Waves can and do wash small sharks into ocean pools, though this is less common than fishers and pranksters putting large or small sharks into ocean pools to scare bathers.
The shark is still seen as a dangerous predator in Australia and South Africa. Fear of being attacked by sharks was one of the reasons people in colonial times preferred to swim in rock baths, rather than from the open beach. (Other reasons included a lack of swimming skills and a fear of big waves and strong currents as well as bans in many coastal communities on daylight surf bathing, although not on swimming in ocean baths screened from public view.)
Coastal communities contributed to the risk of shark attacks by putting shark bait into the water in the form of animal carcasses, waste from abattoirs and other industrial processes as well as whaling and fishing. Where garbage was taken out to sea on barges for disposal in deep ocean waters, some garbage washed back into shallow waters and up onto the beaches.
In game fishing areas, the captured fish (including sharks) were often not eaten. Their carcasses were usually simply tossed back into the sea.
The development of the surf lifesaving movement offered some protection against sharks, as did development of a shark netting programs.
When spearfishing became popular after World War II, the spearfishers soon realised that many species of sharks commonly regarded as ‘maneaters’ were dangerous only when attacked. Growing numbers of scuba divers and surfers began to distinguish between the different varieties of sharks and see themselves as visitors to the shark’s world. Along with a growth in marine science, this contributed to a greater understanding of the shark’s ecological role. As interest in marine conservation grew, more people became convinced that the sea required sharks, just as human communities required the garbage collectors and believed that continuing slaughter of sharks would upset the balance of nature. Far from being man-eaters, the placid, slow-moving, grey nurse sharks became regarded as quite graceful in the water and tagged the ‘Labradors of the sea’ or ‘nature’s vacuum cleaners’.
Any shark alarm still clears people rapidly from the water at surf beaches. Spotter planes can identify sharks near beaches and relay warnings to lifesavers, who can set off their shark alarms as needed.
Some once-feared species of sharks are now protected as endangered species. Shark meshing has become a debatable practice, because of the sharks and other animals killed by shark nets. Efforts made to deter animals from becoming entangled in the nets include attaching pingers to warn marine life such as dolphins and whales about the existence of the nets.
The greatest threat to the endangered sharks is now accidental capture by recreation and commercial fishers as fishing hooks in a shark’s mouth may prove fatal.