Washington, D.C. lobbyist Christopher Neff will commence a doctoral program in Sydney, Australia on 1 March 2010 to study the politics of shark attacks. The first of its kind doctoral study will look at the impact of shark attacks on the development of shark conservation policies and beach protection policies in Australia, the United States and South Africa.
“The central question is, how do governments develop public policies to protect endangered sharks, when the sharks may harm the public,” said Neff. This question will be the basis for the research program at the University of Sydney.
“Shark bite incidents on humans are among the most tragic, infrequent and fear-inducing experiences a person can have,” Neff added. “The goal of this research is to make beaches safer for people and to protect sharks from policies based on myths.” In the past two months, there have been several high profile shark attacks in the United States, Australia and South Africa including two fatalities, raising concerns regarding the presence of sharks near beachgoers. Neff suggested that this study may help governments and conservationists communicate with beachgoers and share information between nations in the future.
In the U.S., Stephen Schafer of Stuart Florida died 3 February 2010 while kite surfing, following shark bites from what are believed to be a number of juvenile great white sharks. Florida has the highest number of shark attacks in the United States and a majority of these involve kite surfers. On January 12, a tourist in Cape Town South Africa died following bites from a great white shark at Fish Hoek Beach. A day earlier in eastern Australia, there were three shark bite incidents at separate beaches within a twenty-four hour period.
These three nations typically report the three highest rates of shark attacks in the world. In 2008, the U.S. had 59 reported shark attacks. Of the four fatalities of 2008, two were in Mexico; one was in the United States and one in Australia according to the International Shark Attack File.
The upcoming three year study will include field work in each nation and offer conclusions regarding the different approaches to shark management in South Africa, the United States and Australia. Neff said: “This switch in jobs is really about climate change. I expect that studying shark attacks in Australia will be less dangerous than being a lobbyist in D.C.”