Saturday, 15 February 2014

Sharks Alive....or Dead?....Garlic Prawns (formerly known as Shrimp Scampi)

One of the best parts of my life in Australia is living on the coast. When I say I live on the coast, I mean I'm 43 steps down to the street, 1 crossover and walk down the lane and then 30 steps down to a trail then a short climb down to a semi-private harbour beach, which all in all is about 7 minutes away. The beach is our playground and free entertainment. My family swims, snorkels, boogie boards, powerboats and occasionally sails. We can't get enough of the view out our window nor deciding which local beach to go to on a sunny day. This is a welcome change from Santa Cruz, California where we use to frequent when we lived in the US. It was a 45 minute drive from our house in Silicon Valley, the drive was over the mountains and the road was a challenging drive, the weather was often unpredictably foggy, and the ocean was freezing cold all year long. We didn't know any better and loved to go to Santa Cruz whenever we could. In fact, we almost moved there but didn't and here I am on the other side of the world which is bizarre to me when I think about it sometimes.

The view out my window. (Source: my Sony mobile phone)

I am not alone living on the coast of Australia. According to the CSRIO, 85% of Australians live within 50 kilometres (31 miles) of the coast. In fact seven of the eight capital cities of the country are on the coast. I suspect these cities grew up along the coast because they need to be near the ports for trade, people love living near the ocean and the rest of this huge island is quite arid.

Anyone living in Australia, whether on the coast or inland has to beware of the dangerous animals living down under. Australia has its fair share of some of the world's dangerous creatures. There are small deadly spiders and 6 of the world's top 10 deadliest snakes here. Even the cute and mysterious platypus produces a dangerous venom if threatened. On Australia's Top Ten Most Dangerous Animals, the Great White Shark is #9. The Great White and many other varieties of sharks are alive and well in Australia.  Living here, you learn which are the harmless sharks - many, and which are the dangerous ones - Great White, Tiger, Bull. You're taught to - not swim at dawn nor dusk, keep out of murky water, stay out of the water if you are bleeding and don't urinate, although I think on a big public beach with kids, you can't avoid the urine unfortunately. Our local big beaches are patrolled by professional lifeguards and you are suppose to swim in between the flags, where they patrol and watch swimmers and water conditions. If there is a shark sighting, a sign goes up on the beach. Many beaches also have shark nets to protect swimmers. On the weekends, there is often a helicopter that goes up and down the coast looking for sharks and alerts the beaches if there is one/some sighted near shore.
shark patrol helicopter (source:

(Source: my mobile phone)
Manly Cove beach with shark net, (Source:

Sharks were not a concern growing up inland in upstate New York. My family occasionally went to Cape Cod or the Jersey shore for a summer holiday but sharks weren't on our mind. Even in Santa Cruz, I didn't give it a second thought as I was only in the water for about 10 minutes before my calves started aching from the freezing water. Living in Sydney, it is in the back of my mind often, especially when I go snorkelling. Snorkelling is my form of meditation and I try and go when the weather is warm and the visibility is clear, which I can actually see from my patio.  I have met up with small harmless sharks a couple of times while snorkelling right off the beach. While they aren't much bigger than large fish, they still scare the hell out of me and cause me to hyperventilate and flee the water as soon as possible. What is it about sharks that scares the hell out of people?! I will forever blame the movie maker Steven Spielberg for his movie "Jaws." I think he has inadvertently really screwed the shark over. Bad Steven...

I've found that discussing sharks in Sydney is like discussing politics in America - controversial. They trigger such emotional responses. Sharks are loved, hated, respected and feared. Some people's fear borders on a paranoid, delusional, irrational, primal fear. This fear isn't just an Australian native versus a foreign ex-pat shark fear. Sharks elicit strong mixed feelings no matter where you came from. I find it interesting because when you look at the data, the empirical facts there should be little fear nor hysteria at all. 

According to an article published in Australian Geographic  just last month, there have been 892 shark attacks in Australia since record keeping began in 1791. 217 of the attacks have been fatal. So in 223 years, there have been 217 deaths which is about 1 death per year. Compared to fatalities from other forms of water related activity, the number of fatal shark attacks in Australia is extremely low. To put the risk of being killed by a shark into perspective, there are an average of 121 deaths per year from people drowning at Australian beaches, harbours and rivers. During the period 1969-2000, in the state of New South Wales (NSW) where I live, 218 rock fishermen were swept off the rocks and drowned. In that same period 40 shark encounters were recorded in NSW with only two fatalities reported. (Australian Shark Attack File, Taronga Zoo)

A six hour flight west, in the state of Western Australia (WA), there have been 7 fatal shark attacks since 2010, 4 of them in the past year. The attacks have been on surfers and divers who are out on the coast, away from the protection of the life guards and shark helicopters. Because of this the WA government has announced "shark mitigation strategies." Money has been allocated from the Department of Fisheries to cull great white, tiger, and bull sharks larger than 3 metres, while smaller sharks are to be released. The term "culling" is a nice more scientific way of saying "killing." According to Wikipedia, "culling" is the process of removing breeding animals from a group based on specific criteria. This is done either to reinforce certain desirable characteristics or to remove certain undesirable characteristics from the group. For livestock and wildlife alike, culling usually implies the killing of the removed animals.

For the past 1.5 months, protests have been held in at least 10 locations across Australia, from NSW to Adelaide, Melbourne, Hobart and Cottesloe, Broome and Perth in WA. Protests were also held in New Zealand and South Africa. Activists argue that no scientific evidence suggests killing individual animals would reduce the already very low risk of shark attack. Baited hooks used to kill sharks will also kill other marine life including turtles, dolphins and other non-target sharks. Others argue that the money that has been dedicated to shark culling should be spent on science by using satellite tags to track the elusive sharks so their behaviours can be better understood.

Ricky Gervais joined in the protests against WA's policy via T...
Comedian Ricky Gervais and Virgin CEO Richard Branson have been vocal in their opposition to the cull  (
Surfers, scientists and conservationists join members of the general public in gathering at Manly beach to denounce the Western Australian Government's new policy to catch and kill sharks.
Protest at Manly, one of my local beaches (

Protest sign (Source:

At time of typing this blog, despite all the protests, the WA shark culling is still in effect. While some people support this action, newspapers report that 80% of people do not. It'll be interesting to see what develops over the coming months.

When we talk about sharks and the ocean, I need to share a shrimp recipe. Shrimp is my favourite type of seafood. They are so light yet filling. I tend to hover around the shrimp cocktail tray at parties and stuff my face when no one is watching and I'll usually order shrimp if it is on a menu while eating out. There are all different shrimp sold in Sydney (called prawns in Australia) - Green Prawns, Banana Prawns, Jumbo Prawns and others. You can easily buy them frozen or from the fishmonger (yes that's his name). This recipe is easy, delicious and can be served as a weeknight dinner or for guests. It goes great with a nice light white wine. The only negative is that your house may smell like garlic but it is worth it. This is another recipe that I have adapted from Cooks' Illustrated magazine and have been making it for years. Enjoy!

Garlic Prawns
(aka Shrimp Scampi)
adapted from Cooks' Illustrated

3 tablespoons olive oil
3 tablespoons butter
4-6 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 cup dry white wine 
750 grams or 1.5 pounds of prawns/shrimp, peeled and deveined
1 lemon, juiced*
1/4 cup of finely chopped fresh parsley*
Salt and pepper
Chilli flakes (optional)
Grated parmesan or pana grandano cheese (optional)

I box/bag, Angel Hair Pasta or Spaghetti

(*use fresh lemons and fresh parsley. Bottled lemon juice and dried parsley will not work)

1) Fill a large pot with water and start heating it to cook pasta. While water is heating, prep ingredients - wash and take tails off prawns/shrimp (if necessary), mince garlic, juice & cut up lemons, chop parsley.

2) Once all food is prepped, heat olive oil and butter in a large skillet.  When butter is all melted add garlic and quickly cook, being careful not to burn it.  Add white wine and let it cook for a minute to burn some of the alcohol off.

3. Cook angel hair pasta according to the box. Note, this recipe tastes best with angel hair or a thin spaghetti. Pasta shapes do not absorb the broth/sauce like angel hair or spaghetti do.

4. Add prawns/shrimp and lemon juice to the skillet and stir prawns/shrimp so it cooks and the prawn/shrimp becomes opaque. Add chilli flakes if using.

5. Add chopped parsley. Yes, this looks gross but the parsley and lemon counter balance the garlic and create a great flavour.

6. Place now cooked angel hair pasta in a bowl and spoon garlic prawns/shrimp scampi over it. Season with salt and pepper as necessary and grate cheese over the top if using. Serve with a salad, crusty bread and a glass of white wine used.

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