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A photograph from a recent and tragic shark attack caught my eye.  Don't worry, it's not graphic.

First the serious part.  Last week a promising film director named Adam Strange died tragically after being attacked by what witnesses described as a large shark off of the coast of New Zealand, most likely a great white shark.  I hadn’t heard of him prior to reading the story, but from what I read he seemed like a really cool guy.  He was apparently a huge lover of the ocean, surfing and other marine activities.  You can read more about him, and see some examples of his work, here.  Rest in peace, Mr. Strange.

A photo relating to the attack caught my eye.  During the attack, police in a small rubber boat rushed out to try and help or at least retrieve the body, and in the process fired about 20 shots at the shark.  You can see in the picture that it appears a police officer is firing an assault rifle of some sort.

Since the gun control debate restarted, one of the things we’ve discussed is a potential ban on assault weapons.  I have sort of struggled to understand why anyone would seriously need an assault weapon for anything other than sport shooting (in which case they could be stored at shooting clubs).  I definitely hadn’t seen a need that outweighed the risk of the damage that these weapons can cause in the wrong hands.  

Until now.  The photo from the shark attack made sense to me.  If someone is going to zoom out on a little rubber boat and try to save someone else from being killed by a shark that’s larger than the boat, that person needs an assault rifle.  The bullets need to penetrate some depth of water, and then be sufficient to stop an animal weighing thousands of pounds.  A few shots from a regular rifle certainly wouldn’t do in this situation, especially with a fast moving shark.  A handgun or shotgun would likely be useless.

So now my opinion on assault weapons carries an asterisk.  If you can demonstrate that you’re likely to be on a little rubber boat trying to stop a huge shark from killing someone, you should have an assault weapon.  No argument from me.  For everyone else, I remain unconvinced.

That includes people who just want to shoot sharks for the hell of it.  As most everyone knows, shark attacks are extremely rare. The last fatal shark attack in New Zealand was 37 years ago.  The 2006-2010 average for annual shark attack fatalities worldwide was 4.2.

Not so the other way around.  For a variety of reasons people are killing what’s estimated at 100 million sharks per year, pushing many species toward extinction (as first noted by annetteboardman here).  So on average, for every human that is killed by a shark, people kill almost 24 million sharks.  Revenge is sweet?

There’s a clear need to greatly increase the protection for sharks worldwide, from changing the way we fish, to prohibiting cutting off their fins and leaving them to drown, to protecting them from being killed or harassed in countless other ways.  That’s why I was glad to see California moving to list white sharks as protected under the state's Endangered Species Act, which will expand the current ban against targeting them to include protections against incidental catches. More should be done to protect them.  Sharks have played a major role in maintaining the balance in ocean ecosystems for hundreds of millions of years, and protecting sharks means protecting the health of the marine environment.

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