As tempting as those likes may be, if getting the perfect photo means harassing wildlife, just don’t do it. That goes for poking sleeping sea otters, chasing whales, dangerous selfies, riding moose, and, most recently, sitting on sharks.

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Image: Yep, I'm on Fishing/Facebook

These photographs of a fisherman "riding" a bull shark in New South Wales, Australia emerged earlier this week after being posted to the Yep, I'm On Fishing Facebook page. The large shark was caught in the Clarence River system by local fisherman Stephen Pateman.

Pateman specialises in big-game fishing, and the Clarence River is a known hangout for bull sharks. Unlike most shark species, bulls are able to adjust to brackish or fresh water which they often do in order give birth in the safety of the shallows. Pateman reportedly battled with the animal for over two hours before finally bringing it ashore. Before releasing it, he decided to play cowboy with his catch, opting to sit on the fish and ride it. 

While it might seem obvious that doing this is a bad idea, many commenters have come to Pateman's defence. Their arguments hinged on two main points:

1. If shark scientists can sit on sharks, why can't recreational fishermen? 

When scientists bring a shark out of the water for work-up (a series of measurements that takes just minutes to complete), they need to keep the animal still but they do not actually sit on it. "The sharks don't get our full weight," explains University of Miami shark biologist Dr Neil Hammerschlag. "We typically hold them down just behind the jaws and then also hold down the tail." It takes several of Hammerschlag's interns to pin a shark of this size as gently as possible

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Dr Hammerschlag and his team carefully measure a nurse shark. Image: University of Miami SRC

Pateman, on the other hand, is clearly putting his entire weight on the animal. "The shark would be stressed out of its mind," shark biologist David Shiffman added in a Facebook statement

2. But if the shark was released, why does any of this matter?

While we're glad the shark wasn't taken (which is only legal if authorities deem the animal a public safety risk), that doesn't mean it survived. Bull sharks are hardier than some species (like hammerheads), but battling for hours on the line puts an immense amount of stress on a shark's body – and that stress both inhibits the animal's reflexes and can be fatal even after its released in seemingly good health. 

The best course of action in this situation would have been to cut the line as soon as it became clear that the animal was large enough to put up a good fight. At the very least, opting to release the shark as quickly as possible (that means no shark rodeo!) would definitely have helped to reduce stress. 

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