So why is the Western Australian government planning to hunt and kill them?
On September 27, Western Australia state premier Colin Barnett announced a new “shark mitigation plan to protect beach goers.” There have been 12 shark fatalities in the region over the past century; five of these happened this year and have prompted the government to take action. As Barnett said to reporters, “We will always put the lives and safety of beachgoers ahead of the shark. This is, after all, a fish — let’s keep it in perspective.”
The government’s plan provides $6.85 million in funding for the tracking, catching and “if necessary, destroy[ing of] sharks identified in close proximity to beachgoers, including setting drum lines if a danger is posed.” Additional funds are to provide for a trial shark enclosure, a research fund, a shark tagging program that would involve real-time GPS tracking, more jet skis for rescuers and more helicopter patrols of beaches.
Why the Big Change in Policy About Great White Sharks?
For the past ten years, great white sharks have been protected in Australia so the new plan is, in the words of the Guardian, a “sharp reversal.” Under the current policy, sharks can only be killed if they have already attacked someone. Killing them is legal despite their protected status due to an exemption in Australia’s federal Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act; sharks can be killed “if a human life is in danger,” says Perth Now.
Conservationists are up in arms about Australia’s new policy. Indeed Sam McCombie, whose sharkalarm.com.au website reports shark sightings, tells Perth Now that the new policy could even lead to more people being killed. Noting that “many people love and respect the Great White shark,” McCombie argues that “these may not report a shark they spot because they fear it will get hunted down and killed” with the result that there could be even more unreported sharks near the shore than ever. Tagging, he says, is a preferable option to prevent attacks and Australia should devote more resources to this.
In the Guardian, the Conservation Council of Western Australia praised the government’s new policy for devoting funds to research and more patrols, but sharply criticized the plan to kill sharks. The council’s marine coordinator Tim Nicol stated that
“We are concerned that plans to kill sharks that approach beaches applies a ‘guilty until proven innocent’ approach to sharks and is a knee-jerk reaction to public concern that will harm the environment without protecting swimmers.”
Indeed, killing sharks could have a host of unintended consequence, including upsetting the balance of the marine ecosystem in which sharks were at the top of the food chain until, that is, humans came around.
The Australian government’s new policy to hunt and kill sharks is a short-term plan that could have long-term consequences for, yes, an endangered species and for the wildlife in our oceans.
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Photo by James Mostart