La Réunion Surfers are an Embarrassment to the International Surfing Community
Commentary by Lamya Essemlali, President Sea Shepherd FranceAs a French woman, I am deeply ashamed of my select countrymen of La Réunion island. It appears that a group of surfers of la Réunion are a vengeful, frightened pack of sissified wimps.
On September 19, 2011, a shark fatally attacked a 32-year-old body surfer named Mathieu Schiller. It was a tragedy and it is very regrettable, but it was not an act of malice on behalf of the shark. Fatal shark attacks do occur from time to time because a surfer on a surfboard looks just like a seal to a shark from underwater.
Seals and sharks belong in these waters and sharks eat seals in the natural habitat. Surfers are not part of the natural eco-system and therefore accept this risk when they enter the water. However, contrary to popular misconception, sharks are not out to get surfers, or anyone else in the water for that matter. On average, only five people are killed by sharks in the entire world each year. Compare this figure to the average number of people killed by ostriches, which is 100, and the ostrich is 20 times more dangerous than the shark. Yet, most people are clueless of these actual statistics and fear sharks much more than they fear the massive land birds. We don’t see people running in fear from ostriches, but we do see this reaction to sharks.
In fact, your average golfer appears to be more brave and manly than your average la Réunion surfer when you consider that more golfers are killed each year from lightning strikes than surfers killed by sharks.
Many surfers worldwide support sea Shepherd Conservation Society and our efforts to defend and protect all marine wildlife including sharks. Kelly Slater and Dave Rastovich, two of the greatest surfers alive today, are also members of Sea Shepherd’s Advisory Board. We also have three female divers who swim with great whites and tiger sharks. Our crew and I swim, dive, and surf in the company of sharks on a regular basis.
That’s because we’re not a bunch of whiny surfers from la Réunion where apparently everyone is so out of touch with reality and nature that they have gone on a rampage to kill sharks in revenge of the attack on one surfer. In a display of cowardly, hysterical overreaction, approximately ten sharks have been slain in the waters of la Réunion as so-called punishment for the loss of the surfer.
Compare what’s happened in la Réunion to the shark attack on 15-year-old Hannah Mighall who was bitten in Tasmania two years ago. The first thing she said after she was attacked was not to kill the shark, as the attack was not its fault. Sea Shepherd awarded this young surfer with a medal for her bravery, and Kelly Slater thanked her personally for understanding that surfers exercise respect and not contempt for nature.
Another such example is a former Sea Shepherd supporter who recently died in Australia from a shark attack. Prior to the attack, he told his parents that if a shark were ever to attack him, that they not seek revenge on the species and instead donate to Sea Shepherd’s shark defense campaign.
Each year, humanity exterminates about 90 million sharks, many of which have only their fins cut off before their finless bodies are tossed back into the sea to die a slow and agonizing death.
The shark is a vital part of the health of our oceans and only a fool would see them as a species to be taken for granted and destroyed. If we destroy the sharks, we destroy the ecological integrity of the seas, and if the oceans die, we die – it’s as simple as that! And guess what that mean? No more surfing!
So what else am I to think of this select group of misinformed French surfers lashing out in utter revenge at innocent sharks in the waters of la Réunion when a real surfer like Hannah has the courage and wisdom to accept the risk she took surfing in the shark’s natural habitat disguised as natural shark food.
The actions of these select people must be an insult to the memory of Mathieu Shiller – how could he condone such careless destruction of these beautiful creatures carried out in his name?
Mathieu was a remarkable champion surfer, and I would assume that he had respect for the sea and for all the wonderful creatures that live within it – including the shark. I can’t imagine that all surfers in la Réunion believe they are honoring this great man, this talented surfer, with this insane campaign of petty revenge against an important and beautiful creature that did nothing but behave the way a shark naturally does.
After all, sharks aren’t the ones that ruthlessly hunt us down and slaughter us by the millions to make soup – humans do! They are not nearly as destructive nor as ruthless as we have been to them and every other creature in the sea for that matter. They are the victims, not us.
I hope the group associated with the recent shark killings change their behavior and really think of what they’re doing to the species and the seas. They should honor Mathieu’s life instead of dishonoring his good name with hysterical and cowardly pogrom of hate and slaughter against creatures entirely undeserving of such viciousness.