It was all over the news for a while and Facebook and probably your Twitter feed too. The Western Australia (WA) shark cull.
It all started because of a high number of shark attacks in quick succession in WA, causing the government to act quickly and rashly, imposing a trial lethal drum-line programme. Now after the end of the trial period (January 25th – April 30th 2014) the WA government are proposing to extend it to a 3-year lethal drum line programme. This time however they need to pass a federal environmental assessment unlike the trial which was granted temporary exemption under national environmental law because it was apparently deemed in the “national interest” of protecting public safety.
The outcomes from a similar 16 year lethal long-line programme operated in Hawaii (1959-1976) were ignored. At the end of the Hawaiian cull scientist concluded that it made no difference to shark attacks. It didn’t matter though as the Australian government decided to go ahead with the 13 week trial despite all the facts stacked against them. Using baited drum lines there were horrific scenes as sharks were baited and hooked then dragged out to sea alive and killed.
Over the 13 week trail 172 sharks were killed 163 of these were tiger sharks (Galeocerdo cuvier) while zero were white sharks (Carcharodon carcharias) the species believed to be those involved in the recent attacks.
It is also important to note the tiger sharks have not been involved in an attack since 1925 and during the 13 week trial 78% of those species captured were non-target animals either, the wrong species or undersized (less than 3 metres).
Now over 300 scientist have signed a letter spearheaded by Professor Jessica Meeuwig to the Environmental Protection Authority (EPA) to state their opposition to the approval of a 3 year lethal drum line programme in Western Australia.
Further to the above statistics from the trail the proponents of the three year programme have ignored that sharks are wide ranging species travelling vast distances. Therefore, it is impossible to say that there will be no ecological impact on the two World Heritage Areas along the WA coast as the populations are connected. Just because drum lines are not in the World Heritage Areas does not mean impacts can be ruled out.
There is also high potential to impact short-term reproduction and long-term population recovery and maintenance due to disproportionate bias in the demographic of catches. Larger mature or near-mature sharks and more female sharks being more likely to be targeted in the drum-lines not being taken into account.
Not to mention the risk of by-catch of endangered and important non-target species along the coast not being taken into account. In addition to no information on illegal, unreported and unregulated fisheries on the target species meaning their estimates on annual takes in a cull programme (40 tonnes of tiger sharks) do not take all information into account.
The key point though is that a cull doesn’t work it is not a long-term feasible method unless you are actually planning to just wipe out an entire species or group of species then non-lethal long-term methods need to be considered and implemented.
Proposed non-lethal options included “tag and remove” programs used in Brazil and “shark spotter” programs used in South Africa. Non-lethal alternatives are firstly demonstrably working to make beaches safer and secondly help us to continue to collect viable and important data to further our understanding of shark species movement, behaviour and distributions.
I’ll leave you with some notable words from Professor Meeuwig:
“To have over 300 researchers, including some of the world’s top shark specialists and marine ecologists, all strongly agreeing that there is no scientific basis for the lethal drum-line program, tells you how unjustified the government’s proposal is. If the EPA and the federal minister for the environment are using science for decisions, the drumline proposal should not be approved.”
What are your thoughts?