U.S. champion surfer Kelly Slater has called on the French government to cull the population of sharks crowding the seas off Reunion island in the wake of a boogie boarder’s death.
Alexandre Naussac, 26, was killed last Tuesday in the 20th shark attack since 2011 off the French island, which lies in the Indian Ocean east of Madagascar. Eight of the attacks have been fatal.
The area is known for world-class surfing waves but also as one of the globe’s deadliest spots for shark attacks. All but two of the island’s beaches are off-limits to swimmers and surfers. The remaining two are protected by shark nets.
Signs warning of shark attacks at the beach where Naussac entered the water had all been vandalized, so he may have had no idea of the dangers.
Naussac bled to death after an attacking shark severed his femoral artery, Agence France-Presse reported. Naussac had once worked as a shark spotter for local surfers.
In one of the most tragic deaths on the island, 13-year-old surfing champ and Reunion native Elio Canestri was killed by a shark in 2015.
Now surfers are demanding that something be done about the attacks.
“Honestly, I won’t be popular for saying this but there needs to be a serious cull on Reunion and it should happen everyday,” Slater wrote in an Instagram tribute to Naussac. “There is a clear imbalance happening in the ocean there. If the whole world had these rates of attack nobody would use the ocean and literally millions of people would be dying like this. The French government needs to figure this out ASAP. 20 attacks since 2011!?”
Reunion has banned hunting sharks for food since 1999 because of concerns that their flesh is contaminated with a toxin.
Slater, who has a reputation as a conservationist, later told Surfline.com that the Reunion attacks are “unprecedented.”
“There’s no natural reason that many people should be getting attacked in such a small area,” he said. “Sharks are a healthy part of any ocean and when not interfered with, the ocean creates a good balance. People should feel safe in most situations to swim and surf but Reunion obviously has an out-of-control situation that we don’t totally understand.”
“I think culling a species is fundamentally wrong,” he told Surfline. “Science has shown that it doesn’t work. It actually can make the situation worse. I think we need to focus more on coexistence between humans and sharks.”
It’s not clear why so many attacks are occurring at Renuion. Some ecologists believe ocean warming may be creating new congregations of fish near certain shorelines, drawing sharks closer to swimmers and surfers. Others believe as more and more people enter the water as the population increases, they create feeding grounds for sharks.
Some Australian beaches have begun using drones for shark spotting. Earlier this month, New South Wales released a drone video view of a beach in Ballina, showing a close encounter with a great white shark.