A new “catch and kill” policy for large tiger, bull, and great white sharks in Western Australia stems from a recent wave of fatal attacks in the state. Over the last three years there have been a surge in attacks, most recently in November, when a 35-year-old surfer was killed. The Western Australia government’s cull policy is meant to reassure beachgoers against these attacks, but it has bred outrage among conservationists around the world who are trying to protect sharks. The cull targets any shark that is larger than 9 feet 10 inches.
State Premier Colin Barnett said that the combination of the state’s growing population and more accessible beaches is responsible for the sharp increase in fatal attacks. The cull was put into effect to protect beachgoers, but part of the critics’ outrage is over the fact that of the 66 sharks that have been captured, 63 have been tiger sharks while no great whites, the species responsible for the fatal attacks in Western Australia, have been caught.
Valerie Taylor, an underwater cinematographer who works with sharks and is best known for shooting footage for Jaws with husband Ron Taylor, said that the government is killing innocent sharks rather than sharks that are known to have killed humans. She said tiger sharks “are the sweetest, gentlest sharks to work with.”
Jeff Hansen, of marine activist group Sea Shepherd Australia, said the cull efforts might not be helping at all. Smaller sharks are released and the organization has seen sharks wounded from the hooks, which may result in the shark dying because it will not be able to feed itself.
The mother of an attack victim is not only speaking out but also suing to stop the cull. Sharon Burden’s 21-year-old son was attacked and killed while surfing in 2011. She teamed with Sea Shepherd Australia and filed a suit to stop the killing, arguing that the action violates a law protecting great white sharks. Burden said it was disturbing seeing drumlines set off the beach where her son was killed. Despite suffering a tragic loss, Burden believes there is a “need to protect everything in nature.”
Some beaches, including Sydney’s Bondi Beach, have installed nets to protect swimmers. But these nets have been controversial for the effect it has on other marine life. Last summer, in New South Wales, nets were responsible for the death of two sea turtles and two humpback whales.
Another approach that is safe for the sharks and appears popular is tagging. The Fisheries Department in Western Australia has been tagging sharks, and so far the department has tagged 338 sharks and installed monitors along the seafloor. The monitors pick up any tagged shark that comes within 750 yards and posts the location on Twitter. The Twitter account is popular among surfers, who can check surfing conditions and see when a shark is in the vicinity. This method does not necessarily make it safe for swimmers and surfers against sharks, but it would certainly satisfy the outraged conservationists in Australia and around the world who vehemently stand against the cull policy.
By David Tulis
International Business Times