WA Shark Culling is a Travesty

Since our blog’s three themes includes the category of fulfillment, please allow me to step up on my soapbox as I consider a fulfilling life to include being an ambassador for a good cause.

Following a number of shark attacks in our waters, Western Australia’s Premier, Mr Colin Barnett has come up with a strategy that he argues will reduce the risks to WA beachgoers: set baited drums lines off our coast to ‘target’ sharks greater than 3 metres.

Image courtesy of Western Australians for Shark Conservation, www.wascgroup.com

Image courtesy of Western Australians for Shark Conservation, http://www.wascgroup.com

So why has the Western Australian government’s shark baiting policy made me so deeply outraged?

  • The shark attacks are not statistically significant enough to justify the level of fear in our community, or the government’s knee jerk policies. Just about anything you can think of is more likely to cause you death than a shark – bees, snakes, spiders, being caught in a rip or being hit by a drunk driver. Yet you do not see an outlaw of bees, front page newspaper stories on ‘monster’ redback spiders, surfers retreating from the oceans due to the fact they ‘might’ drown, or drunk drivers being euthanised as a precautionary measure.
  • Why was I not consulted?  I don’t pay much attention to politics on the best of days, but how was I not consulted on this? I believe that targeting a protected species is cause enough for a referendum. If you consult me regarding the clocks being set back or forward an hour, then why not consult me regarding this? After sitting on their hands during the previous term in office, Colin Barnett is happy to rush through a decision that could have long-term repercussions for our marine’s ecosystem yet fail to reduce the risks to beach goers, without fully costing the policy, with no public consultation, no scientific basis, and without even the support of commercial fisherman.
  • I can’t stand the contradiction.  My Facebook wall was abuzz with an outpouring of rage in November of 2013 with this story of Melissa Bachman (a US TV presenter) proudly tweeting the results of her hunt and kill of a lion in South Africa. Nearly every person on Facebook had something to say about it.
US TV Presenter Melissa Bachman, pictured with her kill, which caused international outrage

US TV Presenter Melissa Bachman, pictured with her kill, which caused international outrage

Yet with our sharks, Facebook has been strangely quiet, with a number of passive ‘likes’ of posts and just a few vocal opponents that are starting to appear slightly ‘hippy activist crazy’ for having any empathy for this endangered creature. Why is it that the shark is not deserving of the same respect as a lion?  We are in their waters, we are in their home, and they are eating us by mistake. Why are we not tweeting with equal vehemence that Colin Barnett is ready to butcher a protected species? Perhaps this eloquent article by acclaimed Australian author Tim Winton will have you thinking. Also read Misunderstood Monsters, by Peter Benchley (Author of Jaws).

The mistake we make, then, either in seeking to destroy sharks or in not caring if we even inadvertently destroy them, is one of cosmic stupidity. If I have one hope, it is that we will come to appreciate and protect these wonderful animals before we manage, through ignorance, stupidity and greed, to wipe them out altogether

– Peter Benchley, Author of JAWS.

  • It won’t work.  There is no evidence to support bait drum lines as an effective deterrent for sharks, and the by-catch will include some of the much more cute marine life that you would abhor seeing on the end of the hook. So, Colin Barnett is happy to ignore the independent and educated scientific advice, by dousing our waters with bait that will attract even more sharks to the area. Colin will no doubt be ready to count each shark swimming in the area as evidence that he is doing the right thing, and the televisions and newspapers are ready to scare you with the statistics. It makes for great front page news.

Take a look at this Freediving with Sharks video and see this magnificent creature in a new light.

In truth, I’ve never considered myself an activist by any measure. However for some reason, this particular topic has struck such a chord with me.  It is perhaps the influence of my husband, Damien Trinder. Damien is a Marine Biologist, who has worked on shark research and fisheries monitoring programs for the WA Department of Fisheries, and now works developing marine environmental management programs in the resource sector.

Damien’s view is “the increase in shark attacks, whilst tragic for the families affected, is not a result of increased shark numbers. Rather, it is the increased opportunity for interactions which has been primarily driven by the huge increases in population size, which has affected the numbers of people swimming and undertaking water sports along the coastlines. 

“While the safety of humans is important, the pre-emptive killing of sharks which are of an ecologically important size (mature breeding adults) will not only fail to reduce the potential risks to beachgoers (especially as the greater risk is driving to the beach and drowning), but could severely undermine the efforts made to protect and promote the recovery of these species. 

“This means that the policy will not only waste the $10-20 million (which it is conservatively anticipated to cost over the next decade) because the policy will fail to protect beachgoers; but will also result in the waste of the tens of millions of dollars spent over the preceding 3 decades trying to assist these species to recover through shark conservation programs, fisheries by-catch reduction and closures.”

This issue is also important to my blogging partner, Naomi Hill, who has competed internationally as a high level freediver and has shared the oceans with sharks on many occasions.  Naomi’s view is:

I consider myself fortunate to have had multiple large shark encounters, including shark species that will be targeted under the proposed shark cull, whilst freediving and spearfishing. Although I have felt threatened at times, I found their movements to be majestic and behaviour curious which has had a profound impact on me. I am now less fearful of sharks and have a greater understanding of their behaviours and characteristics. I believe that the proposed shark culling is a knee jerk response based on political point scoring not scientific research. It is unfortunate that this ill-considered approach may have unknown negative consequences to our marine ecosystem yet will not reduce the already very low risk of shark attack to beach goers.Naomi Hill, Freediver, Environmental Scientist and Burn & Learn blogger.

Either way, I have been influenced to pay attention. I hope this article encourages you to pay attention also.  This video is also worth your time, featuring William Winram: Freediving with great whites on WA Today.

So what can you do?

Please share this post and encourage your friends, followers and co-workers to educate themselves on this issue and show their support by taking action in the following ways: