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Terror strikes fast and swift, leaving a wake of blood after these predators of the deep. I guess it was the movie Jaws that truly awakened everyone to just how terrifying, and yet so misunderstood Great White Sharks really are. Myself I was very fortunate in all my adventures in diving that my only encounter was with a small sand shark. A quick thump on the nose, and it scurried off to more lucrative morsels. It is so unfortunate that shark attacks happen. But, we all have to remember that any time we enter the ocean waters, we are intrusive into their realm of reality, and not the other way around.
Great Whites, just how ferocious are they? They have been around for thousands of years, and yet we know so little about these magnificent creatures of the sea. When you think of it, there is no greater creature on earth that is more maligned than the Great White shark. Even with all the sensationalized news reports of shark attacks all perceived as the Great White stalking human prey, these predators of the deep actually rarely come in contact with humans. It is us, with our fascination with them, that continue to seek them out. It is too often that these sharks have been designated as man-eaters of the first order, and ever since the movie Jaws that musical score crescendoing on the scene of the first attack is now synonymous with impending doom. The stuff of nightmares.
But, it is these sharks that need protecting, for they are the ones living at the top of the food chain in the world's oceans. They play a key role in the ecology throughout the world's oceans. And, yet they have been hunted down over the years, just because they have been so aligned with coming into contact with and attacking man. It is too often man that, in retaliation, relentlessly sets out to hunt down these sharks, without any regard to the ecological effects they continue to have on our oceans. There are many documented cases about how entire ecosystems are so disrupted or altered when an apex predator such as the Great White is eliminated or drastically reduced in number. That the balance of nature, when it is disrupted because of man's indifference and ignorance, has ramifications that are felt all over the world. Today, even with all the sightings of sharks in practically every corner of the globe, sharks still continue to be hunted, not for man's survival, but for trophy. And that is the real ultimate travesty.
So little is known about Great Whites, even with all the latest scientific technology today. We really don't know where they mate, the length of their reproductive cycle, or where their young are born. We can only speculate to where the females go to give birth, and have an educated guess on their life spans. What we do know, however, is that female Great Whites are capable of bearing multiple births, two or three at the most at a time. What is abundantly clear though is that shark populations including the Great White are at risk worldwide.
To get a better picture of the nature of these wonders of the ocean over the past year in Sydney, Australia, Professor Gladstone began observing and surveying two Great White nurseries. These nurseries are located on the east coast near Seal Rocks. Seals of course are the Great White's favorite delicacy. So it is no wonder that sharks congregate near there. It is there that he and other scientists' work will fill in the missing links in our knowledge about this most elusive creature of the deep. This work includes finding a better idea of just how many great Whites there are, and whether their protected status as a threatened species is effective. Apparently, according to recent statistics though, the Great White's protective status isn't enough to keep poachers and fisheries from hunting down all manner of sharks, including the Great White. More has to be done to protect and secure those sharks whose own purpose is to keep the balance of the world's oceans in check.
What scientists are finding out is that young, female White sharks start giving birth when they reach the age of 14, and then breed only every three years. It is when these Great Whites swim close to shore that man has been in the wrong place at the wrong time, only to find out that the shark has inadvertently mistaken them for their favorite meal, which is actually close by. Seals are by far the favorite meal of appeal for the Great White.
One thing that Professor Gladstone has pointed out is that the risk to humans from a shark attack is a very rare occurrence. When people were being attacked in South Africa in the summer of 1957, they failed to realize the public beaches were in very close proximity to the fisheries, and the local seal inhabitants that congregated near by. The shark attacks there could have been averted if they just closed the beaches to the public, because their location was too near the food chain for sharks. According to the latest Australian Shark Attack File, in the past 50 years there has been an average of one fatal unprovoked attack a year, where an average of over 287 people drowned each year over the past five years. Sharks, especially the Great White, have been getting a bad rap for too long. They are a most valuable resource for keeping the the world's oceans' ecosystems in balance. We have to do more to protect one of nature's greatest predators to keep the balance of nature intact.