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Wavescape - Surfing in South Africa

Tue, 28 February 2017

The intervention of Sea Shepherd's Paul Watson has prompted Kelly Slater to retract his call for the culling of bull sharks off the island of Reunion, write Jason Janks and Spike


ONCE BURNED, TWICE SHY: The ugly experience will be a lesson to the ever ultruistic Kelly. 

The Internet went mal this week when Kelly said it's not OK to mess up the ocean in a video, then provoked unprecedented rage against an apparent about-turn on his environmental record by calling for the cull in the wake of the death of a young surfer. An ugly backlash ensued, including scary death threats against shark conservationists on Reunion that came with the fire-bombing of the offices of the marine protected area on the island's west coast.

According to a conciliatory Captain Watson on his Facebook page yesterday (under a new profile pic featuring Kelly and him), Kelly could not have anticipated the ferocity of the reaction, but was glad Kelly sent this response:

"I would like to address my comment about the recent bull shark attack in Reunion Island. I did not think my words through. It is easy to get emotional given the recent history with sharks that the local community has suffered, especially when young lives are lost. However, killing anything in hopes of a solution is not in line with my philosophies about life and I don't believe are a long term fix to an ongoing problem.

‘This is a good time to put energy and intelligence into finding a solution that works for everyone ... utilising technology, science, and human emotion.’

"This is a good time to put energy and intelligence into finding a solution that works for everyone ... utilising technology, science, and human emotion. I know a solution can be found that works for all parties. I'll continue to learn about and put energy towards efforts to defend and protect our oceans. Sincerely, Kelly Slater"

It's just as well. Perhaps everyone will calm down, including surfer Christophe Fontaine, who according to Watson made these nasty threats to the Association de Sauvegarde des Requins:

"Now we are going to burn everything to the ground to avoid more young to die because of your bullshit. The Marine Reserve already got hit and if they have not understood it's their children who we will burn. The prefect's children too. They want to kill us. Then we will kill. People like you allowed my friends to die eaten. Whether you get it or not, we don't give fuck. You come here, we'll kill you. We'll kill your children, your family and we'll piss on your grave and the one of your dear ones."

Emotional a bit? No wonder Kelly had to reconsider. This is really serious stuff. No doubt a more public statement will be forthcoming directly from Kelly soon.

It all started innocuously enough last week, when Slater's sustainable clothing company, Outer Known, started a campaign called #ITSNOTOK that gives 100% of profits from T-shirt sales to the Ocean Conservancy organisation “and their mission to clean and protect the ocean for generations to come”.

This is good! the people cried, and the surf media scrambled to put the video up faster than anyone else. Days later, reacting to the death of the Reunion surfer, Kelly called for a "serious cull on Reunion" to rectify a "clear imbalance happening in the ocean there".

This is bad! the people wailed, and the Internet lost its collective mind. You could almost hear the screams of outrage, and the gnashing of teeth.

It started with Kelly's message on social media to notorious shark-killing advocate, Reunion surfer Jeremy Flores: "Honestly, I won't be popular for saying this, but there needs to be a serious cull on Reunion and it should happen everyday, the French government needs to figure this out ASAP." Flores - according to Captain Watson at the link above - took this as "ammo to go on the offensive against conservationists including Sea Shepherd and myself personally".


Then, on Saturday, Kelly dropped a post on his Instagram feeds, and Tweeted it, asking his collective 2.6 million followers to constructively engage with him on his cull call. "Please say what you feel you need to say to me below. I promise I'll read all the comments and respond if I can."

It was a brave call, not just because of the response it illicited, but also because he will have to read about 5,000 comments. He got what he asked for concerning the contructive part, but it came with a lot of hate mixed in with the usual outpourings of adulation. "How dare you," "Kelly you're an idiot," and "We still love you", was the gist. As posts normally go on Kelly's Instagram, it ran extra hot. By this morning, it had been liked by 22,700 people and there were almost 5,000 comments.


While some may not agree with Kelly, one thing is for sure. He is not an idiot. As Watson outlines and Kelly himself hinted at in a rare response to comments on his Instagram feed: "It's become more and more clear to me that my thoughts are feelings of grief for friends losing friends. Difficult to process publically. Thanks for reaching out."

We have been following the King's guidance on all things surf for almost three decades. And as he says on the Instagram post, he is an active conservationist, with a very convincing CV, so there was probably never any doubt as to his best intentions. Of course, the question of there being any merit to his point about the need for culling is moot now, and rightly so.

A recent article on The Smithsonian website puts forward factors as to why there are more shark incidents in Reunion than in neighbouring Mauritius, citing steeper underwater topography, muddy freshwater runoff and feeding patterns that cause sharks to hunt over reef (in Reunion), while surfers in Mauritius surf mostly sand-bottomed spots. 

The opening of a marine protected area in western Reunion, a fiercely contested area by angry locals, is not to blame for the spike in shark attacks either, according to Marc Soria, a researcher at the French national institute for research and development, and many other experts, according to the article.


SHARKY: Healthy populations are critical. White tip sharks off Oahu. Photo Jakob Owens 

A ban on the sale of shark meat has been blamed, but Reunion shark expert and marine biologist Nathalie Verlinden says that consumption was not enough to negatively impact the shark population.

As a shark scientist and Research Manager of the Shark Spotters in Cape Town who has provided assistance to Reunion on a mooted spotting programme, Alison Kock says the authorities there are considering several shark safety proposals, and a specialist working group has been tasked with resolving the issue.

Culling is not new. Killing sharks was ongoing for a few years in Reunion, as well as in Hawaii and Western Australia but this “did not reduce risk or improve people's safety”, according to Kock.

“I think that calls for culls are often done out of fear and a misguided view that they offer a quick solution to a complex problem. Culls may reduce risk in some cases if the targeted shark population is severely depleted, but then one needs to consider what impact that would have on ocean health and other possible knock-on effects on the ecosystem.”

FATAL DISTRACTION: In the midst of the shark culling controversy, Kelly put this video clip of him tube riding his wave pool. One bright spark even suggested he donate a wave pool to Reunion.


Sven Taapken
+1 #1 MrSven Taapken 2017-03-01 09:43
Hi Kelly
Thanks for rethinking your position on culling the Bull sharks on Reunion Island.
I surprised that you would say something like that and I understand that it was an "emotion" response to an issue close to your heart.
My condolences for the loss of your friend.

Thanks once again


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