IMAGINE paddling on your surfboard, enjoying the shimmering water, warm sun, and cool breeze. Then there’s a loud crash, your surfboard breaks into pieces under you as a great white shark takes a big menacing bite out of your board with a big crunch.
According to the International Shark Attack File (ISAF), between 1580 and 2013 there have been 2,666 confirmed unprovoked shark attacks around the world, of which 493 were fatal.
Although Australia is ranked the second highest in terms of global shark attacks on ISAF with 520 unprovoked incidents, it is ranked the highest in terms of shark fatalities, with 146.
Since 2010, there have been a total of 51 unprovoked shark attacks with nine fatalities.
Due to the increase in shark attacks, the Western Australian state government implemented a policy of capturing and killing large sharks by using baited drum lines (an unmanned aquatic trap used to lure and capture sharks with baited hooks).
The policy was implemented this year with the intention of reducing the number of potentially life-threatening sharks.
The Western Australian shark cull authorises and funds the setting up of drum lines near popular beaches. The drum lines are baited with mid-water hooks designed to catch and kill great white sharks, bull sharks and tiger sharks. (The great white shark is listed as vulnerable on the IUCN red list of endangered species)
Sharks found hooked but still alive and measuring more than three metres in length are to be killed and their carcasses disposed of at sea.
Western Australian has also established two “marine monitored areas” in the Perth metropolitan area and in the state’s south. This means that professional fishermen are tasked to hunt and kill sharks larger than three metres within the stipulated area.
For a policy that was just implemented in January, the data released on Wednesday ,which showed that 172 sharks had been caught so far, is astounding. The report stated that 50 of the biggest sharks, including one measuring 4.5m, were killed, while 90 were tagged and released.
I am shocked that so many were caught, and the main question that comes to mind is: Does Western Australia’s shark culling policy actually works?
Hawaii’s shark control programs of the 1960s and 1970s, where approximately 4,500 sharks were killed, was later deemed “ineffective” by authorities because the shark attack numbers remained the same.
These programs were expensive and yet failed to produce measurable decreases in shark attack incidents.
In response to the several shark attacks in Hawaii since 2004, locals and visitors have found an alternative solution to the problem –electric deterrent devices, strapped onto the body and designed to keep the massive predator away.
In fact, Hawaiian authorities have called for protection of sharks and rays within state waters with penalties as high as US$10,000 for any person who knowingly captures, harms or kills the animal!
Hawaii’s attempt at culling sharks to decrease attacks clearly did not work for them, so why aren’t the Australians learning from their experience?
Another cause for concern is the consequence of culling on the shark population. It is an important issue, especially when discussing the great white which is already on the vulnerable list due to the creature’s low rate of reproduction.
I am not sure why people think that killing is the answer to a problem. We can’t be hunting down every animal that can potentially harm a person. Besides, aren’t humans the ones at fault for encroaching into sharks’ territory and over-fishing?
It is understandable that the Western Australian government wants to protect beachgoers in light of the recent incidents. But surely the policy makers should take into consideration the ineffectiveness of culling programs, and their impact on the wider ecosystem?> The views expressed here are entirely of the writer’s own.