Australia’s Shark Mitigation Policy Misses the Mark
By Heather Williams
In response to a rise in the number of fatal shark incidences off the coast of Western Australia in the last two years, the state Premier Colin Barnett has ordered a cull of all large sharks within close proximity to beaches. These “safe zones” will contain strategically placed drum lines (baited hooks attached to drums) that are monitored daily, and will solicit the help of commercial fisherman to hunt and remove sharks larger than three meters. Species targeted by this act could include the tiger, bull, and state-protected great white.
The question by many scientists and activists is whether or not a cull of large sharks would in fact make the beaches safer; if judging by previous culling attempts, the answer is no. Between 1959 and 1976, for example, Hawaii killed 4,668 sharks around the islands. According to the Hawaii Institute of Marine Biology, however, this hunt had no noticeable effect on the number of bites.
Oftentimes the argument that favors a lethal solution to shark encounters is one based on emotion, one that begs the question of whose life is more valuable: the human or the shark. This is an ineffective way of thinking. Instead, there needs to be additional funding put towards research to understand where the sharks are coming from, how often they pass through the areas closer to shore, and what factors contribute to a person being bitten.
Other alternatives that could prove more effective are spotting programs, such as Shark Spotters in South Africa, or a shark relocation program, such as in Brazil. Shark Spotters was initiated in South Africa in response to an increased number of great white sharks being seen closer to shore. It was put into place in an attempt to balance the needs of both the beachgoers and the sharks. The program uses a series of flags to warn patrons of an increased possibility of a shark encounter. A green flag means that spotting conditions are good; a black flag means spotting conditions are poor. A red flag means there is a high alert for sharks; a white flag means a shark has been spotted.
After an increased number of fatal shark bites off of Recife, Brazil, the government enacted an unconventional approach to shark mitigation. The Shark Monitoring Program of Recife (SMPR) removes dangerous sharks by capturing, transporting, and releasing them offshore. This kept the danger to swimmers minimal while keeping the shark population healthy. While this program has been in effect, there has been a 97% drop in shark incidences.
There are several alternatives to culling endangered and vulnerable species to protect the lives of swimmers and surfers. If you would like to voice your opinion and let the WA Government know that what they’re planning to do is ineffective, please sign the petition written by marine zoologist Dr. Barbara Wueringer by clicking the link below: http://www.change.org/petitions/the-australian-senate-prevent-proactive-killing-of-white-sharks-in-australia-2