The latest government figures released this week showing the number of sharks that have been killed as part of a questionable program to protect people have added fuel to the controversy surrounding Western Australia’s (WA) cull, which ended last week.
Following fatal attacks on seven people over the last three years, the government launched a program targeting tiger sharks, bull sharks and great white sharks over 10 feet long by setting out baited drum lines in designated zones along popular beaches.
Government figures show 172 sharks were caught between January 25 and April 30, while 50 tiger sharks longer than 10 feet were killed. Figures also show that 14 sharks measuring less than 10 feet died on the drum line and four more were destroyed because they were too weak to survive the ordeal. Stingrays and mako sharks, who are a protected species, were killed as bycatch on drum lines.
Even though great whites are believed to be responsible for most of the fatal attacks, not a single one was caught. Still, Fisheries Minister Ken Baston called the program a success, saying it “restored confidence in beachgoers.”
The government’s theory was that reducing the overall number of large sharks would automatically reduce the risk and number of attacks, but conservationists and shark advocates beg to differ. Those opposed to the cull don’t believe randomly killing sharks who may or may not ever attack a person will do anything to improve safety for people, but it will have a devastating impact on marine ecosystems. Others worry that this could backfire by creating a false sense of security. If there are any sharks in water, there is still a risk.
They also argue that needlessly killing sharks while efforts are underway to protect populations from disappearing entirely around the world, who are threatened as a result of human activities, is a slap in the face to everyone who has worked to protect them and educate us about how important they are to healthy oceans.
Labor fisheries spokesman Dave Kelly said the program was very unpopular, telling The Independent that, “It has hardly caught any of the sharks it was destined to catch and the government hasn’t produced any scientific evidence to say that the policy is working.”
Despite ongoing protests, criticism and widespread opposition from the public and scientific community, the government has applied to extend the program for another three years. The proposal will be assessed by WA’s Environmental Protection Authority, but some politicians are already coming out in opposition.
“The WA Government’s attempts to justify this policy are utter nonsense- they have thrown science out the window. The Federal Government must reject the three year extension of the cull; it has no scientific credibility and is clearly nothing more than a PR exercise,” said Senator Rachel Siewert, who vowed to continue campaigning until sharks are safe.
Members of the Green party, who have spoken out against the cull before, continue to call on the government to invest in other strategies that will protect both sharks and people, including more research on shark behavior and education for the public.
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