In February this year thousands of people gathered on a Sydney beach to protest the Western Australian shark cull, while a few hundred metres behind them our own dirty secret lurked in the ocean. With all the media attention recently on the WA cull, it’s easy to forget that here on the east coast we have had systems in place killing sharks and other animals for decades. In fact there are more drumlines on the Sunshine Coast than in the whole of Western Australia.
One of the main justifications for the recent shark cull trial in WA is the long-standing programs in QLD and NSW. However once you look into the realities of these shark control programs it’s easy to see that there are many alternatives that would better protect ocean-goers and have less impact on our wildlife.
What are shark nets and drum lines?
Drumlines are large hooks, baited with a piece of fish or shark meat. Some experts have warned that hanging ‘meat curtains’ of baited hooks may actually attract sharks to the area.
Beach nets are, contrary to common belief, not a barrier that provides a save swimming enclosure. They are more like small sections of fishing net, aiming to entangle and kill animals swimming past. They are 150m (NSW) to 186m (QLD) long and 6 m tall, set in 10-12m of water allowing sharks to swim over, under or around. Many sharks and other marine animals are caught on the beach side of the net.
Right now, around Australia’s coastline, there are huge baited hooks and stretches of entangling net off our beaches. These shark control programs (SCPs) kill thousands of sharks every year, not to mention all the other animals they catch by accident including dolphins, turtles, seabirds, whales, dugongs, rays and seals. This is a lot of carnage for a program with no hard evidence that they are protecting any people.
Shark nets and drum lines kill marine animals indiscriminately, capturing and killing any species unfortunate enough to swim by. In the 52 years of the QLD SCP, almost 50 000 sharks have been caught and tens of thousands of other marine animals.
The Western Australian shark cull program
The Western Australian government is currently establishing a shark cull programme despite huge international protest and a record amount of submissions to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). They are planning to have 72 drum lines in place from 15 November to 30 April, targeting great whites (a protected species) and tiger sharks and shooting all target sharks over 3m long (potential killers).
A trial period over the 2013-2014 summer caught 172 sharks (mostly tigers), 50 of these were shot and many of the released sharks also died. No great whites were caught, and there has not been a recorded fatal attack from a tiger shark in WA since 1948.
The NSW shark netting program
NSW has had beach nets in place since 1937 and currently has 51 netted beaches. The nets are in place for 8 months of every year (1st Sept – 30th April), and only for a minimum of 14 days in each month. There is no evidence that they work, and 63% of shark incidents at ocean beaches in NSW have been on netted beaches. The nets are listed as a ‘key threatening process’ internationally as a result of killing so many endangered species.
The Queensland shark cull program
Queensland is home to Australia’s largest shark control program, which uses both nets and drumlines, including within marine protected areas like the Great Barrier Reef. As of 2014, there are more than 360 drum lines and 30 shark nets deployed, with all drum lines and most shark nets in place all year round.
There has been a significant decline in fatal shark accidents in QLD however, despite some misleading media, this decline started 40 years before the shark control program began. In 1992 an 8-year-old boy was entangled & killed by a shark net. It’s easy to see that the shark control program itself is a threat – providing a risk of entanglement and a false sense of security.
Why does any of this matter?
Lethal shark control methods are harming oceans already under pressure. We know that they are impacting on many endangered species, like sea turtles, dugongs and grey nurse sharks. In an ocean where 90% of the large predatory fish have been wiped out, it’s hard to justify a program that arbitrarily kills sharks. In the last decade in QLD (2001-2013), 6250 sharks were caught on drum lines alone – 97% of these sharks were considered to be at conservation risk according to the International Union of the Conservation of Nature (IUCN). All this carnage for a program that isn’t protecting any people or making our beaches safer.
Since the 1930s we have learnt a lot about sharks and how to reduce shark incidents, and many places like Florida, Cape Town and Hawaii have moved on from shark culling to non-lethal alternatives. We need to understand the risks, appreciate that the ocean is where sharks live, and look at alternatives that will protect humans without decimating the marine environment.
On September 6th & 7th there will be protests Australia-wide to rally for the removal of these out-dated and cruel shark control programs. Join in:
No Shark Cull Rally – Sydney
No Shark Cull Rally – Gold Coast
No Shark Cull Rally – Central Coast – Hunter – Newcastle
No Shark Cull Rally – Adelaide
No Shark Cull Solidarity Event – Perth
We hope you can join us at one of the events.