Reconciling predator conservation with public safety



Global loss of predators calls for increased conservation of these crucial ecosystem components. However, large predators can also threaten public safety and adversely affect economic activities, creating conflicts between different public interests. In the ocean, although many shark species are facing worldwide declines, recorded instances of unprovoked attacks by sharks on humans have been increasing, stirring public concern and generating radical policies such as culling. Here we show that despite increasing records of white shark (Carcharodon carcharias) attacks in California, the individual attack risk for ocean users has decreased by >91% over a 63-year period (1950 to 2013). The decrease in risk could be explained by an undetected long-term shark population decline and/or changes in behavior and spatial distribution of people and sharks, the latter possibly associated with the recovery of pinniped (Phocidae and Otariidae) populations. Promoting safer behaviors among human ocean users could prove orders of magnitude more effective than culling, while meeting the dual goal of improving public safety and conserving endangered marine predators.