Commentary by Nicole McLachlan, Shark Coordinator, Sea Shepherd Australia
FITZROY, VIC December 28, 2013 – On the morning of the 23rd of November on Australia’s South-West coast, Chris Boyd ventured out for a surf in the small town of Gracetown, WA. At 0905am on that Saturday morning, Chris was involved in a shark accident. An unidentified species of shark approached and investigated Chris, mistaking him for another creature, and upon sustaining an extensive injury to the arm, Chris passed away due to his injuries. Injuries caused by the bite of a predator on the hunt for seals, large fish, birds, sea turtles, not humans. We would of course like to extend our sincere heartfelt condolences to Chris’ family as of course it was a tragic accident.
As though reacting on a fear based auto-pilot, politicians within the Western Australian state government were quick to announce an ‘imminent threat order’, an effort to track down and kill the shark responsible for the accident. However, it was ignored that it is impossible to find any animal that no one ever actually identified with any clarity to begin with. Upon an uproar of public pressure, the WA government moved to cease the kill order, the decision was made to call off the kill order after unsuccessful attempts at locating and killing any large shark they could find.
This new threat for sharks in the area did not end here, with the Premier recently announcing another policy, a loophole within a loophole, to begin a shark cull off of Western Australia’s coastline, in order to ‘mitigate’ the hazard that sharks pose to humans; one species amongst millions on this planet. The policy will see millions of dollars of taxpayers’ money used to pay professional shark fishermen to patrol WA waters in designated zones spanning large regions of the metropolitan and south-west coastlines, looking out for and killing sharks of a size over 3m- no matter the species or protection status. It is an overwhelmingly unadvised, expensive and a doomed attempt to stop fatal shark accidents from occurring off the coast of Western Australia.
Adding to this targeted cull of sharks along the WA coastline will be the implementation of baited hooks attached to drums on the ocean floor [‘drumlines’], which will be used to hook and drown sharks to death 1km off shore along the southwest coast. However, not only do these hooks kill off just sharks, but they inadvertently catch and kill many other species of marine life that happen to find and investigate the baited hooks, including seals, dolphins, sea turtles and other marine life. When taking the existing ‘Shark Control Programs’ of Queensland and New South Wales into consideration, as well as research undertaken by Associate Professor Daryl McPhee of Bond University, there is undeniable evidence that shows that once these programs are introduced, it has a significant impact on not only shark populations in targeted areas, but to other equally important species, especially in the initial years of the programs. On the subject of dolphins, a species important to local tourism industries in regions such as Bunbury south of Perth, McPhee asserts that they are “… captured in each of the three Shark Control Programs that use mesh nets. They are also recorded scavenging on the baits of drum-lines.”
Scientists, shark experts, conservationists as well as members of parliament and the senate have begun to swiftly raise the alarm around Australia about this newly proposed shark cull. On December 10th, speakers Jeff Hansen, Director of Sea Shepherd Australia, Ross Weir, founder of local conservation organisation, Western Australians for Shark Conservation (WASC), and Greens MLC, Lynn MacLaren, joined a vocal group of passionate shark advocates outside steps of parliament, urging the Premier to abandon plans to implement a policy that a) has been proven that it will indiscriminately kill marine life not targeted by the state governments’ ‘public safety’ campaign, including threatened and endangered species b) does not reflect the stance of an informed member of the general public and c) goes against both UN and Australian/Commonwealth laws protecting endangered and migratory species.
In an impassioned speech on the steps of parliament, Lynn MacLaren stated that “This announcement by the Government would fly in the face of scientific consensus on the best ways to mitigate shark hazards including advice that the WA Fisheries Department commissioned last year from Bond University in Queensland. The report, titled ‘Likely effectiveness of netting or other capture programs as a shark hazard mitigation strategy in Western Australia’ prepared for the WA Fisheries Department by Associate Professor Daryl McPhee of Bond University, found that due to their environmental impacts including significant amounts of by-catch, drum-lines should not be introduced in Western Australia.”
Jeff Hansen stressed how the conservation of sharks hit home to him by saying, “”My daughter, who turns three this week, will be horrified if she learns that the Premier [Colin] Barnett wants to go out and kill ‘Bruce’,”
I myself have spent a lot of time this year speaking with thousands of Australia’s youth about the future of life in the oceans and something that has struck me time and time again is the uncanny knack that a large majority of young people have in understanding the vital role that the natural world plays in keeping our species alive and well. They understand that sharks, an apex predator of the oceans and an animal that has been living on this planet for hundreds of millions of years, are an irreplaceable element in the ever changing world we live in, just the same as for coral reefs, worms, trees and bees. They understand that killing sharks in the interest of ‘public safety’ completely misses the point of wanting to protect the safety of not only the public in the long run, but more importantly, all other living organisms on this planet.
Let us hope that the WA state government may come to this very same understanding and abandon their newly announced shark cull policy, and instead inject the $2 million that would otherwise be used for killing marine life indiscriminately into responsible research conducted on shark behavior as well as public education and awareness initiatives (such as signs on beaches).
You can act to have your voice heard to save WA’s sharks by urging Premier Colin Barnett and the Western Australian Government to abandon their plans to begin a shark cull in Australia by calling, faxing, emailing and sending mail to:
Office of the Hon Colin Barnett MLA
Premier; Minister for State Development; Science
1 Parliament Place
WEST PERTH WA 6005
Ph: (08) 6552 5000 | Fax: (08) 6552 5001
Or by adding your voice to the tens of thousands of Australians already getting behind sharks here: