Spearfisherman Vs. Tiger Shark
For 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 even 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 “
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?