In response to seven fatal attacks in three years off the
Western Australian coastline, the government began deploying a bait and kill
program targeting large sharks off their coastline last week.
Great White and other large sharks are common off the West Australian Coastline in summer months as they follow whales migrating along the coastline.
An early survey indicated up to 64 per cent of the WA population was against the proposal to kill sharks off their beaches. Following the death of a 3 meter tiger shark, the first of the cull, 80% Australians opposed the killing. The West Australian government lead by Prime Minister Colin Barnett intends to conduct this cull through April and proposed an assessment lasting up to 18 months for any second cull. Along with the white sharks, the WA government has included tiger sharks and bull sharks over 3 meters in the bait and kill program.
There is no scientific evidence that culls reduce the incidence of shark attacks.
From 1959 to 1976 Hawaii culled 4668 sharks including 554 tiger sharks. No significant decrease in shark attacks was observed during or following the shark’s removal.
Brazil adopted a different approach by catching big sharks which were then measured, sexed and tagged and then towed 8km offshore where they were released. The result of that study was a 97% reduction in shark attacks in the region. The Brazilian fisheries managers also collected scientific data on shark migration and behavior adding to a better understanding of the species, and potentially providing the information needed to reduce future human encounters in the water.
Although they have the opportunity, no scientific data is being collected in the West Australian program. As of this writing, five sharks have been captured, all tiger sharks. This species has not been associated with the human fatalities in West Australia. Of these sharks captured, two were killed, and three released, one with an injury severe enough it is unlikely it survived.
White sharks are internationally protected under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES). They are also protected in the USA and California, and under South African and Australian Law.
The West Australian Government had to appeal to the Federal Government to exempt white sharks from a 1999 federal law protecting biodiversity so they could be hunted. A week after its inception, no white sharks have been captured in the cull. The national minister for the environment granted the exemption, citing public safety and the threat the shark attacks posed to tourism in the state, which brings in about $7.5 billion a year. Like the town of Amity in Jaws, the concern is more over dollars and tourism than proper management of the marine ecosystems.
At Stinson Beach in Marin County north of San Francisco where white sharks are common, two attacks on humans occurred since recordkeeping began in the early 20th century. Instead of a cull, a system of signage, observation and public advisories have been implemented when a large shark is reported near shore. Rangers and life guards are all trained to respond and warn beachgoers. Beach closures, overhead flights, patrol boats and public service announcements are all tools to warn the public about risks of shark attack when a large shark is observed near shore.
An Australian scientist, who spent four years studying WA governments’ reactions to shark attacks, opposed the large shark cull before it began. “Killing a vulnerable species just to build public confidence is not sound policy,” University of Sydney scientist Christopher Neff said.
Over the weekend 10,000 people protested the cull at Cottesloe Beach outside of Perth and activists are removing the bait from the hooks.
Large protests are being held in Perth and across the Australian continent including the east coast.
A protest is schedule in South Africa where the West Australia Prime Minister Colin Barnett is visiting on State business, and a march to the Australian Embassy is scheduled in San Francisco lead by the group Shark Stewards February 6
Instead of killing sharks, WA should follow policies implemented by other countries where aggregations of large sharks are near high human activity in the ocean. A public alert system, education and research are more effective management tools in the long run than a shark cull. In Australia nets have been used but these have not proven effective and kill whales, sea turtles and other marine animals.
In South Africa, the City of Cape Town rejected netting after three fatal attacks in 2003 and 2004. Cape Town has had five fatal and four non-fatal attacks since 2005, including 1600 sightings. Recognizing the importance of white sharks to the ecosystem, Cape Town initiated a Shark Spotter program of public education, research and first aid-trained shark spotters at beaches.
However, instead of a cull, activists and the government developed the Shark Spotter program alerting the public on the beaches and using the web a nod social media. The program also funds research, and helicopter patrols and sends alerts on Twitter.
Like the sharks off the North American coastline, the Australian white sharks are international. These sharks migrate thousands of miles each year. One shark tagged in Australia was monitored swimming to South Africa and back in 9 months. White sharks are listed as threatened by the International Union of Concerned Scientists.
The targeted culling of a threatened species, like the great white shark, is indiscriminate and ineffective. Removing apex predators like white sharks and tiger sharks can have a negative effect on the health and balance of marine ecosystems.
The government of West Australia should stop this cull immediately and implement a sound education and management policy for the good of the ocean and the Australian people.