand the implications of their actions. Killing the large specimens of a population of marine fish or shark can be fun (I’ve never delved into it, but I’ve been told that the “fight” can last for hours – this macabre fascination has never interested me) but I see it as murder. This man, Clasen – he may very well be justified in his actions. I have been in contact with many sharks – never as big as the one that he killed, and never a tiger shark, and I will admit that if I was approached by a 12 foot tiger shark, I would probably defecate myself. However, I would not kill it, I would simply swim away as quickly as I could without causing it to react to my movements. He, however, was equipped to fight it; if I was equipped in such a way, I would, too, fight it – but ONLY if it attacked. Now, having a degree in Marine Science and Biology, and having been obsessed with sharks since infancy, I know what a shark’s attack posture looks like. This man, may not have – and given the media’s obsession with portraying sharks as evil killing machines, he may have simply assumed that the shark was there to hurt him. In all likelyhood, it was attracted to the sheer amount of fish blood in the water – and since this means there is food, there is a very good chance that it WOULD have attacked him. The question that remains is this: Why did he attack first? Was he panicked? I don’t think the publicity of his actions were on his mind while he was wrestling the shark – if anything, he was scared shitless and just trying to survive HIS OWN ACTIONS (if you attack a shark, odds are it is going to do something to you as well if you just hit it once then try to swim away, especially if you are smaller than it is) – but what was going on in the mind of the man behind the camera? The other question that I would ask Clasen is this: (in two parts) Why did you send this to the media – what possible gain could you have by telling the world that you killed a 12 foot shark in such a deplorable manner – even sports fishermen are well aware of the backlash that they can receive by killing, say, a sailfish or an enormous tuna, from groups like Greenpeace and others. And, how do you feel about what you did, now, after the fact? Was it really necessary to dispatch such a beautiful creature in such a vicious manner?

    I am basically trying to say that although I think Clasen’s actions are deplorable and ridiculous, and that I think he should be ashamed of himself, I can understand why he might have fought and tried to kill the shark. To be in the water, virtually alone, with a shark of that size and calibre, is a very scary thing indeed. But, his actions AFTER THE FACT make it absolutely reprehensible and in all reality, he should make a public apology of some sort for trying to gain from the situation.

  15. April 11, 2009 9:10 pm

    After I read what had happened, I’m wondering why an experienced diver would take the time to fight a tiger shark to the point of death. I know he must be used to interacting with sharks but I feel that would be more of a reason that he wouldn’t risk anything, especially with such a big tiger shark. Because tiger sharks are known to attack people but I feel that is only when provoked. Also, the person who is so conveniently filming this attack,what was he doing? I feel his presence is a little too easy and convenient to be an authentic attack. I agree to some allegations of it being a media stunt in that sense. Sharks are already given such a bad name so by this attack being filmed and aired, it only exacerbated their reputation as vicious and brutal attackers who only feed on human flesh. Also, from an animals right perspective, the lengthy process of killing the shark seems incredibly inhumane. The shark was just doing what it knows. There was a lot of fish blood from the spearfishing so naturally the shark would be hungry and want to eat and when it didn’t see the fish,it saw the diver. The diver should have known given how much blood was around that he shouldn’t dive at that certain point, but if it was a media stunt then it was a very good manipulative move on their part.

  16. kdid permalink
    April 12, 2009 10:08 pm

    From reading all of this I’m kind of in the middle. I don’t know anything about sharkspearing, but from what I have read it seems like if Craig was at all experienced, he would have been able to handle the situation differently, and not have to take such drastic measures to kill the shark. On the other hand, if I were at all uneasy about whether or not a shark was going to attack me I would do the safest thing that I knew to do and kill it. It’s possible that he was just looking for a claim to fame, but there’s no way to know for sure unless he admits to it. I agree that it may have been unnecessary. But I also think that if he is such an experienced spearfisherman then he would have done what he thought was best, and therefore the attack was plausible.

  17. April 14, 2009 2:04 pm

    I disagree with all the bloggers who are demonizing Craig Clasen. If Clasen thought that the shark was going to attack, then he did the right thing in protecting himself. No one knows if the shark was really going to attack but since Clasen is experienced in the water and with sharks and spear fishing then he has the authority to protect himself when he believes his life is in danger or not. I think that this is not an issue that should be so heavily discussed; everyone should be focusing on other bigger and more important issues. One shark being killed is not that big of a deal, everyone needs to relax… this man was protecting his life! If I were in this situation and if any thoughts that the shark was going to attack crossed my mind, I would immediately resort to protecting my life.

    • Mina permalink
      April 15, 2009 11:11 am

      “One shark getting killed is not a big deal”… mate, there’s more people than sharks!

      • whysharksmatter permalink*
        April 15, 2009 11:58 am

        Are you suggesting, Mina, that the death of a shark is morally equivalent to the death of a human?

      • Mina permalink
        April 15, 2009 3:28 pm

        Sorry, really poorly phrased! Of course, human death is tragic, and I personally reckon that the guy has a right to defend himself. The point I’m trying to make is that, in the context of an animal with a relatively small population, the loss of one healthy breeding specimen is a lot more significant than in an animal which has a large, healthy breeding population (like us!).

        For example, from what I’ve heard of the Grey Nurse Shark population off the east coast of Australia, the loss of one breeding shark is actually a significant event. Hopefully things are a lot different for the Tiger shark population in question.

      • whysharksmatter permalink*
        April 15, 2009 5:14 pm

        Thank you for clarifying.

      • Mina permalink
        April 17, 2009 5:51 pm

        You know, your request for clarification got me thinking (I was writing the clarification before you asked, having thought that my post was really, really easy to misconstrue!). What is the moral value of a shark vs a person?

        As far as I’m concerned, a shark is completely neutral morally. Nothing that a shark can do can have moral value as sharks, inherently, have no morals. On the other hand, anything a human does can have moral value – negative or positive. Therefore, if a person contributes negatively morally (which can be a whole range of things depending on your moral viewpoint, but anyway…), well, their death could theoretically have a positive moral value! Was Hitler’s death be a good thing or a bad thing from your point of view? Good by mine. But anyway… the death of a shark is neutral-to-negative morally, from my point of view (negative as I think it’s worth having sharks in our world!). Human death can take a much larger range of theoretical moral values. So, theoretically, the death of a human could be a much better outcome than the death of a shark.

        Please note that this is only a theoretical argument! If I saw a person being chased by a shark (theoretically…) and had the means to assist the person or kill the shark, I’d do that. There is no way I could sit there and say “well, you’re not a good person, so it’d be better for you to die”, but the area of “moral value” (if it exists?) is a very, very, grey area, and I think it deserves a bit more thought than the actual situation in question!

  18. thecaptain permalink
    April 14, 2009 3:20 pm

    This man is in a very sticky situation. To some it may seem that he did the right thing by killing the shark for self protection; however, it also may seem that he was taunting the shark and treating it cruelly. I find that people always want to blow situations way out of proportion anyway, and since no one was there to witness the occasion it is no one’s place to judge. A shark is a very powerful animal and can seem extremely scary. Can anyone honestly say what they would do with 100% certainty if they were put in that same situation? I highly doubt it. I don’t condone killing animals without a purpose such as for food, but it is only one shark. Let’s just hope this guy has learned his lesson and leave it at that.

  19. Coco permalink
    April 14, 2009 6:17 pm

    This is a sticky subject. If it were me in the situation, I would immediately sense danger and definitely be too afraid to react. The fact that the attacked man was able to wrestle with the shark for more than 2 hours is amazing to me and makes me wonder if it was a set up and expected scenario that the fishermen enacted for publicity. Moreover, the fact that one of the men was filming the whole thing also makes me suspicious. Had this occurred under un-planned circumstances and had the danger been real, the other men would most likely attempt to somehow rescue the man being attacked instead of filming the whole thing.

  20. JBL permalink
    April 15, 2009 11:29 am

    Although, I myself would be terrified of a shark that approached me in such circumstances, I feel the situation could have been handled differently. Because these sharks are known to attack people, the diver probably felt threatened only because he knew the history of a Tiger Shark. The diver could have probably slowly backed off and gotten away without being harmed, unless of course, the shark was indeed planning to attack.

  21. April 15, 2009 9:40 pm

    I have to say I might be a bit on the fanatic side of things when it comes to this issue, but I do see what the other side has to say. Sure a 12-foot tiger shark is scary and even scarier when you are swimming in bloody water with dead fish tied to you, but seriously why stab a shark repeatedly when it is just as easy to swim away. If the shark is circling you or making threatening advances why bother it. Also, wouldn’t Clasen have run the risk of just pissing the shark off and it eating him, he was lucky he killed it. I do agree with whysharksmatter in that millions of sharks are being brutally murdered each year for a profit when Clasen killed ONE in “self-defense”. It’s not right that he killed this shark and I think it is just plain dumb, but why waste the effort criticizing one man when there are people all over the world killing sharks for no reason at all.

  22. dmr5 permalink
    April 16, 2009 8:03 pm

    I don’t think anyone can judge the guys that were out there. It was caught on video, but a video does not necessarily catch all of the emotions involved. As humans, we have intense emotions. Considering Clasen has experience with sharks, some thing the shark did must have been terrifying. Also, knowing about sharks’ aggressive behavior, if you spear a 12 foot shark once it is probably just going to get pissed off and seriously hurt you. One stab would not cause a shark to leave you alone. Clasen obviously knew this and acted out of self defense.

  23. Emma permalink
    April 18, 2009 9:08 pm

    Clasen was faced with an extremely dangerous situation and as an educated shark observer knew the capabilities of such a powerful animal should the shark choose to attack him. Knowing what he knew, Clasen chose to appropriately act out of self defense and take action against what had the potential to be a fatal encounter with an animal stronger than himself. Everyone is entitled to his or her opinion about such an issue so while those in the blogosphere may disagree with Clasen’s decision, they are not wrong to criticize it. However, in the grand scheme of all the horrific acts taking place in the world, this single issue may be a less important situation worth analyzing. Clasen’s actions were justified by his own emotions and thoughts at the time, and I believe that he used his best judgment in reaching the conclusion that he did.

  24. Marsh4green permalink
    April 19, 2009 3:25 pm

    I don’t point the finger at Clasen for one second. I understand why Felix is aggrivated, it’s a very large shark of a breed that is quickly disappearing. We must be logical humans and put ourselves in the shoes of the fisherman. If I had fishblood around me in the water, I would assume that’s the reason the shark was swimming around me to begin with. I would think it would want to eat me as well. By all means if you can safely get away without hurting the shark then that is what should be done but according to these guys that wasn’t an option. What is it with dumb people bashing humans about encounters with Wild animals (beasts) I mean I feel for the shark too but that’s ridiculous. Some people think they have a connection with a wild animal and hold it higher than humans, like that crazy guy that took his girlfriend out in the wild to live with bears. He did survive happily for a while (I think around a year) but then one random night the bears gruesomely killed the couple. My point is there WILD ANIMALS, not logical thinking humans. Let’s see what happens to Felix when he’s swimming around a bunch of tiger sharks that haven’t eaten all day.

  25. Marsh4green permalink
    April 19, 2009 5:14 pm

    (post removed by SFS – please consult commenting policy #3 Parroting)

  26. Marsh4green permalink
    April 19, 2009 5:15 pm

    ok so I can’t work the blog greatly. I’m a newbie and no hard feelings Felix. I just read your post and you have some valid points.

  27. Jeff permalink
    April 20, 2009 1:31 pm

    Ok personally if a saw a shark coming at me and I wasn’t within the distance of land or my boat to get out of the water, I would probably have attacked it before it attacked me as well. I know people have been saying it was overkill, but is it worst to try and kill the shark after already injuring it to make sure it doesn’t suffer as much, or to injure it, potentially mortally and let it die even more slowly. Also, I’m not a spear fishermen and I don’t know the rules but if I was them I would have taken pictures afterwards as well but I don’t necessarily agree with them bringing it to the attention of the media.

  28. DSstudent permalink
    April 20, 2009 5:05 pm

    JBL makes a good point. It would obviously be very scary if you were approached by a tiger shark, especially with tons of dead and bleeding fish attached to you. I think that if the shark had indeed planned on attacking him, then it would not be a bad idea to fight for yourself and save your life if possible. Although it would be hard to tell if the shark was acutally intending on attacking him, if the shark wasn’t, Clasen should have just tried to back off slowly and seen if the shark followed or still tried to attack and then if so, take proper action.

  29. Sharky permalink
    April 20, 2009 5:56 pm

    I don’t think that Clasen was wrong in killing the shark if he genuinely felt threatened by it. I also think it’s really hard to know exactly how you would act in that same situation if you haven’t actually been in it.

    I’m confused about the whole filming aspect of it:
    1) Why were they filming it? Do they usually film themselves spearfishing?
    2) Why wouldn’t the person who was filming the incident put away the camera and go help his friend fight off the shark who they believed was an imminent threat to his life?
    3) Did the guys who fought and killed the shark have a say in the release of the footage? While I think groups like Sharklife overreacted and were a little harsh with their criticism, if Clasen had a hand in the release of the video, then I think he brought some of the negative reactions he received onto himself.

    Regardless, Clasen shouldn’t have been demonized the way he was. If this wasn’t the first time he killed a shark, then I could understand it, but I think he deserves to be cut a little slack here.

    Ultimately, I don’t really see spearfisherman as a significant threat to sharks, and I think this whole thing was blown way out of proportion. It was an isolated event and I think focus from the shark conservation groups could be more effectively directed elsewhere.

  30. Bananaphone permalink
    April 20, 2009 7:04 pm

    I was also confused as to why the filming needed to take place. One would think that in such frightening, high-energy moment, with adrenaline running high, getting everything on film would fall a distant second to saving oneself. I also don’t think that Clasen should necessarily be parading this footage around. I would expect someone who has a solid knowledge of and respect for sharks to be more saddened by the circumstances and how they played out, than eager to splash the results all over the media. However, any human, or animal, would rock a “fight or flight” response in this situation, and if getting out of the water to safety was truly not an option than I don’t really think you can fault someone on following their self-defensive impulses, regardless of the rarity or beauty of the attacker. It’s still an attacker.

  31. lil' wayne permalink
    April 20, 2009 9:40 pm

    I’m pretty sure that anyone would of done the same thing in this situation. If something that could kill you is sitting right in front of you, and your not sure if its going to do something, but it sure as hell looks like it, I think you would retaliate in some way. The man said his boat was over 100 meters away, if he had waited for the shark to actually attack, it would be to late.

    It does seem kinda fishy (no pun intended) that the other friend would sit there and film, and that the shark sat around for 2 hours getting attacked, but then again, maybe he was hungry.

  32. e.jones permalink
    April 20, 2009 10:26 pm

    In my opinion, he had the right to kill the shark. If threatened with his life, it is only a natural instinct to react to the feeling of insecurity. Since the shark has the potentiality of swallowing large sea turtles whole, the shark could have attacked at any second. Hopefully, the sharks fearsome reputation does not resolve in more mass murders. Automobiles kill more people than sharks do. If I were in his situation I would not have reacted so violently.

    Shark attack or man attack?

  33. treb permalink
    April 20, 2009 10:58 pm

    I can understand how if he felted threatened and scared he would have attacked the shark, and I don’t know how tiger sharks typically act in response to being attacked. Did the fight really need to last 2 hours and end in the sharks death? And was there really no way to get out of this situation for the man, other than killing the shark after 2 hours. Also would the filmer have been able to help the situation had he stopped filming. Obviously no one will have all these answers, I guess I am just confused by this, even though I think that the initial attack would have been ok if he was really scared for his safety. It does stink that the media likes to publicize anti-shark stories.
    Although in regard to shark media coverage, what would be an example of a pro-shark story. Would these just be the sympathetic ones that don’t focus on attacks, and talk about their struggle for survival?

    • whysharksmatter permalink*
      April 20, 2009 11:00 pm

      There aren’t many positive stories, though CNN’s “Planet in Peril” ran an episode about shark finning.

  34. Ceci permalink
    April 21, 2009 12:29 am

    Yes, these divers did put themselves into danger and so they should have expected it, but it seems at though they were experienced divers and had not felt threatened before. If the shark seemed threatening, and it was me down there, I might have attacked the shark, too. In that situation, would the diver really be thinking “well, I took the risk by diving down here, I guess I should just let it kill me”? I think adrenaline would kick in and his body as well as his mind would recognize it as a life or death situation. I truly don’t believe these divers had any malicious intent. The only people who know exactly what happened are the people who were down there with the shark. And even then, they were only on one side, so their view is probably skewed too. At this point, the shark has already been killed, and debating about this single situation doesn’t help anyone. We’re better off trying to prevent future shark deaths, such as the millions from shark finning.

  35. Carolinagirl permalink
    April 21, 2009 1:37 pm

    Well I know that there are a lot of controversial topics that can prove both sides right but we can not judge him for killing the shark when we were not there, I red the interview from the camera man but still feel if I were to be in a position where I thought my life was endanger I would do what it took to make sure it did not happen, and on the otherside of that I completely understand that he entered the sharks environment and being an expert knew what would happen when he chummed the waters. So I feel as if I’m in the middle because I can see and understand both sides, but mainly we can not judge him because we were not in his shoes.

  36. Julie permalink
    April 21, 2009 10:10 pm

    I think it is strange that both the shark and Craig stuck around for two hours… If Craig was so scared why didn’t he leave right after stabbing the shark? I’m not sure if this was done for a publicity stunt or not, and I do think it is okay to defend yourself against a shark. But he did put himself in this situation- was he really surprised a shark came along while he was on a boat with bait? And why would he continue to harm the shark, did the shark start to fight back? If I was in this situation I would have defended myself too IF the shark was attacking. This whole story seems a little fishy to me.

  37. Neldam0303 permalink
    April 21, 2009 11:32 pm

    Personally i would have done the same thing in that sort of situation. If i saw a shark near me, i would have killed it because there would have been too much fear built up in me to wait and see if it would attack me or not. when we are scared, sometimes we tend to make rash decisions. It is exactly as you said: he killed ONE shark. China’s shark finning kills 100 million. all for a food that they so desperately WANT not NEED. This guy had his life on the line.

  38. beth permalink
    April 22, 2009 1:34 pm

    I feel as though this situation could have been avoided. Since the fisherman were in the same spot for 2 hours, the blood of the other speared fish was bound to attract sharks. If it were me in this situation I would have fought the shark only if the shark was attacking me because I hate the thought of harming animals.

  39. Shayne permalink
    April 22, 2009 5:10 pm

    If I were spearfishing and I had seen a shrk in the water thrteatening my life, I would do anything in my power to save myself and not get eaten. It something that you need to tell yourself before taking up a feat like spearfishing. “If I’m going to do this, I need to take the correct precautions as necessary.” Now say a shrk is swimming in the water while im fishing, I woulnd’t mind let alone care what the shark is doing. As long as it’s keeping to itself I won’t bother it. Now if things start to change and that shark comes at me with my life on the line, hell, I’d kill it too.

  40. adp permalink
    April 22, 2009 9:13 pm

    I can’t imagine this being a publicity stunt. I mean come on, a shark approaches you and you truly believe that it wants to kill you, then you should act on that feeling. I would never want to be in that situation and if I was, I don’t know what I would’ve done. At least tried to kill it. I dont understand why people are harrassing him because of one shark. He thought it was going to kill him, what would anyone else do in this situation? Let it happen? No!

  41. JannaLJ permalink
    April 23, 2009 12:40 am

    I totally agree that the shark surely could have gotten away if it wanted to. I am definitely not a shark expert, but for an animal to stay around for two hours after it has been injured obviously says soemthing about that animal. I do not think Craig was wrong for what he did, you don’t hear of people sacrificing their lives to let an animal live. If the animal was attacking or had aggressive behavior, then he had all rights to act in self-defense. He is a trained diver who more than likely cares about marine life enough to not just go out and hunt down a 12 foot shark. Honestly, his buddy seemed really upset about the incident and showed that he cared. People should seriously stop harassing him. They should put themselves in his shoe. I mean seriously if a 12 foot shark was charging at you in an aggressive manner, wouldn’t you act in self-defense, and according to his friend, they tried everything before they killed the shark. I agree with David that there are more important things going on in this world that should be focused on than Craig killing this shark. Seriously, people please leave the man alone and focus on something more important.

  42. Mark O permalink
    May 5, 2009 11:34 pm

    You can always get out of the water. It’s their world, if something is going wrong it is your responsibility to get out of there!! Your boat 100 meters away? Looks like YOU messed that up. You can still swim and defend yourself. You can also poke it with the other end of your spear. “Wound it – Have to Kill it”??? That’s macho hunter BS. And make sure you get it all on film for the morning news shows and your movie. Except the part where the shark was aggressively posturing, of course.

  43. jack hamer permalink
    May 11, 2009 8:11 pm

    why did they spear this shark? sharks are not bad they are a guardian

  44. Scotty permalink
    October 11, 2009 9:31 pm

    Sharks are good at what they do. Those that choose to interact with any wild animal should not expect it not to do what it does. Sharks are, in a way, the clean up crew in the ocean. If something is dead or bleeding they come and do their jobs. If you don’t understand that then maybe you shouldn’t be getting in the water. We arn’t their food of choice but, sometimes they make exceptions. I ate bugs once, not normally my choice of good eats but I was out of options. If we are smarter than animals then anytime we put ourselves into a spot where we have to defend ourselves, we are ultimately at fault because we had the choice and the animal didn’t. The shark didn’t lure the divers to it’s backyard. The shark was going about it’s job checking out intruders that seemed to be bleeding. Seems to me that the final answer is; shark doing and honest days work, people being very dumb.

  45. Mitali Barot permalink
    November 14, 2009 9:44 pm

    As humans we have the choice to save our ecosystem and species or at least contribute in a friendly environment. I feel really sad for the Tiger Shark and its decreasing population but at the same time I can understand Clasen’s self defense if it was his first time. I think he should have known all the risks involved in this kind of job and if he didn’t then he should have not took this step. But I strongly believe that what Clasen did was what we all would have done if we were in his situation. If this all was unintended then I don’t understand why Clasen seemed happy carrying shark’s tail and jaws. God knows what the fact is…

  46. Sydney permalink
    November 16, 2009 6:40 pm

    As many have stated before he should not have been in the same area as the shark. Even if he did not know that the shark was going to be there, when he saw him he should have left. That was the sharks territory and the man invaded it. I do not think it was right for him to kill the shark. He could have just hurt him slightly and gotten way!

    • Accidently on a Porpoise permalink
      November 18, 2009 6:14 pm

      Unfortunately for the spearfisherman, the shark can swim too, so just swimming away may not be as practical as some are saying. It’s not like they were having a heated discussion on the tastiest local seafood joints.

  47. Accidently on a Porpoise permalink
    November 18, 2009 6:07 pm

    I think that the average person will consider condemning the spearfisherman as environmentalist trying to make a big stink over one animal (at that, one animal that is more than capable of defending itself). Saying how awful this one act was won’t contribute to the overall awareness of shark finning and will only make future discussions about shark conservation seem more repetitive. Too often well intentioned people hope to draw attention to a small issue in order to increase their visibility when a larger issue comes to the media spotlight. In this particular case, all you can really hope for is that the spearfisherman will use his new found notaritity to educate others on shark conservation by showing some level of remorse.

  48. AnnieMeyer permalink
    November 25, 2009 2:27 pm

    I don’t think that Clasen should have killed the shark. Going into the ocean he should know he is not on his “turf” anymore. He is intruding in the sharks territory. I think it is a bit disturbing that someone filmed him killing the shark. I don’t know how a shark would react to this, but I would have slowly gotten out of the water back into the boat. I don’t know if sharks would react badly to movement or not, but I would have gotten out as quick as possible. I can understand that Clasen was scared of the shark and felt threatened, but if the shark hadn’t harmed him or acted first, why did Clasen kill the shark. Even just a minor scrape would have been better than full on killing the shark.

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  • Authors

    The Southern Fried Scientist

    Andrew is a graduate student in North Carolina studying deep sea biology. When not in the lab, he spends his time out on the water, usually swearing at his boat while simultaneously sacrificing some important tool to Poseidon in a desperate attempt to make the motor start. That is, assuming he can get his truck running long enough to actually put the boat in the water. He enjoys long walks on the beach, by necessity. Follow him on Twitter @SFriedScientist.


    David is a graduate student in South Carolina studying shark conservation. He is the author of the upcoming book “Why Sharks Matter: Using New Environmentalism to Show The Economic And Ecological Importance of Sharks, The Threats They Face, and How You Can Help”. His time is divided between educating the public about sharks, spending days at a time at sea playing with sharks, and eating horribly unhealthy foods. Follow him on Twitter @WhySharksMatter.

    bluegrass blue crab

    Amy is a graduate student in North Carolina studying local ecological knowledge within the blue crab fishery. She spends half her life studying the most charismatic of organisms - humans - and the estuaries on which they depend. While not contemplating grand social theories, she enjoys a good jam session and watching sunsets over the estuary. Follow her on Twitter @bgrassbluecrab.

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