By STEVEN WHITE:
Western Australia’s controversial shark cull has ended on April 30 after a three-month trial which resulted in the death of 45 sharks. More than 100 sharks were caught throughout the trial period, which targeted sharks at least three metres in size, and all those killed were large tiger sharks.
The WA government decided to embark on this policy after seven people were killed by sharks off the WA coast in two years, causing an outcry in some quarters for something to be done. Shark culling has been practised in Queensland and New South Wales for decades and politicians in this state thought it would be a popular policy, but instead faced a massive backlash.
On Saturday, February 2, over 5000 protesters showed their displeasure with the policy by holding a rally at Cottesloe beach. This coincided with other protests around the country including thousands on Manly Beach, New South Wales.
One of those attending the Cottesloe rally was Geraldton fisherman, Captain Mark Long. Although Mark is not from an area where the shark kill policy was in effect, he said he felt the need to travel to Perth and make his concerns heard.
The 44-year-old father of two has fished and swam in WA waters all his life. Being a professional fisherman of over 20 years, he felt some justification in explaining his anti-shark cull views.
Captain Long said, “The sharks are always in the ocean and it is up to people to respect that this is a wild environment where man is the intruder. It is frustrating that we currently have a government that won’t listen to its constituents or even to marine scientists who say the cull is a bad idea.”
Geraldton is over 400kms north from the drumlined beaches of Perth, but Captain Long says he believes the current program may only be the thin edge of the wedge and fears an expansion of drumlined coastline if people don’t make their opinions count. He said he was concerned there could be a significant bycatch of non-targeted marine species that would have a negative effect on the environment.
“I’m concerned that these [drumlines] are going to catch turtles, pelagic fish and possibly marine mammals that inadvertently take baits,” he said.
When asked if he had personally noticed an increase in shark numbers over his life time, he said, “Any fisherman will tell you there has always been plenty of sharks along our coastline and yes, there are still as many as I ever remember.”
“The fact there are sharks should not overly worry swimmers because we are not what sharks like to eat and most kinds of shark won’t even try. We are not a natural part of their food chain, but we like to swim in the same kinds of areas as their prey, such as sea lions.
“It probably doesn’t help that surfers lying on their boards in black wetsuits in the wave zone can look like resting seals from underneath.”
Captain Long said he doesn’t hold out much hope the Cottesloe protest was listened to by government, but hopes a “groundswell of public opposition” might make them think again before the programs continuation next season.
The people attending the protests around the country are only the tip of the iceberg as far as public opposition goes,” he said. I know there were also many environmental organisations represented at the rally including Sea Shepherd who have a worldwide membership, the will, and the finances to take the WA government to court if necessary.”
After the protest, Captain Long and two members of his crew drove four and a half hours back to Geraldton to finish off the 2014 crayfish season. After his Perth visit there were “just as many” sharks skulking around his cray pots as ever were and took it as a sign of a healthy marine environment.
It is quite striking the killing of sharks in WA should have caused so much uproar when the proposed policy was much less damaging than what was already done on Australia’s East coast. This seems a likely a symptom of mass communication via social media being able to effectively spread a message about new information much faster than in previous times. It is possible the nationwide protests encapsulated the public’s attitude to all Australian shark culling, but WA had to take the brunt of the anger as it was fresh in people’s minds.
Below are a few examples of tweets by the general public.
Tia McQueen @TiaMcQueen
I don’t believe in the #sharkcull and I’m disgusted my home state of #westernaustralia would even trial it – shame on you Mr Barnett
Adam Logan @BenPugsley
@abcnews instead of trying to conquer environment should appreciate these amazing animals & accept that we aren’t apex predator in water
Kym Charlton @Omshadiddle
“@smh: Shark cull: 80% of Australians opposed, poll finds http://ow.ly/t34FO ” and 100% of sharks
Haylee Read @HNRead
@smh For me, the issue is not only the culling of great whites, but also the incorrect identification of shark species by hired catchers.
Environmental group Sea Shepherd took the WA government to the Supreme Court claiming it was illegal to bypass shark protection laws. On March 6, 2014 Sea Shepherd’s case was dismissed, causing distress to many in the community. Sea Shepherd will appeal the decision pending the government review of the 2013/14 capture season later this year.
A poll by opinion research company UMR confirms that the public is not happy with the WA state government’s shark kill policy. UMR research has found that 80 per cent of the public are against shark culling. The same poll suggests that only 15% of people are actually pro the policy of killing sharks.
ABCs Factcheck website published an article containing some facts about Eastern states shark mitigation program on December 22, 2013. In this piece, “The Queensland Government’s Shark Control Program manager Jeff Krause told Fact Check that in his state, shark nets and drumlines are used in combination along 85 beaches to catch resident sharks and sharks that move through an area while feeding on bait fish.” KwaZulu-Natal similarly uses a combination of nets and drumlines. New South Wales only uses nets in place on 51 beaches including in Sydney, the Central Coast, Newcastle and the Illawarra.
According to the website Shark Year Magazine there were 686 sharks caught in 2013 by drumlines in Queensland, vastly more than the 66 sharks caught during the WA cull. Information from Australian Government site shows the total number of sharks caught in Eastern States programs in the last year reached almost 1000.
One of the concerns about the recent media publicity surrounding shark culling is that all groups of society are aware of and able to make use of ‘spin’ in their arguments. The government will have been briefed by PR experts about how to take their policy to the people while environmentalists will also have been busy trying to focus their message to appeal to the highest number of people.
In this case the government has not been able to push their point of view across successfully, but has been swamped by a more effective pro shark lobby. A reasoned debate has become impossible with intractable viewpoints being held onto by both sides.
Evidence of environmental extremists being able to hijack the debate with their spin can be seen in the way the WA government’s shark policy is now commonly referred to as a cull. Culling is not technically what is going on because that would mean deliberately killing large numbers of the target sharks and this is, quite plainly, not happening.
The sharks killed with the enforcement of this policy must be part of the three specific species identified as dangerous to humans, those being; great whites, tigers and bull sharks which also have to be at least three metres long. No great whites were taken this year which has fueled further spin that the program is clearly ineffective.
The other piece of noticeable spin is the propaganda that says millions of sharks were taken each year worldwide and WA is joining a list of rogue countries that take advantage of the fishery. This is hyperbole at best because the big international shark fishing companies do not deliberately target the same sharks as in the case with the WA policy. They are hunting for smaller, more manageable and prolific species. The last thing these fishermen want is to be battling three metre dangerous sharks on their deck.
Historic figures from the Taronga Conservation Society show in the last 100 years there have been 170 deaths out of a total of 786 attacks on humans. To put this in perspective there have been 218 non shark-related deaths of rock fisherman in NSW alone since 1969. Death by shark is a very unlikely occurrence, but the idea of being eaten alive by anything is one of human kinds most primitive and long-held fears.
Unprovoked Cases Last 100 Years Only:
State # Cases Fatal Injured Uninjured Last Unprovoked Fatality
NSW 203 47 105 51 Tathra 2014
QLD 208 67 126 15 Palm Island 2011
WA 86 19 53 14 **Dawesville Cut 2014
SA 43 17 20 6 Coffin Bay 2011
VIC 33 4 19 10 Mornington Peninsula 1987
TAS 11 2 6 3 Tenth Island 1993
NT 11 2 7 2 Bathurst Island 1938
Total 595 158 336 101
**=Preliminary record awaiting confirmation
Provoked Cases Last 100 Years Only:
# Cases Fatal Injured Uninjured
Total 191 12* 130 49
* Last Provoked Fatality = Yorke Peninsula SA 2014
ALL Cases for the Last 100 Years Only:
#Cases Fatal Injured Uninjured
Total 786 170 466 150