The Western Australian Shark Cull
By Eleanor Knight
The ocean is one of Western Australia’s biggest attributes, with miles upon miles of sandy coastlines and shimmery blue seas. On a regular summer’s day thousands of beach goers take to the sea to swim, surf, dive and fish in waters, which thrive with some of the world’s most beautiful marine wildlife.
Animals such as the Great White and Tiger shark—both of which are majorly under threat of being endangered within the next few years—have called these waters home, long before that of beach-goers and surfers. That being said, a decision carried out by the Western Australian Government to cull sharks in order to protect the human population has put these already threatened animals under extreme danger.
“Most people who use the oceans understand the risk. They understand the exceedingly low risk of a shark accident and they understand that there’s much more to worry about than sharks,” Said Avid Diver Paul Sharp, founder the Facebook group ‘No Great White Cull’, which has seen a large social media boom since the cull became active at the beginning of 2014.
Since the scheme was first launched in January 2014 The WA Fisheries Departments has released details of over 17 Tiger shark’s deaths, half of which females. This movement has caused a huge reaction from conservationists, scientists, surfers and beach goers who object the scheme and continue to voice concern on the matter.
Many activists against the governmental scheme believe that instead of investing time and money into killing these innocent animals, the government should instead direct their focus on research.
“The main thing is to educate people with the risks that are in the ocean, whether that be drowning, skin cancer, or shark accidents, educate them to the risk, let them know what kind of things reduce or increase risks and then let them make their own choice. That’s the primary thing we should be doing, and then we should be exploring non-lethal ways of reducing the risks further,” said Sharp.
According to the WA government, deployed fishermen under the ‘catch and kill’ policy are able to lawfully kill sharks of both sexes over three metres long.
Permanently placed drumlines were launched into popular beaches such as Cottesloe this January, in an effort to leer in and capture sharks of all sizes. A precaution the government believe will stop sharks swimming into shallow waters where human activity could be put under threat.
Proof that drumlines protect human activity in the sea is also under close scrutiny, with theories suggesting the deathly hooks could actually attract sharks into shallower waters rather than deterring.
“Although the hooks are advertised as being specific for larger sharks, it’s clear that the majority of sharks being caught are smaller than 3m,” said Tooni Mahto, from the Australian Marine Conservation Society.
With nearly 82-per-cent of Australian citizens opposing the cull, many have taken to beaches and landmarks across the country, including Manly Beach, Cottesloe and Parliament House, Perth, as well locations overseas including Hawaii and South Africa, to protest against the moment and try to bring it to a stop before more sharks and marine life are killed.
“It’s a risk that’s been blown completely out of proportion, we need to respect these animals, we need to consider how we can reduce the likely hood of these accidents but we certainly don’t need to go out and slaughter them,” said experienced diver, Sharp.
With a minority of people supporting the cull, there has been a loud outcry by many organisations and individuals to call a stop to this inhumane act and instead opt for non-lethal protective options such as barrier nets, look outs and educating people on the dangers of entering the ocean.
“I’m in support of non-lethal shark methods, anything that doesn’t kill wildlife so barrier nets like they’re trialling on Coogee Beach, are defiantly an option for some kind of protection,” said Sharp.
Conservationists are voicing huge concern over the future of these large fish within WA waters due to the capture and killing of both the old and young. Although the culling scheme has tried to bring in sizing restrictions to ensure the population of these animals does not dramatically reduce, it is thought culling sharks who have reached sexual maturity could leave a huge reproductive gap in the ecosystem.
“A number of [shark species] that are being caught on the hooks are threatened with extinction—the majority of sharks being caught are tiger sharks, listed as ‘Near Threatened’, but has not been identified as being responsible for recent interactions with humans in WA,” said Mahto.
Organisations such as The Australian Marine Conservation Society have strongly protested against the government’s decision setting up a petition, which has already been signed by more than 14,500 people. “AMCS is working with other conservation organisations to try to get this policy revoked, and to ensure that more Drum Lines will not be going in this year.”