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WA Shark Frenzy: How to stop a Runaway Train

Cottesloe, WA, 10 am. Several thousand people gather, for the second time, at Cottesloe beach, the electoral district of WA Premier, and Science Minister, Collin Barnett. The goal, to complain about the shark cull policy established by the Premier.

At the same time, the media reported on one tiger shark found dead on a drum line. Two other sharks, below the culling threshold of 3 m, were released offshore, and a third tiger shark, just over the threshold, were killed over the past week.

The issue of shark attacks has gained the momentum of a runaway train. Every single statement in support of his policy by the Premier and every single rally by the opposed activists adds fuel to the train, which now seems unstoppable.

A number of reasonable and effective measures had been deployed by the Western Australian government until November 2013, including helicopters watching for sharks in the most popular beaches; a tagging program matched with the development of an impressive acoustic array to detect tagged sharks and report their positions to the public through Twitter; a research program to deliver new technologies and strategies to mitigate attacks; and a campaign to inform citizens using the ocean on best practices of self-protection and management of their risks. All of these are intelligent actions, but none of them represent a silver bullet that will halt attacks. Hence, one more attack in November 2013, triggered the announcement of a policy all scientists had advised against: a cull on sharks.

Protesters are blamed of being disrespectful to the sorrow and pain of victims’ families and of the fate of future potential victims. However, even some victims that have survived attacks and family members of victims of fatal attacks do not support the cull policy, as they understand this is an irrational measure of revenge that does not make anyone safer and does not quench the pain of their losses.

Despite holding the portfolio as Science Minister in the Western Australian government, Premier Barnett has entrenched himself, against all advice from scientists, in a shark cull policy that is not supported by any prior experience elsewhere or any scientific evidence.

Indeed, arguments by scientists pointing at no evidence of increased attacks or rising shark numbers or shifting behaviour, and discussing possible effective actions and alternatives to culling have been thoroughly reported. As an example, The Conversation records over 36 analyses, comments and research briefs, most over the past year, on this topic.

Hence, the current controversy is not about lack of scientific evidence or lack of efforts to communicate the evidence, it is about social dynamics and the complex feedback between the forces of fear, mass communication, public emotions and political survival that are fuelling the runaway train of shark mitigation policies.

This is an ugly landscape where we all lose and is providing an embarrassing show of global proportions. The debate gets attention in main international media, such as BBC and The Economist, and top international journals, such as Nature. This is impacting on the reputation of Western Australia shifting from one privileged region of wealthy, civilised and informed citizens, into one of misinformed, blood-thirsty citizens and leaders driven by revenge and disregard for scientific evidence.

Two generations have been traumatised by now from the fear generated by Spielberg’s “Jaws” and its many sequels. Fear is one of the great allies of the media, as fear can hypnotise the public and drive them into blind consumption of headlines.

Arguably, it is only the media that wins with all this noise, and not surprisingly, it is the media who have added fuel to the train until it reached its present runaway pace. The festival has spread well beyond the local media as global mass media have flocked to Western Australia to produce documentaries with revealing titles. There’s National Geographic’s “Australia’s Deadliest: Shark Coast”, whose summary reads “WA’s pristine coastline has been ravaged by a deadly predator…” or our own ABC’s “The Search for the Ocean’s Super-Predator”, which summary starts “In the depths of Australia’s Southern Ocean a Great White Shark is savagely attacked by a far larger mystery predator…”.

Shark biologists at the UWA Oceans Institute of the University of Western Australia now live from sunrise to sunset amidst a forest of microphones and cameras in front of their faces in search of a slip of attention that can be turned into one more headline or statement in a yet scarier documentary.

Over the summer of 2011/2012 the media distorted the statistics, which at seven fatal attacks in three years in Western Australia show no evidence of increase in attacks, to created hype around sharks. First by triggering alarm on a fictional increase in attacks and shark numbers and then by bringing those that complained that government actions were ineffective to the spotlight on the emotional surge following each attack.

The only certainty in this ugly issue is that attacks will continue to occur, and emotion levels, anger and pain will rise again. While waiting for the next attack the media offers plenty of headline space to fuel arguments between Premier Barnett and the few who support his cull policy and the protesters that oppose it.

Once politicians adopt defence policies such as netting, widespread in the eastern states, or culling, they become hostage to these policies. Regardless of how ineffective they are demonstrated to be and their many adverse consequences, such as impacts on non-targeted endangered fauna, the removal of these policies by the government will render it liable to legal actions from families of victims of subsequent attacks.

So, how do we stop this runaway train? I suggest the following actions should align to provide the conditions for all involved to return to a reflective, intelligent stand:

Bring scientific evidence back to the forefront in guiding policies and the public debate.

Encourage and support political leaders that have the courage to abandon ineffective policies, such as shark culling.

Learn from experiences elsewhere by hosting an international conference on “Managing human-shark interactions”.

Manage public emotions: engage social psychologists into providing advice on the management of fear of sharks and build educational programs into school education that undo the great damage that “Jaws” had on people.

Hold workshops on positive reporting for journalists and reporters.

Develop counselling programs for family members of victims to shark attacks.

Catalyse scientific and technological developments that may mitigate shark attacks with little or no impact, by continuing to support existing programs and have an open international call to fund the best new ideas.

Allow the debate on shark attacks to deflate below the headline level of the media: this is likely to occur during the coming winter, when a sharp reduction in the citizens that use the oceans may lead to a prolonged silence in the media around this issue.

Promote a dialogue between all parties in the controversy to find common ground and a set of principles and actions agreed upon by all parties. A model format can be the “Ocean Solutions Dialogues” of the Oceans Institute at UWA, which brings together government, industry, citizen groups and other stakeholders and scientists to discuss issues in the marine environment with a focus on solutions. These Dialogues are run under Chatham House rules, with no report to the media.

Any additional media hype following a subsequent fatality, a third demonstration, or one more shark culled would be evidence of collective failure of a society composed of citizens known and respected for their passion for the ocean, their kindness and their respect and appreciation for science.

Sharks Protest at Cottesloe Beach, Perth, WA. Photo by Sean Comiskey

Sharks Protest at Cottesloe Beach, Perth, WA. Photo by Sean Comiskey

Sharks Protest at Cottesloe Beach, Perth, WA. Photo by Sean Comiskey

Join the conversation

118 Comments sorted by

  1. Karl Lusdig

    Private sector

    13% support in the latest poll. The shark cull is still more popular than voting for the Greens.

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    1. Miles Ruhl

      Thinker

      In reply to Karl Lusdig

      Hilarious Karl, did you write that?

      Such intellectualism is at much more at home on a Limited News site.

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    2. David Roth

      Postgrad History Student

      In reply to John Phillip

      "Flake makes terrific eating." A very constructive, well researched and thought out contribution to this debate.
      Btw Great Whites taste like ammonia and is an acquired taste. We eat smaller species of shark which do not generally attack humans.

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    3. Karl Lusdig

      Private sector

      In reply to David Roth

      Why is that such a big deal? Papua New Guineans still eat each other and I never hear the left getting in a huff over that. The double standard does make you wonder if they don't subconsciously believe that Westerners are superior. Not to mention valuing the welfare of sharks more than that of people.

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    4. David Roth

      Postgrad History Student

      In reply to Karl Lusdig

      I was commenting on low quality of your argument. What happens in New Guinea is completely irrelevant. As far as I know, cannibalism no longer happens in New Guinea.

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    5. Paul Richards

      integral operating system

      In reply to Karl Lusdig

      Karl Lusdig wrote; "The double standard does make you wonder if they don't subconsciously believe that Westerners are superior." This comment exposes the depth of your personal value system.

      Some 'Westerners' as you put it, are acutely aware of the integral nature of life on earth. That the values expressed in the comment simply project a simplistic altitude. A limited worldview, understandable but definitely wrong.

      Personal altitude heightened or not, does not make anyone better than others…

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    6. Karl Lusdig

      Private sector

      In reply to Paul Richards

      I have no desire to dominate life on earth. Consider yourself an example to the contrary. I'm largely indifferent to your existence, I can assure you.

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    7. Jon Cassar

      ex-teacher

      In reply to David Roth

      'A recent poll'....amongst 500 people? Hardly an overwhelming national consensus. More significant was the reported attitude in the same link among West Australians, '22 per cent of whom say they had reduced their beach activities'. Extrapolate that to the thousands of overseas visitors who are naturally even more alarmed, and you have lost a major source of tourist income...just to save a few sharks!!!! Now, that the preposterous bit.

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    8. David Roth

      Postgrad History Student

      In reply to Jon Cassar

      You didn't teach maths or stats, did you Jon? I won't go into the maths, but the margin of error for a random sample of 500 people (the likelihood that it varies from the true figure for the whole population) is less than 5%.
      The poll for West Australians who have reduced their beach activities was based on a much smaller sample size and is therefore less reliable. My bet is that they will return to the beach once the moral panic is over.

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    9. David Roth

      Postgrad History Student

      In reply to John Phillip

      It's a pity that your appetite for sharks is greater than your appetite for reasoned argument.

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    10. David Roth

      Postgrad History Student

      In reply to John Phillip

      If you have a look at other comments here - apart from yours - you'll see that I am not Robinson Crusoe. Bon appetit!

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    11. Paul Richards

      integral operating system

      In reply to John Phillip

      John Phillip wrote; "Don't you find it interesting that for all of this kerfuffle, no-one seems too concerned with the fact that sharks have been culled in Qld for years?" Firstly that comment denigrates some of the longest serving individuals railing against that issue nationally and globally.

      Secondly, the political centre of gravity in Queensland has always been based on Abrahamic values, but currently they are even further right of this centre. Anyone would have to be isolated from Australian media to unaware of this.

      Not to mention the even greater threat to the Qld reef environment from the dredging for ore handling streamlined by the very right wing Federal Government.

      So no focus on the destruction of slow large shark breeders in Western Australia. Particularly as they have had over the last thirty years set a world benchmark for fish management. A reputation that will be destroyed as fast as the rapidly diminishing large shark population.

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    12. David Roth

      Postgrad History Student

      In reply to John Phillip

      Your previous trite comments show a profound disrespect for other commentators who have made efforts to have a reasonable debate. But now I will leave it to others to 'make the sun shine'.

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    13. David Roth

      Postgrad History Student

      In reply to John Phillip

      I wouldn't say that I was 'self righteous', I would say that I was disappointed when I know you can do better.

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    14. John Phillip
      John Phillip is a Friend of The Conversation.

      Grumpy Old Man

      In reply to David Roth

      David, seriously? The point I made about the Qld experience has been ignored (the point, not the fact I made it). It's pretty hard to take protests seriously when they ignore identical behaviour in another state. For all the criticism of the WA's decision, has anyone compared the number/frequency of attacks on Qld's beaches to those in WA?
      I've also got to admit that it doesn't impress me when I see parents taking kids to protests and getting them to actively participate. Additionally, you've got those gutless extremists who make anonymous threats against those whose job it is to carry out the task. So that is the basis for some of cynicism on this issue.

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    15. David Roth

      Postgrad History Student

      In reply to John Phillip

      1. Wrt Qld, you would have to establish if similar circumstances apply. As the 2006 Qld government report on the Shark Safety program says: "Comparisons between these programs and the Queensland situation are complicated by a number of factors which preclude the making of valid comparisons with the Queensland experience. Principal among these are significant differences in oceanographic features of sites, specific climatic conditions including water temperature, differing shark species composition…

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    16. Jon Cassar

      ex-teacher

      In reply to John Phillip

      The whole issue, with regards to WA alone, is clearly more of an attack on the state government. Once death threats star being issued, to save a few bloody sharks, it demonstrates the true nature of some of the protestors. They clearly adopted a tone of threatening violence from day one, promising to attack the baiting boats and the crew, leading to crews backing away from the baiting program.
      We're getting to a level of disagreement more akin to the way politics are played out in the less stable polities of the third world where mob rule is the norm.

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    17. Philip Gillibrand

      logged in via email @gmail.com

      In reply to Jon Cassar

      The tone of your comments - "to save a few bloody sharks" - is a great example of your total lack of understanding about why people get upset/annoyed about these policies. To save a few bloody sharks is only part of the issue - the real issue is the human tendency to destroy everything that prevents individuals making profits. Anything that might conceivably threaten humans has to be destroyed. Where does this type of thinking lead to ? It leads inexorably towards a sterile planet, populated by nothing except humans and insects (we can't seem to destroy them) - everything else is destroyed and unable to survive because we have destroyed (culling, pesticides, pollution, habitat destruction,..... etc etc etc) ecosystems which other animals need to live. I don't want to live on such a planet, and I don't want my kids to grow up in a sterile world. But you seem to be quite happy with that idea.

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    18. Paul Richards

      integral operating system

      In reply to Jon Cassar

      Jon Cassar wrote; " ... clearly more of an attack on the state government." Brilliant observation.

      "... level of disagreement more akin to the way politics are played out in the less stable polities of the third world..." Interesting comment. But that comment of 'fear' would be offensive to those facing real chaos in countries where conflict is occurring.

      It is true those who see an attack on the diminishing numbers of large shark breeders can be militant, but this is a tiny minority.

      Most people protesting or commenting on this regressive act are just raising awareness of just how fragile and important these sharks are to the health of local reefs and oceans.

      Due diligence with regard to the current science still not done by supporters of the cull. Preferring instead to play 'team politics' and follow this politicised decision regardless of it's many flawed lines of logic.

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    19. Paul Richards

      integral operating system

      In reply to John Phillip

      John Phillip wrote; " As for what you think of Qld, what the hell has that got to do with anything?" You raised the issue, comment was just a response to your comment.

      But I agree, what has Queensland's far right conservative unscientific decisions got to do with Western Australian's?

      The fact the Western Australian government over decades has gained worldwide credibility for sustainable fish management. Now this reputation is at risk because of a politicised decision based on 'feelings not facts'.

      People are at magnitudes of greater risk driving, walking and cycling to dive, swim or surf in the ocean in Western Australia than for any shark.

      But it's feelings before facts for sucked into the political delusion.

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    20. Paul Richards

      integral operating system

      In reply to Karl Lusdig

      Karl Lusdig wrote; "The double standard does make you wonder if they don't subconsciously believe that Westerners are superior."

      It is interesting you projected your values onto my meaning in comment altering the context.
      But I can assure you the reference was not personal, like yours just about the centre of gravity or as you put it 'Westerners'.

      My comment directed personally at your worldview, was simple; "... recommend .. not projecting personal values onto others, particularly on the issue of the integral nature of life on earth." This comment stands.

      The fact you actually do not consider others, but are 'indifferent' is also interesting. "I'm largely indifferent to your existence" wrote Karl Lusdig
      As it goes to a personal stage of development and how you see the integral nature of life on earth. Appreciate the honesty about your altitude.

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    21. David Roth

      Postgrad History Student

      In reply to Jon Cassar

      This should not be a political issue, Jon. This is about rational public policy and the role of science in making that policy. From your earlier comments about polls, it's clear that your grasp of basic statistics is not up to the task. I suggest that you are trying to use the actions of a few ratbags to try to make a slur on the majority of protestors. Any objective observer of the protests at Cottlesloe and elsewhere could see that they were peaceful and orderly.
      Since when are non-violent 'attacks on the State government' not permitted in a democratic society?

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    22. Paul Richards

      integral operating system

      In reply to John Phillip

      John Phillip wrote; " ... your characterisation of politics in Qld in simply a caricature" True it barely paints a true picture. Thanks for the segue.

      The fact the current very right wing conservatives in Queensland embrace austerity all economist know is a redundant concept unable to stimulate economies. Together with their need to drive redundant thinking toward efficiencies encouraging automation at all levels. Automation of systems investment as the focus of capital, rather than the risk of…

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    23. David Roth

      Postgrad History Student

      In reply to John Phillip

      You are entitled to object to children at a protest. But I haven't seen you taking the anti-carbon tax rallies (e.g.) to task for that. Parents are entitled to educate kids politically (within the law) as they see fit. Where is your evidence about the number of ratbags? And if you have no evidence apart from a few, is that not a slur on the great majority of protestors?

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    24. Paul Richards

      integral operating system

      In reply to John Phillip

      John Phillip wrote; " The fact is that threats were made an it reflects poorly on the group as a whole."

      Whose fact? What amounts to a threatening fact is an unfalsifiable 'story' put about by those under the influence of mass hysteria. Feelings are not facts.

      One fact Drum Line supporters fail to address is; "People are at magnitudes of greater risk driving, walking and cycling to dive, swim or surf in the ocean in Western Australia, than from any shark attack."
      ...

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    25. David Roth

      Postgrad History Student

      In reply to John Phillip

      1. Aug 2011
      2. 6000 non-violent and peaceful protestors at Cottlesloe is good evidence. Did 'ditch the witch' and 'Juliar is Bob Brown's Bitch' signs reflect on the anti-carbon tax protestors as a whole in 2011?

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    26. Paul Richards

      integral operating system

      In reply to John Phillip

      John Phillip wrote; "Paul, I'm not buying your narrative." That's ok, don't expect the conservative value system is at the stage of development to grasp the concepts.

      First tier values after all centre around 2000 year old Abrahamic values, with punitive laws, domineering culture, all reflected in unevolved lines of logic.

      "It's turtles all the way down young man..." https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Turtles_all_the_way_down#Origin

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    27. Karl Lusdig

      Private sector

      In reply to Paul Richards

      "That's ok, don't expect the conservative value system is at the stage of development to grasp the concepts."

      Aww, what a quitter. So much for "carrying more responsibility due the awareness."(sic). You just threw the towel in at the first sign of resistance.

      "First tier values after all centre around 2000 year old Abrahamic values"

      Hey, could be worse. We could be romanticising 40,000 year old Aboriginal values like the left are.

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    28. Paul Richards

      integral operating system

      In reply to Karl Lusdig

      Karl Lusdig wrote; "You just threw the towel in at the first sign of resistance." Interesting take. But wrong having held your worldview it is understood. Carried within my holon of understanding.

      There is no 'quitting' it is not possible to force a change of values. Particularly if the views are carried with strong feelings and beliefs verify a certain level of thought.*

      Personal evolution of values sometimes gets arrested during a lifetime, leaving development unfulfilled, that is part of human evolution and so far it works well.
      ________________
      *This is a current example of an earlier stage of human development and how futile pushing developed values onto others is before they are ready. - http://youtu.be/Tsak9oclPJ4

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    29. John Phillip
      John Phillip is a Friend of The Conversation.

      Grumpy Old Man

      In reply to Paul Richards

      Paul, have a look at Mr Cassar's post on this matter earlier in the thread re those threats. Unlike the 'threats' made to climate scientists a few years ago which were proven not to have happened, the threats against drum line operators were serious enough that they withdrew from the work.

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    30. Paul Richards

      integral operating system

      In reply to John Phillip

      John Phillip wrote; "... still haven't accepted and responded to the abject failure of Marxism." And here I thought it was only North Americans who dragged around that eighteenth century relic. "Reds under the bed" Yellow Peril etc.etc. Time value will soon be the death of those last century memes.

      John Phillip wrote; "Bit full of ourselves aren't we, Paul?" Thanks for the comment and segue. No, actually but having held similar views I understand the depth of feeling and beleif.

      As commented before, awareness carries responsibility that is different.

      Anyone judging others for their life conditions and resultant beliefs is just not clever.

      If you need an example there is a link to follow below*. Using discernment it is clear the shark is our cultures metaphor for the sorcerer ...

      After all 'facts are not feelings'.

      _____________
      * http://youtu.be/Tsak9oclPJ4

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    31. Paul Richards

      integral operating system

      In reply to John Phillip

      John Phillip wrote; "... have a look at Mr Cassar's post on this matter earlier in the thread re those threats." Why? If there was any 'facts' surrounding threats it would have been posted with relevant references.

      So far like all of the 'lines of logic' Pro Culling, it is just another unfalsifiable meme and goes with territory of hysteria.
      _________

      As for climate change that is another story and your claim of climate scientist 'threats', just more unfalsifiable rhetoric. No doubt sourced from the usual lobby group in North America, can only recommend being more discerning in who you put faith in.

      Feelings are not facts...

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    32. David Roth

      Postgrad History Student

      In reply to John Phillip

      Not quite answering my question, John. Let me rephrase it. Did the fact that more than a few anti-carbon tax protestors had 'juvenile crap' posters (I would call them tasteless) reflect on the majority of the protestors or not? Btw Gillard and Bob Brown did receive threats. Did the fact that Alan Jones endorsed the protests and said that Gillard's father 'died of shame' reflect on the protestors? Was that 'juvenile crap' too?

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    33. David Roth

      Postgrad History Student

      In reply to John Phillip

      At least you're consistent. Then on your logic, if there are any extremists associated with any protest, the majority of non-extremists taking part in it are automatically discredited. Therefore since there are always extremists and ratbags in any party or campaign, left or right, it's impossible to be selective, because all participants in protests of any kind are thereby discredited.

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    34. John Phillip
      John Phillip is a Friend of The Conversation.

      Grumpy Old Man

      In reply to David Roth

      That is taking the logic through to its 'mathematical' conclusion, I'll agree. But very few things in life are that black and white. Maybe it's more of a quantum effect - a threshold, if you like. In this particular case, I found that the rhetoric and vitriol were enough to kick in my cynicism response. Certainly, you've had the same experience? Perhaps with the aforementioned carbon-tax rally?

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    35. Paul Richards

      integral operating system

      In reply to John Phillip

      John Phillip wrote; "Isn't that exactly what you did with your caricature of Qld?" I stated common knowledge.

      The context of judging individuals or groups based on worth is the context. Not stating what they believe and why, there is no contradiction. Unless of course you projected that my intent was to denigrate them. That is a question for your interior however.

      As I said; "Anyone judging others for their life conditions and resultant beliefs is just not clever."

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    36. Paul Richards

      integral operating system

      In reply to John Phillip

      John Phillip wrote; "You've adopted a predictable position ..." Yes, a position where your values are evident, understandable on an altitude unable to come to see an integral worldview.
      Which is ok. We are all at our various stages of development so your position is grokked.
      Appreciate the conversation.

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    37. David Roth

      Postgrad History Student

      In reply to John Phillip

      'Logical conclusion' might be more accurate. Your 'quantum effect' idea is interesting, perhaps 'critical mass' might be better. The trick is not to make sophistical excuses for the ratbags from the side you favour. Wrt the anti-carbon tax rally, I knew that the ratbags weren't necessarily representative because there were reports that there were sometimes-violent disagreements between the protestors and many requests to take down the more offensive banners. What was truly offensive was Tony Abbott…

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    38. Paul Richards

      integral operating system

      In reply to John Phillip

      John Phillip wrote; "What is 'grokked' - sorry, I'm old." Getting old is something we all do. However our personal development by evolving values is another matter.

      * Grok /ˈɡrɒk/ is a word coined by Robert A. Heinlein for his 1961 science-fiction novel, Stranger in a Strange Land. Heinlein defined as follows:
      "Grok means to understand so thoroughly that the observer becomes a part of the observed—to merge, blend, intermarry, lose identity in group experience."

      And by the way a very serious…

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  2. Michael Shand

    Software Tester

    Great Article, where do these sharks get off, coming into our ocean and attacking us in our natural habitat.

    If we are going to continue to allow these dangerous animals in our wild environment then we need to take action

    We also need to do something about the bears in the woods and the croc's in the bush, hopefully we can take a humane approach and tag all these animals, then warn people if there is a bear intruding on our hiking paths or a penguin in our antartic

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    1. Paul Richards

      integral operating system

      In reply to Alice Kelly

      Alice Kelly wrote; "Michael, better still tag swimmers at Cottesloe. If unfortunately they get consumed, we know the exact shark."

      Now that's what I call lateral thinking, it would be cheaper than the current system and specific.

      What also rarely gets mentioned is the orders of magnitude in personal risk, driving, riding or walking to the beach.
      The real comparisons for actual risk are mind boggling, this is clearly an emotive issue.

      Shark attack is very very rare*.
      ______________
      * http://www.coolinfographics.com/blog/2013/5/10/shark-attack.html

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  3. Paul Richards

    integral operating system

    Carlos Duarte wrote; "Over the summer of 2011/2012, the media distorted the statistics, which at seven fatal attacks in three years in Western Australia show no evidence of increase in attacks, to created a hype around sharks." Appreciate the perspective, anyone speaking out about the science and importantly the statistics has been overwhelmed.

    Frustrating as the very health of the ocean / reefs breeding these great and essential predators is what actually is at stake. Our continued fish exploitation…

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  4. Michael Dixon

    logged in via Twitter

    Well said Carlos; unfortunately this current situation seems to highlight a sense of hubris and entitlement in some sections of our society. This could be a consequence an increasing polarity between the virtual and physical aspects of contemporary living.

    Many years ago (in the 1960's) I was one of the hard core early morning surfers on one of Sydney's southern point breaks. We often saw large marine creatures - tuna, sharks, dolphins and even the occasional whale; when the sharks were around, we'd get out of the water. The zeitgeist was that we were intruders in an alien environment, one to be treated with caution and respect. Back then there were a few drownings, but no shark fatalities.

    The public $$$ would be better spent on a proper analysis of the success or otherwise of existing international programs to minimise human / shark interaction, and then formulate an appropriate strategy for the SW of AU.

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  5. Andrew Nichols

    Digital Drudge

    Science, clearly, has no place in the development of Australian government policy.

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    1. Mark Schneider

      Freelance coypwriter

      In reply to Andrew Nichols

      I think you've pretty well nailed it there, Andrei. Today's conservative politicians seem convinced that science is nothing more than a global leftist conspiracy.

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    2. Jon Cassar

      ex-teacher

      In reply to Mark Schneider

      Well, we have to acknowledge that some scientific issues are promoted by leftist crusaders. One only has to read the kind of comments they post to the Guardian. All the 'doom and gloom' prognostications that would have made old Malthus jealous, and which none of us will be around to see eventuate, not even Saint Al Gore!

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    3. David Roth

      Postgrad History Student

      In reply to Jon Cassar

      So rational public policy and better use of public money is a 'leftist crusade'? This isn't an ideological issue.

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  6. warrick dawes

    computer modeller

    Why is it so much easier to create an emotional crisis than to hose it down with actual facts and logic?

    Emperor Colin cannot back down now. So thanks for the suggestions Carlos, but they just are not going to happen.

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  7. Russell Hamilton

    Librarian

    "Over the summer of 2011/2012, the media distorted the statistics, which at seven fatal attacks in three years in Western Australia show no evidence of increase in attacks"

    I don't get that bit ... in which other three year period did we have seven fatal shark attacks.

    Could the scientists admit to not having all the data? Are they making assumptions about shark numbers? What is their response to the argument that a big increase in whale numbers since whaling stopped has led to a big increase…

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    1. David Roth

      Postgrad History Student

      In reply to Russell Hamilton

      Just to put things into proportion, Russell. There were about 500 road deaths in WA in 2011- 2013 and about 50 drowning deaths, while about 200 people were saved from drowning. Drownings have increased by over 130% over a 10 year period. Not to mention possibly hundreds of excess deaths due to heat waves, if the Victorian figures are applicable. So if we were spending money on public safety including very expensive helicopters, where should the priority be?

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    2. Russell Hamilton

      Librarian

      In reply to David Roth

      But David the drivers are all humans - we can't cull the bad drivers. Do you equate the value of sharks' and humans' lives? Shark numbers are something we can do something about.

      Perhaps we don't need expensive helicopters - we could perhaps go back to commercial fishing of sharks. When I was growing up and people commonly had fish and chips on a Friday night, it was actually, usually, shark and chips.

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    3. JB Rawson

      Writer

      In reply to Russell Hamilton

      Russell, this article looks at the ins and outs of estimating shark numbers and shark-human interactions http://theconversation.com/shark-bite-statistics-can-lie-and-the-result-is-bad-policy-21789. You're right: lack of data is one of the problems, and scientists would love the funding to find out more about what is actually going on. Are there more sharks, or the same (or fewer) sharks, but spending more time near beaches? Or are there more people spending more time in the water, and increasing the likelihood of interaction with sharks? Knowing theses things would mean you could design a program that might actually work to reduce bites, rather than just guessing wildly.
      Carlos, thank you for the thought-provoking piece.

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    4. Jon Cassar

      ex-teacher

      In reply to David Roth

      Why do people keep resorting to these comparative arguments? No matter what kind of unfortunate event occurs there will always be a far greater event to trump it. We take measures to deal with ALL unwelcome incidents as they occur. Road accidents, street stabbings, deaths from flu etc etc are all deserving of attention, as are immediate problems dealing with predatory creatures like sharks.

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    5. David Roth

      Postgrad History Student

      In reply to Russell Hamilton

      Russell, your comparison of drivers and sharks is totally off the mark. We can spend money on road safety and water safety measures (with known effectiveness), or we can spend it, with far less proven effectiveness, on sharks. I think humans' lives are more valuable than sharks, which is why I support more cost effective measures to save lives, rather than wasting public money on a program with unknown, possibly negative, results and unproven effectiveness.
      The scientific advice is that great whites are an endangered species and are protected in some countries.
      If 'scientists don't have all the data', then Troy Buswell has even less data, who has ignored the scientific advice of his own department in order to feed a moral panic. Would you rather support a politician with an open mouth or scientists with open minds?
      We don't eat great whites (they taste like ammonia), but smaller species of shark which don't generally attack humans.

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    6. David Arthur

      resistance gnome

      In reply to Russell Hamilton

      Perhaps, Mr Hamilton, you were growing up in the Good Old Days, when we hadn't finished eating the sharks, so to speak, out of house and home.

      News Release, http://www.whoi.edu/news-release/LongevityWhiteSharks
      "New Study Finds Extreme Longevity in White Sharks"
      January 8, 2014
      "Great white sharks—top predators throughout the world's ocean—grow much slower and live significantly longer than previously thought, according to a new study led by the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI)."

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    7. David Roth

      Postgrad History Student

      In reply to Jon Cassar

      I'm talking about spending priorities, Jon, and understanding and classifying risks according to their priority. And rational public policy. All risks are deserving of attention, but not equally so.

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    8. Mark Schneider

      Freelance coypwriter

      In reply to Russell Hamilton

      While we're at it let's kill all the horses. Damn things kill an average of 20 Australians a year with their treacherous bucking backs and flying hooves. How could you possibly equate the value of horses' and humans' lives? The French eat horse meat. I hear it's delicious.

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    9. Lee Hatfield

      logged in via Facebook

      In reply to David Roth

      that.s a pretty stupid analogy. if people choose to drive dangerously , or at all, it is a choice.... you might say going swimming , surfing, even boating is a choice... but if that is the case, we will have to have warning signs, and ban certain beaches, if not all...! you obviously believe only sea creatures should be in the sea! i spose the gov't sees lots of revenue disappearing fast,with a lot of tourists choosing not to go there... another thing is whether the odd shark that gets killed is really going to affect the shark population. it's not as if they are planning to scour the oceans for them... only a few popular beaches...!

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    10. David Roth

      Postgrad History Student

      In reply to Lee Hatfield

      Which analogy am I making? Are you replying to the right person?

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  8. Jon Cassar

    ex-teacher

    I see the protests as signifying far greater discontent than just a passing concern for sharks.
    Whether its saving sharks, trees, environment or other contentious issues, there will always be the regular protestors backed by opportunistic politicians, particularly from the losing side.
    It's a sign of something dark in society when people actually see the lives of a few ocean predators as more important than the lives of human beings.

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    1. JB Rawson

      Writer

      In reply to Jon Cassar

      Interesting thought, Jon. What do you think of the idea that these people are actually trying to defend the lives of human beings? That they (alright, we) see our long-term survival as reliant on the survival of apex predators, of trees, of 'the environment' (which, after all, gives us water and oxygen and protection from UV and a whole heap of other stuff we need to live). That the greater discontent is about these small cuts to the environment which could add up to wrecking the whole thing, and our lives along with it, altogether.

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    2. Jan Lucas

      logged in via Facebook

      In reply to Jon Cassar

      I care very deeply about the loss of those humans whose lives were lost. A friend of mine was taken by a shark six years ago. He loved the ocean and he respected its inhabitants. He knew the risks and was adamant in believing that killing sharks was wrong. His family support his view. For me, I see the intricate web of life on this planet as something that needs to be respected. We all have a place here. We all contribute. The shark does not come out of its environment to attack people - we choose to enter its domain. The problem is that we seem to think that we should have dominance over everything, rather than respect the fact that we are simply one part of this larger wonderful web of life that inhabits this planet earth.

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    3. Jon Cassar

      ex-teacher

      In reply to JB Rawson

      JB: Rather a long shot...survival of the human species and all the usual untestable prognostications of doom and gloom etc.
      I'm more interested in survival of individuals today.
      Good old 'apex predator' seems to be the mantra of the moment, sung at high octave by teenagers on Cottesloe Beach this weekend.

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    4. Janeen Harris

      chef

      In reply to Jon Cassar

      It's a sign of something dark in society when people think they are separate from, and superior to nature. When the sharks come onto land and start killing us in our environment, then something would need to be done. If we invade their territory we take our chances. The odds are still in our favor.

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    5. JB Rawson

      Writer

      In reply to Jon Cassar

      Jon, the apex predator concept is certainly interesting, even if you don't consider it an imminent threat to human survival. Have you read much about it? Studies of wolves in Yellowstone NP are the usual thing cited, but there's been interesting work done on dingoes in Australia and this study in Science earlier this year https://theconversation.com/the-worlds-top-predators-are-in-decline-and-its-hurting-us-too-21830
      If it's the survival of individuals today you're interested in, sharks seem an odd place to focus your activity. Others have talked about road accidents, disease etc, and of course all of those are being worked on too. But if you're keen to wipe out animals that might threaten your survival, snakes (six deaths in 2012) or family dogs (33 deaths since 1979) might be a more effective place to start than sharks. Killing sharks seems like a lot of effort for little 'current survival of human individuals' result.

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    6. Grant Preller

      logged in via Facebook

      In reply to Jon Cassar

      Jon wrote "its a sign of something dark in society when people actually see the lives of a few ocean predators as more important than the lives of human beings"... totally agree... well said.

      I live a few km's from Gracetown in WA and regularly swim and surf along the stretch where quite a few of the attacks have occurred and I dread the day one of the grom surfers gets taken. If no plan was developed by the government and something happened, it would be an outrage and embarrassment and I am fully supportive of Barnett at least implementing a plan.

      Ideally we could live in harmony with big sharks but the fact is we can't... or at least not yet.

      I actually agreed with most of what the article author was writing until I read that ridiculous statement that 7 fatal attacks in a couple of years on a single stretch of coast being the media skewing statistics,.. what strange thing to say...

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  9. Leah Gibbs

    Lecturer in Geography at University of Wollongong

    Thank you for your lucid summary, Carlos. Let's hope that this good sense eventually prevails. And that it begins to inform a broader debate about use of kill and cull methods on the east coast, where as you say, they have been in place for decades.

    In Queensland drumlines have been in use since the 1960s; some 753 sharks were killed by this method in 2012 alone. In NSW shark nets (the type that entangle and kill sharks and other marine life, not those that simply fence off a small swimming area), killed 108 sharks in 2012; only 15 of them of recognised 'dangerous' species.

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    1. Grant Preller

      logged in via Facebook

      In reply to Leah Gibbs

      How many shark attacks since the implementation of these kill and cull programs were implemented?

      I am perplexed with statements that claim this approach is unproven and baseless and a waste of money... for some strange reason nets work, static are there to prove it (which is weird because they aren't even a solid barrier). (Personally I don't like nets because they kill anything that gets caught in them.)

      My understanding is that drum lines, whilst not guaranteed, target and catch minimal…

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    2. Nick Kermode

      logged in via email @hotmail.com

      In reply to Grant Preller

      Hi Grant,
      I am not surprised you are perplexed when people say the effectiveness of the SCP in QLD is unproven. Many people are the same. Unless you dig in quite detail it is an easy conclusion to come to. The issue has so many more facets than just looking at shark attack numbers, which is what most people base their views on, and very often they have the incorrect figures for even that.

      1. We need to consider how our use of the ocean has changed as we have become more aware of shark…

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    3. Grant Preller

      logged in via Facebook

      In reply to Nick Kermode

      Not too sure what you're meaning by SCP, but assume that its something to do with the netting and / or drum-lines.

      BTW, thanks for the reply. I'm no expert on the east coast of Australia hence the questions... having grown up surfing the east coast of South Africa, I do however know that beaches with shark nets are very, very effective (no drum-lines when I was there) and I would disagree with any statements claiming nets don't work - the problem is that they do kill anything that gets caught…

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    4. David Roth

      Postgrad History Student

      In reply to Grant Preller

      Grant, it's not correct that the WA action has been 'supported by the experts'. There are several media reports, including in the 'Scientific American', that scientific advice has been ignored. This may be a 'media frenzy' and moral panic, but whether this a 'greenie frenzy' or a community reaction against irrational policy and misuse of public funds is a moot point.

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    5. Grant Preller

      logged in via Facebook

      In reply to David Roth

      This is the problem with the media reports and with scientists...
      -Media pull information out from random sources stated as fact whereas many statements are simply viewpoints or have been challenged elsewhere;
      -scientists are their own worst enemies as they can never seem to be able to come to a unanimous agreement and are consistently challenging and contradicting each other (refer to recent Conversation article "Why some people do not care about science").

      Those comments stating that scientific advice has been ignored would in all likelihood simply be that selected advice was utilised and that SOME advice was ignored. Media are masters at twisting facts.The Federal and State government would not be able to implement a proposal like this without strong supporting documentation under the advice from experts - I'm happy to be proven wrong on this one.

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    6. David Roth

      Postgrad History Student

      In reply to Grant Preller

      "scientists are their own worst enemies as they can never seem to be able to come to a unanimous agreement and are consistently challenging and contradicting each other" sounds very like an anti-global warming screed from IPA. Science is never settled. That is the nature of science. But ignoring the weight of scientific opinion until every single scientist agrees is irrational. The WA Government ignored a scientific report which it had itself commissioned, as reported in the 'Scientific American' http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/shark-cull-plan-draws-ire/
      The 'Scientific American' is not generally known for 'twisting facts'.
      Federal and State governments regularly ignore or overrule advice from their own departments quite regularly for political reasons or votes. I worked in the public service on and off for 15 years. I know that first hand. Your confidence in the rational decision making abilities of politicians when votes are in question is both naive and touching.

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    7. Grant Preller

      logged in via Facebook

      In reply to David Roth

      The article in Scientific America does also state,
      "Alison Kock, a shark-control researcher and a marine biologist with the Shark Spotters program...off the Cape Peninsula in South Africa, said...the program has “undeniably reduced the risk” of shark attacks."

      In the spirit of good, unbiased reporting I'll write that last statement in CAPS just so we're all 100% what Scientific America, that is "generally not known for twisting facts" actually states...
      "the program has UNDENIABLY REDUCED…

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    8. David Roth

      Postgrad History Student

      In reply to Grant Preller

      It was an opinion article, not a research piece. But it did confirm my point that WA had ignored its own commissioned scientific advice. If you want to look at scientific reports to the govt, you could try that very report http://www.fish.wa.gov.au/Documents/occasional_publications/fop108.pdf
      I note that you haven't tried to argue my point that politicians regularly ignore or overrule sound advice.

      In respect of comparisons between States/countries, the scientific advice from Qld is (the 2006…

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    9. Paul Richards

      integral operating system

      In reply to Grant Preller

      Appreciate your comment Grant, grok you values and must say have carried your lines of logic at one time.
      Grant Preller wote; "... Alison Kock, a shark-control researcher and a marine biologist with the Shark Spotters program...off the Cape Peninsula in South Africa, said...the program has “undeniably reduced the risk” of shark attacks." Ok, it is hard not to agree Alison Kock dis not say what she did. But it in reality is just her opinion which is respected the values recognised and biases identified…

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    10. Grant Preller

      logged in via Facebook

      In reply to Paul Richards

      Yes... I hang my head in shame for yelling... But it was quite funny to see that statement so specifically referenced...

      Apologies... very childish :)

      With reference to Alison's comment, the green movement and some experts are ferociously arguing that these measures don't work and are a waste of time but I'm not convinced. I'll take a guess but I'm thinking AS would be unlikely to have quoted her if she wasn't respected. With ref “independent voice / vested interest”… I'd actually argue that…

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    11. Paul Richards

      integral operating system

      In reply to Grant Preller

      Thanks for the comment, appreciate the perspective.
      Grant Preller wrote; "... these measures don't work and are a waste of time but I'm not convinced."
      Based on what? Gut feeling, your values and life conditions. While all these are respected, they do not constitute facts.
      The facts are simple; we know understand though published studies in Australia and overseas that top predators are crucial for the health of reefs and in turn the ocean.
      Grant Preller wrote; "Domination does not necessarily…

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    12. Grant Preller

      logged in via Facebook

      In reply to Paul Richards

      Thanks for your comments...

      "I'm not convinced" that the 'facts' that are presented by greenies are correct... This was in context of green activists' claims that drum-lines are unproven, ineffective and a waste of money.

      Paul wrote "facts are simple"... only when you have a single source of truth. In mass media and green activism the truth is far from simple. In short, I'm sceptical of any statement made by any green activist (yip - I know that's gonna be asking for it!).

      Ref "domination…

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    13. David Roth

      Postgrad History Student

      In reply to Grant Preller

      "Anyone that tells me that WA hasn't had any significant change in attack patterns is either living in la-la-land or has been spending far too much time in the lab."
      You can't make a statistically valid conclusion from 7 incidents in 3 years. That's the mathematics of it. It's not political and not a 'greenie' thing and it doesn't come from a 'lab' or 'la-la land' but from a maths textbook.
      Similarly, a rough ballpark calculation (see my comments elsewhere) would show that the chances of an attack…

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    14. Paul Richards

      integral operating system

      In reply to Grant Preller

      Appreciate the converstion, disappointed the New Guinea stage of development was not explored and commented on.
      Grant Preller wrote; "I'm not convinced" that the 'facts' that are presented by greenies are correct... "
      Any evolved intelligent person could understand this because the zeal those you call 'greenies' promoting their feelings can be grating, probably the thought of becoming militant by association is abhorrent. It is a very naive strategy they put in play, isn't it? Tends to galvanise…

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  10. Forcedto Changemyname

    logged in via Facebook

    Great article, but editors, please - some editing is needed before publication. Standards must be upheld (I say this as someone 'unqualified' to write or edit for The Conversation, but whose editing standards are clearly far higher).

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  11. Gil Thorncraft

    Concerned World Citizen

    Interesting article.
    Many contributors state that they feel that human life is more important than the lives of other species.
    Why?
    We are all part of a complex ecosystem which depends upon a balance of all species.
    We are certainly different from other species but certainly not a better species.
    In fact we seem to be the only animal species willfully destroying our own, and all other species, environment for our own personal gratification.
    No other species does this and in this fact alone we are probably a worse species than others.
    Regrettably this probably does make us important but for the wrong reasons.

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    1. Russell Hamilton

      Librarian

      In reply to Gil Thorncraft

      Gil, I suppose the fact that we farm animals (but not humans) to eat them shows that we value human life above that of other animals.

      When we (carbon criminals) fly away on holidays we know that birds may be annihilated if they're hanging around airports - yes, we've gone into 'their' domain, but, hey, we want to be as safe as we can be while we're there.

      And I suppose it's the same with birds flying into wind turbines etc - we want the power; its a price we're prepared to pay, as someone once said.

      The local Cottesloe paper published pictures of the beach now and a couple of years ago, to show the huge reduction in the number of people using the beach - something I know from personal experience. In a hot, dry city that has developed, over generations, a beach culture, it's not persuasive to say that people should just keep out of the ocean.

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  12. Jon Cassar

    ex-teacher

    In an increasingly secular world, I think we're looking at new religions which echo the past. Anthropomorphism and worship of animal totems have their roots in times distant. The shark is the newest manifestation of such worship, certainly the rhetoric attests to that.

    At one time or another mortal man has worshiped everything on the face of the earth, including himself. He has also worshiped about everything imaginable in the sky and beneath the surface of the earth. Primitive man feared all manifestations of power; he worshiped every natural phenomenon he could not comprehend.

    Our future British king is a self-confessed tree worshipper. These youngsters demonstrating for the shark have their totemic modelling in serpent worship, and powerful natural forces, such as storms, floods, earthquakes, landslides, and volcanoes. I guess a human sacrifice or two, or three, is seen as way to placate the great demon of the deep.

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    1. David Roth

      Postgrad History Student

      In reply to Jon Cassar

      What has all this mythology got to do with rational public policy?

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    2. Philip Gillibrand

      logged in via email @gmail.com

      In reply to Jon Cassar

      That's the most deluded pile of nonsense I have ever read on The Conversation (and that is saying something). Many would say that people like you worship money, but how does that contribute to a sensible debate ?

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    3. Dean Biron

      PhD in Cultural Studies; Tutor in Criminology at Griffith University

      In reply to Jon Cassar

      One imagines that rarely before has the prefix "ex-" been cause for such a huge collective sigh of relief ...

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    4. Paul Richards

      integral operating system

      In reply to Jon Cassar

      Jon Cassar wrote; " ... animal totems have their roots in times distant." The stage of human development we here are on is concerned about second tier values and aspiring to third.

      Anthropologically regressing to earlier tribal values of understanding is just not feasible. Unless you believe in the Abrahamic regression from perfection to a dystopian chaos at Armageddon.

      The current body of science shows humans are evolving, even if some cultures and individuals lag behind dragging relics of culture over 2000 yeas old.
      Evident in legislation, using punitive thinking as a typical strategy and seeing an adversarial dominating mindset as normal within our meritocracy.

      ...

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  13. Miles Ruhl

    Thinker

    I can't understand it - where on earth did they get the focus group for this disastrous decision?

    Thought it hilarious though that just after the new year, the West Australian ran a small feature about politicians' resolutions for the coming year.

    Colin Barnett's was to learn how to surf... (!) Coincidence? I think not.

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  14. Christo Money

    Company Director

    This is a serious question.

    Could somebody please enlighten me on the following.

    Have we any proof - scientific if possible - but any other would be of interest;

    Do sharks HUNT humans?

    If the answer is yes, and on the accepted basis that sharks are apex hunters; evolved to perfection in their ability to hunt and kill their food of choice, why are we (humans) not taken out in our hundreds or even thousands by sharks?

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  15. Jon Cassar

    ex-teacher

    When all the sobbing over a few poor sharks is done, let's look at the damage being done to the very lucrative tourist trade. People are just not heading to the beach anymore, they're building their own backyard pools, according to media reports. A boon for the pools industry, for sure, but when this debate gets reported overseas many potential travellers to WA are going to have a change of heart. I certainly would never set foot in the waters of the beaches over there if I couldn't have confidence in the government's cull and control program.

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    1. David Roth

      Postgrad History Student

      In reply to Jon Cassar

      "Tourists will still come to Western Australia despite international outrage over the controversial culling policy, according to the state government". http://www.watoday.com.au/wa-news/will-was-shark-cull-frenzy-kill-off-tourism-20140202-31uww.html
      This must be true because Colin Barnett says it is.

      You probably have a greater chance of winning Lotto that of being attacked in any one dip in WA beaches. Say very conservatively that 20% of West Australians swim 10 times a year (probably a big underestimate and doesn't include visitors). That's roughly 5M swims a year, 15M over 3 years. With 7 fatal shark attacks in the last 3 years, that's about 1 chance in 2 million in any one dip. Probably much less than being involved in a fatal traffic accident on the way to the beach.

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  16. Ben Fitzpatrick

    logged in via Facebook

    The drum-lining policy is costing potentially millions of dollars, whilst simultaneously jeopardizing a groundbreaking taxpayer funded research program on white sharks. It is attracting sharks to our most popular beaches and placing swimmers at risk, in an attempt to catch and kill the tiny proportion of individual animals greater then 3 m of a highly protected, threatened and poorly understood species, that may potentially but highly unlikely pose a risk to humans. Drum-lining indiscriminately catches and inhumanely treats far more non-target species and undersized target sharks then target animals and runs the risk of impacting the very ecosystem that is the lifeblood of Western Australia's lifestyle, livelihood and appeal.

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