The shared stupidity of culling sharks and cutting penises

Banning circumcision would make more sense than culling sharksAlthough I haven’t lived in Western Australia for a number of years, I still have friends and family who live in the South-West of the state, and are part of the beach and surfing culture of the area. Therefore I get frequent updates on the recently introduced shark culling strategy from people close to the issue. With the news coming through yesterday that the first shark has been caught and killed off the Dunsborough coast, I thought it was time to reflect on the similarities between this, and the issue of non-therapeutic male infant circumcision.

Both are about money

The Government assumes that if it can be shown to be doing something it will bring back the tourists and recreational divers with their much needed money, with the bonus of additional jobs created by the setting and 24 hour monitoring of baited drums. There is no money to be made, and no economic stimulus just leaving the sharks alone, just as there is no money to be made in not cutting penises.

Both are based on psuedo science

Scientists, 100 of them in all, have objected to the cull in an open letter to the Western Australian Government, similar to the way that international group of 38 physicians from 16 European countries denounced the American Acadamy of Pediatrics’ revised policy statement on male circumcision.

Both are based on fear and misunderstanding

Many of us have a fear of sharks, possibly made worse by certain feature films and media reports of the occasional attack. We also naturally fear the unknown, and there is much that we do not know about theses sharks. It is a shame that the resources have not been put into studying these creatures, so that we might learn more about their movements, feeding patterns, and ultimately gain an understanding of why they might attach humans. Just as many Australians have lived their whole lives without owning or experiencing a foreskin, then hear the myths perpetuated by some individuals, resulting in them fearing it so much that they must slice it away from their own children. If they only took the time to understand the 16+ functions of the foreskin they may think twice before doing so.

Neither have real-world examples to support them

Before deciding to undertake such drastic measures, you would think that there would be an example from somewhere around the world to show that shark culling is effective. The only previous shark culling program I could find was from Hawaii in the 1960’s and 1790’s, which resulted in no measurable reduction in the number of shark attacks. Similar to how real-world experience shows that there are no health benefits to routinely circumcising males. For example, the USA has one of the highest infant circumcision rates in the world, but also has a higher prevelance of HIV and STD infection than most European countries that do not circumcise their children.

Both don’t make sense on a cost/benefit analysis

The shark cull seems to be an awful lot of effort in an attempt to save one or two lives per year. Wouldn’t more lives be saved putting those resources into reducing drink driving, improving workplace safety, suicide prevention, pedestrian safety campaigns….the list could go on. Just as more lives could be saved by putting the health resources into just about any other real preventitive health initiative. As far as I know, no one has died in Australia from having a foreskin.

Both have less extreme and invasive alternatives

It is a sad reflection on our society that we often seem to be drawn to the most violent ‘solution’ to problems. The number one solution to reducing shark attacks, for those who are concerned about their own safety, is to simply stay out of the water. Just as abstinence or careful selection of sexual partners is the solution for those men who are intact and worried that this status may put them at higher risk of STDs (which, by the way, is a myth.) For those who do still want to enter the water, there are devices that can be worn to deter sharks, just as those who wish to engage in more promiscuous activity can wear a condom.

Both are futile attempts to prevent things that are extremely rare

Even if the culling of sharks was sucessfull in completely eliminating shark deaths, it would only be saving one or two lives per year. In the same way that pro-circumcision advocates claim that circumcision can reduce the risk of penile cancer. Even if circumcision did reduce the risk, the disease in developed nations occurs in only 1 in 100,000 men and even then, mostly occurs in elderly men.

Proponents of both use semantics and euphemisms

WA Fisheries Minister Troy Buswell has stated that this is not a cull, but a ‘shark mitigation strategy’, which sounds much more scientific and less barbaric. Just as the pro-circumcision crowd fights hard to keep the euphemism ‘circumcision’ while many are now referring to the procedure as ‘male genital mutilation’.


One could find parallels between any debate that has fear and economics pitted against science and logic, and some may see this as an attempt to ride on the coat tails of another, seemingly unrelated cause. And they may be partially right. The goal of this post is to raise awareness of the stupidity of non-therapeutic infant circumcision with those who can see the same types of stupidity in culling sharks. But equally, I also hope that those who are against infant circumcision might be introduced to the shark culling issue, raising awareness for both of these important causes.

Image courtesy of Luigi Diamanti /