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Western Australia’s Plan to Protect People from Sharks is Terrible

Western Australia’s Plan to Protect People from Sharks is Terrible

Following seven fatal shark attacks in the past three years, the government of Western Australia (WA) has proposed a controversial new policy for dealing with sharks that is being called out for being nothing more than a cull that will hurt shark populations and non-target species, without actually doing anything to keep people safe.

Beaches have been patrolled for sharks by air and water, but the cluster of attacks has led to calls for a new approach and the announcement of a baiting and killing initiative for popular beaches.

Starting on January 10, WA fisheries will be targeting great white sharks, tiger sharks and bull sharks who are larger than three meters and will set out 72 baited drum lines in designated zones, in addition to contracting with fishermen to monitor the lines and “humanely” destroy sharks that are found alive by shooting them and discarding their bodies offshore. Any other animals who are caught will be released alive “if possible.”

The use of drum lines, which consist of a large baited hook attached to a buoy and an anchor to hold it in place, comes with controversy of its own. (You can see a drawing of the design here.) A Bond University study, that was commissioned by the government last year on the best shark hazard mitigation tactics for WA, recommended not using them because of their overall negative impact on the environment and the threat they pose to non-target sharks and other species, including dolphins.

The government’s plan is also being opposed by a number of conservation organizations, politicians, local communities, surfers and environmentalists. More than 100 scientists just signed an open letter opposing the government’s lethal tactics to mitigate the risk of shark attacks and pointed to a number of alternatives. Those alternatives include capturing, tagging, transporting and releasing large sharks offshore, which has been effective in Brazil and has aided research efforts, along with focusing on areas of the new policy that seek to improve education and communication about sharks and how to avoid attacks.

They argue that this is not an effective way to protect people and that the plan is especially offensive considering the ongoing global efforts to protect sharks from over exploitation.

Really, this plan is a pointless and cruel attempt to try to stop something that happens at random. There’s no doubt that families and communities have suffered from fatal attacks, but in the big picture these occurrences are fairly rare considering how many people enter the ocean around the world every year. These attacks are also dwarfed by other causes of death in the ocean, such as drowning.

Killing more sharks might reduce a chance attack, but it only takes one person and one shark for a fatal incident. It’s a known risk we take when getting in the water, but we go in anyway. Without killing them all, swimmers, surfers, divers and anyone else in the water will never really be safe. This type of plan just gives us a false sense of security, while needlessly and somewhat vindictively killing sharks who are vital for a healthy marine ecosystem.

Besides, at least some sharks in Western Australia have taken to Twitter to warn beach goers where they are. Scientists have tagged at least 320 sharks, including great whites, with transmitters that set off an alarm when they approach beaches and update Surf Life Saving WA’s Twitter feed (@SLSWA) with personal information about their size and species, along with their location.

SLSWA’s Chris Peck believes this will be far more effective than traditional warnings, telling Sky News that, “You might not have got some of that information until the following day in which case the hazard has long gone and the information might not be relevant.”

“Now it’s instant information and really people don’t have an excuse to say we’re not getting the information, it’s about whether you are searching for it and finding it,” he added.

The government seems set on this plan, but shark advocates and environmentalists are still opposing it and have said they’re considering direct action to disrupt any culling of sharks. Hopefully the government will see the light and not move forward.

“There is so little we yet know about large sharks; we can certainly develop a more intelligent solution than just killing them,” said Greens MLC Lynn MacLaren, who supports alternatives, including trying shark-repellent enclosures that will protect swimmers and marine life and funding  for more research and education on sharks.

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Photo credit: Thinkstock

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386 comments

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7:49AM PDT on Oct 28, 2014

There is a very long history of actions having unexpected consequences. Once you destroy the natural balance of nature in an environment, you might be sorry.

6:30AM PDT on Oct 28, 2014

very sad but thanks for sharing

4:03PM PDT on Jun 9, 2014

On the contrary sharks must protect from humans.

7:58AM PDT on Apr 6, 2014

It's not the sharks' fault, they're just doing shark things, they've probably been in these habitats for much longer than we have. That doesn't make it okay for the victims to die, but the sharks don't deserve to die either.

6:53AM PST on Feb 3, 2014

I am disgusted with the Australian Government for even considering such a move. Just keep people out of the water. After-all we are invading the shark's habitat. Is the Government not satisfied that we have virtually taken over the habitat of every animal within living distance of us.

9:07AM PST on Jan 13, 2014

How stupid!!! We are in their habitat! This is disgusting, as always the answer is to kill animals!!

4:35AM PST on Jan 8, 2014

I have found that staying out of the water works perfectly for avoiding shark attacks. If you go into the water, you should do so at your own risk. Human always try to alter the environment to suit their whims, but destroying an entire ecosystem is not an acceptable solution. This is just wrong.

12:23PM PST on Jan 7, 2014

You have a point Lumy. Humans seem to think they are the top animal, the highest evolutionary form of life. In reality, their at the bottom. Humans and ants are the only species that wage war. The only ones that take slaves, and the only ones that can wipe out all other species. As for the shark attacks, what ever happened to their shark nets? Seems to me they had nets all around the faveret beaches to keep sharks out. And killing a few sharks, sounds like making shark bait to me. Let the sharks swim, and keep a watch. Tag the ones that tend to come close and petrol, and anounce the tweeter feed alert over an address system. Sounds to me like that would be simler, easyer, and cheaper. And much better then looing all the sharks too. You have NO idea what that would be like! And you don't wqant to find out!

8:33AM PST on Jan 7, 2014

I hope this doesn't end up like an open invitation for the Japanese to come in and start "finning" those sharks.

11:19AM PST on Jan 5, 2014

No animal in this planet should be harm by human beings, they are only sharing their home with us, the planet is not ours

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