After seven shark attacks over the past three years, Western Australia began an official shark cull in January to try and protect the economy, tourists, and other beach goers.The controversial catch and kill policy caused a stir among conservationists and activists who have been fighting for the sharks during the Western Australia cull, set to last at least until April 30. If the cull is to continue, there will need to be a complete Federal Environment Act assessment.
The seventh death since August 2010 that helped prompt the cull happened at Gracetown beach, where a surfer named Chris Boyd was killed. The cull was issued shortly after abalone fisherman Greg Pickering was attacked for a second time, which he again survived. The most recent death by shark attack was Christine Armstrong, a 63 year-old woman swimming off a beach in Australia’s New South Wales.
On January 26 of this year, also known as Australia Day in that country, the cull began and drum-lines were set up 1 kilometer or .62 miles off the metropolitan and southwest coastline of Western Australia. The beaches of Old Dunsborough, Meelup, Castle Rock, and Gracetown were the first to have lines set up.
The environment minister Greg Hun granted an exemption under the Environmental Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act to Western Australia, which allows protected and now targeted, great white sharks to be killed. Five of the seven most recent deaths by shark attack were by great whites. During the cull, tiger, bull, and great white sharks measuring over three meters, or 6.6 feet, are to be destroyed and those under this size are released back into the water per the Western Australia mitigation strategy. During the first three weeks of the cull 75 percent of the sharks caught were below three meters. Out of this 75 percent, nine were found dead, and 49 were released. Thirteen sharks that were over the size limit were killed.
Conservationists, activists, and many others are appalled at the treatment of the sharks by the Fisheries men who are patrolling the drum-lines and handling the fish. Ocean Ramsey, a 28 year-old Hawaiian conservationist is in Perth, Australia to document the cull. “It’s a complete waste of life because of the ineffectiveness of the methods. The small sharks are not surviving and the large ones are tortured for a long period of time before they are eventually put out of their misery,” she said. Ramsey is disturbed and disgusted by what she has seen while documenting, explaining that the Fisheries men don’t know how to handle the sharks and are having trouble killing the large ones, causing the sharks to suffer even more.
Sea Shepherd Conservation Society Vessel and Animal Amnesty organization vessel observers found a shark floating upside down and bleeding from hook wounds after being released back into the water. 15 people, including Ramsey, took turns swimming with the shark to nurse it back to life. Jeff Hansen, managing director of Sea Shepherd Australia, claimed that people in his organization have seen sharks that have been released after being caught and injured from hooks and may not survive. Therefore, releasing the sharks is not helping them at all.
There is also worry about disruption of the ocean’s ecosystem from killing a number of sharks. Hansen explained that sharks help control the marine animal population by taking out the weaker fish. He added that the populations of species in an ecosystem are affected by the others in that ecosystem.
As conservationists continue their fight for sharks during the Western Australia cull, others join the battle. A shark scientist from New Zealand, Riley Elliott is also documenting the drum-lines for Television New Zealand (TVNZ). Madison Stewart, a 20 year-old who films and photographs sharks was commissioned by Sea Shepherd to film the happenings in Western Australia. She agrees with Ramsey and stressed that the fisherman and fisheries are not trained to handle the sharks. She claims that some of the men were using flex saws taped to broom handles when dealing with the sharks. She also expressed that more than 100 sharks have been caught and although great whites are the main target, most of those caught were tiger sharks because they are scavengers. Stewart and Ramsey agree that culls are ineffective. Stewart explained that the culls are only killing a small amount of the population while luring more sharks closer to the shore by dumping the dead ones nearby.
Protestors have demonstrated across Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa. The Humane Society calls the cull a “complete disgrace.” Many Australian celebrities and other stars such as Ricky Gervais and Shannen Doherty have expressed their opposition to the cull. Activists and conservationists won’t soon give up the fight for the sharks in the waters off the coast of Western Australia, and will continue to keep the world informed on the grisly details of the cull.
By: Twanna Harps