Editorial: Give tragedy perspective

19:19, Feb 27 2013

Frightening, isn't it, the idea that a swimmer going about his business off one of our beaches could be killed by a shark?

As anyone following any form of media, mainstream or social, in New Zealand yesterday afternoon, will be able to confirm, it was quickly the main, and at times possibly only, item being drawn to the attention of news consumers.

The attack off Muriwai Beach completely overshadowed the day's other big national news, the decision by the Supreme Court to dismiss an appeal by the Maori Council against the Government's planned asset sales programme.

Shark attacks, by their nature, are always big news, especially in tragic instances like this one, where someone is killed. Perhaps that's because their brutal nature touches off something in many people. It's like a worst nightmare scenario.

And yet, while it will obviously be important for people in the area to be vigilant in the coming days, and will likely change the habits of some beach users in the Auckland area and surrounds, we shouldn't be over-reacting to this tragedy.

Yes, it's a fatal shark attack, but let's remember that New Zealand hasn't had one since 2009, and before that you have to go all the way back to 1976 for the last one. In all, the country has had just 14 fatal attacks dating back to 1837, so, apart from some increased vigilance in the area, there probably isn't much call for people to change their habits around the ocean.


Last year there were 12 fatal shark attacks worldwide - three each off Australia and South Africa, which both have a history of far more regular such attacks - and in the decade prior, the average was just over a third of that, at 4.3.

The actions of police officers at Muriwai yesterday, including firing numerous shots at the shark which carried out the attack and another one close by, were completely understandable. At the time, the body of the victim was still in the water and naturally there would have been an urgency to clear the area of sharks so the body could be recovered.

But the fact is that in venturing into the ocean, we're going into sharks' habitat, not the other way around, and there is always a risk involved.

Family and friends of the victim will, of course, be consumed with grief at their sudden loss, and there will be a strong media focus on this event for some days. That's natural.

But the event should be kept in perspective. A tragedy, yes, but also an isolated, one-off event.

The Timaru Herald