The three-month trial period for shark culling off Western Australia ended Wednesday, but controversy surrounding the program has not subsided.
Rather, it seems to have intensified, with not only environmental groups but local residents and marine groups speaking out against the practice of baiting and killing large sharks spotted in certain risk areas.
That’s because the government, according to a report in the Australian, has applied to the commonwealth to continue the program over a three-year period, beginning in November.
And because the highly contentious catch-and-kill program, which involves baited drum lines and the shooting of captured sharks, is perceived as cruel and ecologically unsound, and does not ensure safety.
Since January, more than 100 sharks were caught on drum lines, which were strategically placed near popular swimming and surfing beaches.
Many were released because they were smaller than the three-meter minimum size, but at least a few dozen sharks were killed, including smaller sharks that drowned after being hooked. In one case an 8-foot tiger shark was revived by conservationists after it was released from a large hook.
The WA government has not yet released official figures.
Most were tiger sharks, which are dangerous to swimmers, but no great white sharks were captured during the trial period.
White sharks are responsible for most fatal attacks on swimmers in Australia, and a spate of attacks by white sharks in recent years is what led to the shark-killing program.
The Australian quotes Premier Colin Barnett as labeling the trial period “a success.”
Regarding the planned resumption of the program, Barnett added: “Maybe there’ll be a fair bit of contention about that, but we have caught some very large sharks close to popular swimming areas.”
The problem with that reasoning is that just because a large shark near a popular beach does not mean it will attack a person. Any surfer knows that for every shark seen, many more in a given area may be present, but unseen.
Researchers Leah Gibbs and Andrew Warren conducted a survey of 557 Western Australia swimmers, surfers, and divers. They found that the vast majority are against the cull.
They went on to state that 69% of respondents had seen or experienced a close encounter with a shark while in the water. Most said that the shark passed without incident.
“In other words, the presence of sharks does not necessarily equate to danger to people,” stated the authors, who are preparing a report on their findings.
The majority of respondents favored other strategies, such as improving public education about sharks, encouraging ocean users to accept risks, and increasing warning systems.
In Perth, Western Australia’s capital, it’s clear how most residents feel.
Perth Now polled 5,600 readers and 86% of them agreed that baited drum lines should never be used again. Thirteen percent were in favor of the use of drum lines, and 1% had no opinion.
The Australian Marine Conservation Society also spoke out against the use of drum lines and said the of the deadly fishing gear on Wednesday should mark a permanent end to the program.
“At no state has the WA government provided evidence that killing sharks will improve public safety,” said the society’s Tooni Mahto.
Regarding the absence of great white sharks on the drum-line hooks, Barnett became defensive.
“With respect to great wehites they tend to be more prevalent during spring, early summer. We didn’t have drum lines in during that period.”
It remains to be seen whether that will happen, come November.
–Pete Thomas, via GrindTv Outdoor
–Generic tiger shark (top) and white shark photos are via Wikipedia