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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