So, is Australia’s shark cull a good idea or not?

australia-shark-cullAfter two fatal shark attacks a week apart in November 2013, the government of Australia instituted a shark cull of specimens longer than 10 feet. The first shark to meet its end in this manner made its exit in January 2014.

Scientists, conservationists and even victims of shark attacks all oppose the idea of a shark cull. People in their thousands attended protests at Cottesloe Beach in Perth, Manly Beach in Sydney, Gleneig in Adelaide and Queensland in New Zealand. Chants included “Rights, rights, rights for great whites.” A 19-year-old woman attached herself to a Fisheries vessel with a thumb lock at Freemantle harbour, for which she will receive a summons for trespassing. 200 protesters bypassed the tight security around a convention centre in South Africa where a speech was delivered by Colin Barnett, the premier of Western Australia, where sharks are being culled. One organiser of this protest, Sharon Martin, highlighted that “sharks don’t belong just to Western Australia.”

The shark cull is enacted by means of over 70 drum lines, as much as 0.6 miles from the Australian coast. Each drum contains polyurethane foam to keep it buoyant and one line is attached to an anchor on the sea floor while another features a large, baited shark hook. Bait takes the form of red mullet or Cape redfish, with no more than 18 ounces used so sharks aren’t attracted from a distance of more than about a thousand feet. A majority of undersized sharks are released – 82 percent in Queensland. The government of Western Australia rejected the use of drum lines for ecological reasons in a report in 2012, so this kind of shark cull is a massive, retrograde step. No great whites have been caught, but 63 tiger sharks, two makos and a blacktip have. The species most likely to attack humans are great whites and tiger sharks.

When the measure was announced, George Burgess, a shark researcher of note employed by the Florida Museum of Natural history, ranted, “My immediate reaction is disgust.” It was, said he, “an archaic response” which most scientists believed was decades in the past. He provided a reminder that “we’re visitors to that marine environment.”

South Africa has objected to the Australian shark cull, as sharks are migratory and there could be ecological implications in other countries. A spokesperson commented that other measures can protect bathers from sharks: shark exclusion nets if the coastline is not excessively energetic and electrical repellents. Shark nets have been used off South Africa since 1952.

One researcher in Hawai’i labelled the shark cull a placebo – ineffective, but it made the public feel better. Between 1959 and 1976, 4,500 sharks were killed in a culling programme by Hawai’i but the Hawai’i Institute for Marine Biology and the state’s Department of Land and Natural Resources concluded that it was ineffective on the grounds that shark attack numbers remained unchanged. No cull has even been considered of late, despite there being 13 shark attacks off Hawai’i just in 2013, with two fatal.

Pam Allen, a marine campaigner for the Australia Marine Conservation Society, ventilated that the Australian cull might encourage other countries to act similarly and that a better approach was to educate the public and use technology, such as tagging sharks so that a sensor is triggered when they approach a beach, whereupon a tweet is sent to lifesavers. Bathers can also attach electric deterrent devices to their bodies or surf boards, as has been seen in Hawai’i.

The University of Florida released the datum that there were 10 shark attacks in the sea around Australia in 2013, while the average from 2003 to 2012 was 12.3. Another study in 2011 found there had been an average of 1.1 fatalities every year around Australia in the last 20 years. Per the Australian Bureau of Statistics, 1,522 people died in traffic accidents and several died from dog bites in 2011.

About the Author Timothy Chilman

Timothy Chilman used to work in IT. Once, in Sydney, he was turned down for a job because he was “too flamboyant” (“Someone who wears green tartan suspenders to a job interview probably isn’t going to fit in here”). Timothy then became an English teacher. University students in Bangkok complained that he was “too enthusiastic” and company students in Prague complained that he was “too theatrical.”

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