YOUR STORY: Shark discussion clouded by fear and fiction

AS a marine ecologist and shark researcher, if I had a dollar for every myth peddled in the last few weeks about sharks, I'd be a wealthy person.

While I understand the concern, unfortunately, the sensationalised media reports have said nothing that has any basis in fact.

In the only study on great white shark population numbers (released recently), numbers are much lower than previously thought, particularly for an animal that doesn't breed until over 10 years of age. Likewise, if you check the 'Status of Fisheries Resources' report (latest 2014), you'll find that populations of most sharks on the east coast remain 'undefined'.

Given that, over the past 10 years there has been up to 440 tonnes of sharks fished in the east coast Ocean Trap and Line Fishery and around 10 tonnes fished recreationally, it would be almost impossible to imagine that shark populations had increased.

Likewise, globally, 100 million sharks are killed annually, mainly for the fin trade and, in general, landings of sharks in fisheries and as bycatch have decreased. You do the maths.

As far as the media's treatment of sharks, it constitutes nothing more than sensationalism and highly inaccurate reporting, particularly concerning Mick Fanning's encounter, which, to his credit, he has attempted to put into context.

Despite the fact Mr Fanning has said a number of times that the shark got caught in his leg rope, the media hysteria about the shark coming after him persists.

The only 'frenzied' attacks that have occurred in the past few weeks have been by the media, on sharks.

The recent shark incidents on the North Coast highlight the sense of entitlement Australians feel when it comes to the ocean. Where do people get off thinking they have more right to the ocean than sharks?

If you want to know why these incidents are occurring take a look at human behaviour, not the sharks' behaviour. What we clearly need is some factual public education on shark ecology and behaviour.

That way, humans will have more of an understanding on why there are certain times they should stay out of the water.

The juvenile whites we've been seeing along the coast are here at this time, every year. They follow the whale migration and the large schools of fish that are abundant in the cooler months.

These resources are imperative for many shark populations to remain healthy.

Without sharks in the ocean, marine food chains will collapse, which will mean the loss of a resource that humans have relied on since we walked out of Africa.

Finally, congratulations to Ballina Mayor, David Wright, who has put in place not the cheapest but the most effective, common-sense, non-lethal means of preventing shark incidents: beach closures and aerial surveillance. Unapologetically, I don't believe we have the right to destroy something just because it frightens us.

The sensible thing to do when something frightens you is to find out more about it, and keep your distance.