In Environmentalism, Sanctity of Life

On 17 April, 17-year-old Laeticia Brouwer was attacked and killed by a shark while surfing at Kelps Beds near Esperance. Hers is the third shark-attack death in Western Australia in the past twelve months.

It seems that Laeticia was a Christian, for her uncle told reporters, “We take comfort in the fact that she’s now in heaven with the Lord in eternal peace.” Please God, this is so.

While many people in the community were moved by the young woman’s horrifying death, others minimised it in defence of the shark.

This reminded me of a TED X talk by Vic Peddemors in Canberra in 2012 ( Peddemors enjoys a peach position at the expense of defenceless taxpayers as head of the Shark Research Group for the New South Wales Department of Primary Industries. In his talk, he glibly claims that our fear of sharks is largely irrational and unjustified.

“We have this innate, inbred fear of sharks and being bitten by them,” Peddemors said. “But is this really a reality? Should be have this fear factor?” Predictably, according to Peddemors, it is not and we should not.

To illustrate that a fear of sharks is irrational and unwarranted, Peddemors compares the number of drownings in Australia with the number of shark attacks: in 2011 there were 35 ocean drowning versus (in his words) “only four shark fatalities”.

Three of those four 2011 fatal shark attacks involved Western Australians. And by mid-July of the next year (2012) another two Western Australians were savaged to death by sharks. It is these five fatalities that Peddemors had in mind when he said in his TED X talk, “Over the last 20 years in fact the annual average has been only one fatality a year. And, sure, for sure, in Western Australia of course there has been a little bit of a bumper season …” At this the audience can be heard laughing and Peddemors himself grins and smirks.

For Peddemors, the five Western Australians gruesomely killed by sharks over the eleven months between September 2011 and July 2012 were just “a bumper crop”, an inconvenient statistic to be gotten around in the process of advancing his pro-shark arguments.

Such comments, along with the people who make them and the people who approve them, are beneath contempt. The devaluing of human life by greenies and animal rights activists is appalling, and the policies (no drumlines, no nets, no fishing—no targeted killing, even, of an individual identified killer!) that arise from this devaluing contribute directly to the deaths of swimmers, surfers and divers.

In an all-but-forgotten shark attack in WA at the turn of the century, on 6 November 2000, a white pointer shark savaged a man in shallow water at Cottesloe Beach, tearing his leg off, causing him to bleed to death. That man’s name was Ken Crew.

I was shocked and grieved at the time by the lack of sympathy that many people demonstrated for Ken Crew. Rather, in private conversations and in public letters, people rushed to the defence of the killer shark in particular and of all sharks in general. In the process, they reacted to any suggestion of culling sharks or controlling shark attacks with the savagery of sharks in a feeding frenzy.

Responding to the pro-shark arguments expressed in letters published in the West Australian newspaper at that time, I wrote an article titled “Sympathy for a Shark”. I want to repeat now some of the counter arguments I put then.

Setting aside the exaggerations and the tone of self-righteous indignation, several errors of thought recurred in those letters.

One error involves the claim that the ocean is the shark’s domain, not ours. While the first half of this assertion is true, the second is not. In reality, the whole earth is mankind’s domain. Human beings routinely use the ocean to swim, dive, boat, farm and fish. And we have a right to do this. So if we must share the sea with the sharks, then it follows that the sharks must share the sea with us. And as they lack our ability to think logically and act morally, they must sometimes be persuaded to share by force.

Another error involves the idea that we just have to accept the risk of shark attack if we want to enter the ocean. If we followed this logic in other matters of sea safety, we would get rid of lifesavers on the beach and life jackets in boats. After all, anyone who goes swimming runs a risk of drowning, as does anyone who goes boating—we just have to accept it! Of course, many activities involve risk. Yet one mark of being human is the desire and the ability to reduce risk. One sensible way to reduce the risk of shark attack is to kill a killer shark.

Another error involves the notion that human beings are not superior to sharks. This notion is self-evidently false. Forget about matters of moral perception, artistic expression, personal aspiration and scientific investigation for a moment. Think purely in terms of food chains and power. Even in solely ecological and biological terms, human beings are manifestly superior to sharks. We are at the top of the food chain, as a visit to any fish-and-chip shop will attest. Furthermore, we are superior in intelligence and power, as illustrated by our circling the shark that attacked Ken Crew in boats and helicopters while debating whether or not we should (rather than could) kill it. So then, the question is not whether or not we are superior. It is whether or not we should use our superiority to kill a shark.

Yet another error involves the notion that sharks should be protected at all costs. Let us frankly admit, however, that this claim means at all costs to Mr Crew (or someone else like him). It does not mean at all costs to me. Not one of the pro-shark letter-writers would willingly forfeit his (or her) life for a shark’s. Let any one of them find himself in Mr Crew’s predicament, and he would, if he could, kill the shark in an instant rather than let his leg be ripped off and his lifeblood gush into the sea. With the exception of a few whose spirits are utterly broken, all human beings hold their own lives precious. As we value our own lives we should also value the lives of others. This is part of Jesus’ great teaching of doing unto others what you would have them do unto you.

God’s word, the Bible, teaches that human beings are the most precious of all God’s earthly creatures, because they alone bear the image of God and they alone are represented (by the Man, Jesus) in the Godhead.

So it is not surprising that the Bible has something in principle to say about situations such as the ones involving the deaths of Ken Crew in 2000 and Laeticia Brouwer in 2017. Exodus 21:28 states, “If a bull gores a man or a woman to death, the bull must be stoned to death”. It is fair to say that what is true for a bull is true for any other animal, including a shark. If any animal kills a human being, it must be put to death.

This commandment to the people of Israel is based upon the universal principal stated in Genesis 9:5: “And for your lifeblood I will surely demand an accounting. I will demand an accounting from every animal. And from each man, too, I will demand an accounting for the life of his fellow man.” God will not tolerate the killing of innocent human beings, whether the killers are humans or animals. He will hold them to account at the cost of their blood—and (as Genesis 9:6 indicates) he requires us to do the same.

In the hearts of those who harbour it, sympathy for sharks is a predator that kills off sympathy for humans. For the Christian, this will never do. We care for God’s creation and seek to exercise a wise and kindly dominion over it. But if ever there is mortal conflict between animals and humans, we must always side with humans. In line with biblical principles, we must always value humans most and protect them first.




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