Sections

Services

Information

UK United Kingdom

Western Australia’s shark culls lack bite (and science)

After a spate of fatal shark attacks over the past two years, Western Australia has released a radical new shark plan that will see large sharks removed and destroyed from designated “safe zones”. The…

Great White Sharks will be one of the species targeted under Western Australia’s new shark plan. Flickr/Mshai

After a spate of fatal shark attacks over the past two years, Western Australia has released a radical new shark plan that will see large sharks removed and destroyed from designated “safe zones”.

The plan includes drum lines (baited hooks attached to drums) monitored daily, and soliciting commercial fishers to hunt sharks larger than 3 metres.

Nationally threatened and legally protected Great White Sharks are expected to be one of the targeted species.

But do these sort of measures actually reduce shark attacks, and how can we assess the results?

How do we measure if shark programs work?

There are passionate, well-intentioned people on both sides of the shark culling debate. We are unlikely to ever reach consensus on the philosophical question of whether it is ethical to kill large predators in order to make the natural environment a safer playground for humans.

What everyone can and should do is demand a rigorous, fact-based approach to this controversial issue.

Unanswered questions remain in Western Australia’s shark plan: how will the state define success of these programs and how will this be measured? What are the impacts of culling likely to be on various Australian shark populations and their natural prey, and how will these be assessed?

True effectiveness cannot be assessed by simply counting the number of sharks captured and killed. Demonstrable effectiveness means a measurable decrease in shark bite incidents in response to culling activities.

Hawaii shark control programs of the 1960s and 1970s, for example, were not demonstrably effective. These programs were expensive, culled 4,668 sharks and yet failed to produce measurable decreases in shark bite incidents.

The challenges of reducing shark bites at specific locations were clearly illustrated by the events at Barbers Point on the Hawaiian island of Oahu. The 1967-69 shark control program removed 33 tiger sharks at that one location alone, yet soon after the program finished a shark bite occurred at Barbers Point.

Is it a cull?

Western Australian fisheries minister Troy Buswell has tried to soften the current plan by indulging in semantics.

He said:

This does not represent a culling of sharks. It is not a fear-driven hunt, it is a targeted, localised shark mitigation strategy.

Culling can be variously defined as “the reduction of the size of an animal population” or “to reduce the size of (a herd or flock) by killing a proportion of its members”. Clearly culling is an entirely appropriate term to use for the proposed activities.

What type of cull will it be?

WA would like to remove sharks in order to reduce the rate of shark bites on humans, ideally to zero.

For this to work the sharks either have to be a) resident in the areas of concern (the “safe zones”) or b) continually removed as new sharks arrive in the area.

The proposed plan appears to be at the continuous removal end of the spectrum. Shark fishing lines will be deployed 24-hours a day for at least several months. This approach has the potential to remove large numbers of highly-mobile species such as white sharks and tiger sharks which will encounter these lines during their natural migrations along the Australian coastline.

The current proposal provides no estimates of how many sharks will be removed, making it impossible to gauge the likely impact on the shark species in question, or possible broader, ecosystem-level effects.

Culling nothing new for Australia

Removing large numbers of sharks in the hope of keeping ocean users safe is nothing new in Australia. Other states have long-running shark control programs using both baited hooks and shark nets to target sharks.

For example, the Queensland and New South Wales shark control programs have been operating for decades and during that period have captured thousands of sharks. Current WA proposals are broadly similar to existing and historical Australian shark control programs.

But they are controversial both because they are a new strategy for this region and also because they will target Great White Sharks, currently protected as endangered species due to their naturally rare occurrence and low rate of reproduction which make them vulnerable to population collapse.

Proponents and opponents of the current WA shark culling proposals may find some common ground in demanding appropriate transparency in these tax payer-funded activities.

Ideally there should be federal fisheries observers on vessels targeting sharks, so the exact number, size and species of sharks captured, as well as their fate, is independently verified. The results of the culling should also be independently analysed to ensure stated objectives are being met.

After all, whether you are for or against shark culling, most would agree that there is no point in spending millions on a program that kills sharks without stopping shark attacks.

Sign in to Favourite

Join the conversation

66 Comments sorted by

  1. Paul Prociv

    ex medical academic; botanical engineer at University of Queensland

    At the end of the day, pollies will always have a need to be seen to be doing something. Any action is better than none. Don't sit on the fence. Shoot first, ask questions later. From whichever other angle one looks at this decision, it is completely irrational, albeit intensely emotional.

    report
    1. Mike Swinbourne

      logged in via Facebook

      In reply to Paul Prociv

      Knowing that I am a diver, a few people asked me about this yesterday. Unfortunately for them, I could hardly contain my anger.

      This is the most despicable, ill-informed, and straight out bloody minded piece of political and environmental bastardry I have heard about for some time - and given the record of the conservative governments in this country that is a pretty high bar to get over.

      Species are protected for a reason. And if we allow protected species to be killed because they are interfering with our recreational activities it says a hell of a lot about the lack of ethics and the selfishness of the bastards making the decisions.

      I absolutely and unequivocally condemn this decision and the people in the WA and Commonwealth governments who have been involved.

      report
    2. Paul Prociv

      ex medical academic; botanical engineer at University of Queensland

      In reply to Mike Swinbourne

      Couldn't agree more. If human lives really were that sacred, surely banning motor vehicles is the way to go - maybe just for divers on their way to a venue, for more will die on the road getting there, than in the water from a shark attack.

      report
    3. Jarrod Chestney-Law

      logged in via Facebook

      In reply to Mike Swinbourne

      "it says a hell of a lot about the lack of ethics and the selfishness of the bastards making the decisions."

      Makes you wonder about what they do when they're not being watched (or are they so brazen that they can flaunt their lack of ethics as freely as they wish)?

      report
    4. Wade Macdonald

      Technician

      In reply to Mike Swinbourne

      I don't want to see the sharks killed either and 21 people die in oz from rip currents every year where the average is 1 a year from shark attacks.

      Go figure Mike that despite SARDI and CSIRO science which proves shark fishing off populated beaches doesn't increase shark attacks, our state gov banned shark fishing during daylight hours off Adelaide because some green group wanted to protect swimmers who willfully enter the water knowing the risks.

      Here's to sound science over fear and alarm as well as the natural predatory instinct of sharks.

      report
    5. Nick Kermode

      logged in via email @hotmail.com

      In reply to Wade Macdonald

      So Wade if I understand you, you don't want the sharks killed but you are happy that they be tortured to the point of near death then dragged out of their oxygen giving environment on to the beach/pier for a photo op and a cheap thrill. Weird.
      It's not all about protecting us.

      report
    6. Wade Macdonald

      Technician

      In reply to Nick Kermode

      No Nick, I don't want sharks killed because they followed their instincts. If a fishermen catches a shark for personal sustainance/consumption or to put food alongside the chips on your plate then I have no problem with that.

      Spare us all the animal liberationist bleeding heart mantra. Most are not interested in it anymore.

      report
    7. Nick Kermode

      logged in via email @hotmail.com

      In reply to Wade Macdonald

      Wade your logic is all over the place...you don't want to see a shark killed for following it's instincts....well what is it doing when it ends up on the end of a line destined as a mercury filled side for some chips?? Seriously!

      "Spare us all the animal liberationist bleeding heart mantra. Most are not interested in it anymore."

      I don't disagree with you Wade. But therein lies the problem.

      report
    8. Mike Swinbourne

      logged in via Facebook

      In reply to Wade Macdonald

      Wade

      As well as being a diver I am also a fisherman.

      As far as shark fishing is concerned, I have no problem with people catching sharks for food, just like I have no problem with people catching whiting or garfish etc. But I do have a problem with some shark fishing for two reasons.

      Firstly, any shark which is part of a protected species should be off limits - just like any other protected species should be off limits from any form of extraction or culling activitity.

      Secondly, large sharks are totally unsuitable for eating and no-one fishes for large sharks for food - they do it for sport and for trophies. I have a huge problem with that. If you want to catch sharks for food, stick to the food species such as school sharks and leave the large animals alone.

      report
    9. Wade Macdonald

      Technician

      In reply to Nick Kermode

      Nick, I think you are being deliberately obtuse. Clearly I am stating that I don't think a shark should be killed for attacking a human. That is not the same as someone catching a shark for human consumption.

      report
    10. Wade Macdonald

      Technician

      In reply to Mike Swinbourne

      Mike if you were a fishermen you would understand that what shark type/size decides to take your bait is not always under your control so how do you make such actions 'off limits'. I hear plenty of people claim they are fishermen but post uninformed comments such as you do and this makes such 'fishermen' claims hard to believe.

      report
    11. Mike Swinbourne

      logged in via Facebook

      In reply to Wade Macdonald

      Absolute bloody nonsense Wade. It would appear that it is you who are making the incorrect claim about being a fisherman given such an ignorant statement about target species when fishing.

      I have never caught a great white using cockles for bait on a 10lb line and size 6 hooks. So you do actually have some control over what size fish takes your bait.

      And here's another piece of news for you given you have no idea about fishing. We have these things called size limits - and if the fish you catch is too small you aren't allowed to keep it. And guess what? You can apply exactly the same restrictions to non-target species as well. If it is the wrong species you 'throw it back'. I do it all the time when I catch toadies when fishing for whiting.

      Pretty damn obvious really.

      report
    12. Mike Swinbourne

      logged in via Facebook

      In reply to Nick Kermode

      Thanks for that Nick - I take your point about school sharks. And thanks for the video - beautiful photography.

      I hate seeing fish dying slowly on the deck of a boat - which is why I always kill mine quickly after I catch them.

      report
    13. Nick Kermode

      logged in via email @hotmail.com

      In reply to Mike Swinbourne

      Yeah me too Mike, unfortunately doing that is just not logistically possible for commercial fishermen. Many are making big efforts that video does not reflect though. I think that kind of imagery is important to see even though it is upsetting for the people who have had a different kind of experience with these animals.
      There will be people closely watching what is going on in WA, cameras at the ready. Hopefully some footage emerges that really motivates people to help stop the stupidity.
      These drum lines seem like inviting people down the pub of an afternoon then killing them because they "may" drive home after a few and "may" kill an innocent person just having a walk.

      report
    14. Nick Kermode

      logged in via email @hotmail.com

      In reply to Wade Macdonald

      If you say what you mean it would be much easier Wade. Sorry I am a very literal person.

      report
    15. Mike Swinbourne

      logged in via Facebook

      In reply to Nick Kermode

      Exactly right Nick.

      If you put a baited hook in the water then you are actually attracting the sharks in, not just doing something about ones that might happen to be in the area.

      And I hope there are people with cameras at the ready. And I hope they publish photos of any non-target species which are hooked by the drum lines. As much as I prefer it not to happen, a couple of pictures of dolphins caught on the lines - and they are most definitely caught - might wake up the public to stop this practice.

      For info, here are the numbers which are caught in South Africa on drum lines:
      http://www.shark.co.za/ReducingMortalities

      report
    16. Wade Macdonald

      Technician

      In reply to Mike Swinbourne

      "I have never caught a great white using cockles for bait on a 10lb line. So you do actually have some control over what size fish takes your bait."

      More non sequiturs Mike. I am sure you have never used large baits for bronze whalers and caught a tuna or and mako shark instead otherwise you would have understood my response and agreed that some things are out of a fishermens control.

      Instead you read straight out of the playbook of a navel gazer who needs to push some irrelevant analogy about cockles and 10lb line.

      Pretty damn obvious really.

      report
    17. Nick Kermode

      logged in via email @hotmail.com

      In reply to Mike Swinbourne

      Thanks for those links Mike, yes it is all very depressing. On the Gold Coast 45% of animals caught by the shark control program are bycatch and of the 55% that are actually sharks over 80% are sharks not considered dangerous to humans. Then of the 20% that are, 95% of those are not of a size that they say they are "targeting". This is on top of the fact they are now "targeting" an endangered, protected species. Go figure.

      report
    18. Imelda J

      RN Bsc Dip Journ

      In reply to Paul Prociv

      Similar situation to the bat culls that occur on the east coast.

      report
    19. Nick Kermode

      logged in via email @hotmail.com

      In reply to Joe Smythe

      Yeah, I agree mate. Why would you listen to the people who have spent their life in the ocean and all them "scientific" experts?

      Best, Nick

      report
    20. Joe Smythe

      Fisherman

      In reply to Nick Kermode

      To compound the illogicality of the shark cull plan, as you and Mike have pointed out these drum lines will catch a lot of smaller sharks, in this case " large" (4-6 ft and above) bronze whalers. Several years ago a maximum size limit was put upon these to protect the breeding stock which fisheries judged to be in danger of a collapse if they sustained a mortality rate of as little as 2%, our commercial fishery being reliant on catching juvenile sharks produced by a protected breeding stock. Furthermore…

      Read more
    21. Nick Kermode

      logged in via email @hotmail.com

      In reply to Joe Smythe

      Thanks very much for another great post. It is really interesting to have someone actually involved in these issues on a daily basis and with inside knowledge posting.
      It is also great to hear that many of the professional shark fishermen you spoke to are against this. I guess we can add them to an already long list of people with experience and expertise the government have completely ignored :-/

      report
    22. Joe Smythe

      Fisherman

      In reply to Nick Kermode

      Hi Nick, thanks for that. I've read Callum Roberts exellent book "The Unnatural History Of the Sea" and read up on MPA's elsewhere in the world and firmly believe they have there place in fishery management including in Australia but I believe the MPA plan as devised by the former government was more about politics than effective management.
      As for sharks I heard this week from my father who spoke to WA's leading shark management researcher who says they are seeing signs of recovery in the bronze whaler stock and whiskery sharks though thickskins are still depleted. The price of shark fins has collapsed following developments in China, thus removing a lot of the incentive to kill large sharks in Australia at least

      report
    23. Rebecca Graves

      Teacher

      In reply to Wade Macdonald

      I live near one of those beaches and it wasn't some green group but the residents who were sick of sharks being dragged to the beach thrashing and biting. The jetty is right in front of the cafes and restaurants and is the popular area of the beach, being right next to the Surf Life Saving Club and where they patrol. This beach is very popular with kids as it is a very calm beach with sand bars and tidal pools making it ideal for kids. There are other beaches and jetties people can go to if they want to drag sharks onto beaches for their photo moment.

      report
    24. Rebecca Graves

      Teacher

      In reply to Mike Swinbourne

      At the beaches in Adelaide Wade is referring they were dragged to the beach among throngs of beach goers, particularly kids. Residents here just got sick of it.

      report
    25. Wade Macdonald

      Technician

      In reply to Rebecca Graves

      Your kids safety is not in danger because of the shark fishermen. You just can't handle the reality that seeing a shark brings. The sharks are there anyway.

      Adelaide beaches will become ghost towns. No jetskis, no boats, no windsurfing, no kayaks, no fishing, no cricket.

      Swimmers want exclusive access including entering the marine environment without the threat of sharks such is there cognitive rigidity.

      report
    26. Wade Macdonald

      Technician

      In reply to Rebecca Graves

      My 5 year old son is fine with it as i explain the catch and release process of beach fishing. If other adults cannot rationalise common sense into their kids that is their problem.

      report
    27. Wade Macdonald

      Technician

      In reply to Rebecca Graves

      Rebecca tell the truth, the shark took the fishermen along the beach and the crowds came to witness capture. I don't believe your scenario.

      report
    28. Mike Swinbourne

      logged in via Facebook

      In reply to Wade Macdonald

      I guess that makes you really tough Wade, if you can drag a shark onto a beach and have your photo taken with it.

      And here, all this time, I thought you were a fisherman. When all this time all you are is a little boy with a small penis who needs to prove his masculinity.

      report
    29. Wade Macdonald

      Technician

      In reply to Mike Swinbourne

      Mike you are a fraud. I don't target sharks but i have caught a couple while beach fishing for salmon and mulloway.

      If you had half a brain you would be able to cope with that reality. Instead you denigrate your own public character through you immature response.

      report
    30. Rebecca Graves

      Teacher

      In reply to Wade Macdonald

      What about the scenario don't you believe? Do you know Henley Beach and where the jetty is located? Maybe you should look it up on Google. You will see people naturally gather around and under the jetty as I said because it is next to where the Surf LifeSavers patrol, directly in front of cafes and restaurants and offers shade. Because it is not a surf beach it attracts a lot of young kids. The fishermen and crabbers tend to be located at the mid point and end of the jetty where there is more of…

      Read more
    31. Rebecca Graves

      Teacher

      In reply to Wade Macdonald

      It really wasn't that different it was just that I made the assumption that you knew about why the ban at Adelaide beaches was made, that was sharks dragged along the jetty and you assumed fishermen were fishing from the beach rather than the jetty. No need to be rude.

      report
    32. Wade Macdonald

      Technician

      In reply to Rebecca Graves

      Rebecca there are many things I don't participate in or like but those that run around wanting everything banned are far ruder than me. You may not like seeing people fishing but that isn't their problem if it's legal, that is you wanting to control what you see in public. I don't like seeing pedestrians getting hit by cars but I don't call for a ban on pedestrians.

      report
    33. Rebecca Graves

      Teacher

      In reply to Wade Macdonald

      I never said that I don't like fishing or indeed shark fishing, I just don't like it near highly populated jetties.

      report
    34. Mike Swinbourne

      logged in via Facebook

      In reply to Wade Macdonald

      ".....If you had half a brain you would be able to cope with that reality...."

      I guess that's why you are able to cope with it Wade.

      report
    35. Mike Swinbourne

      logged in via Facebook

      In reply to Nick Kermode

      Thanks Nick

      I found that very interesting for a couple of reasons. Firstly, the conclusions that sharks may be more sensitive to fishing pressure and extinction is a cause for concern. But the finding that size appears to be poorly correlated to age is also interesting.

      What this means to sexual maturity would be interesting to discover. It might be a good thing - that sexually mature adults may also be small and hence some of the breeding adults might escape the culling process (if only sharks over 4m are targetted). But it also might be a bad thing if sexual maturity is related to size rather than age, and smaller sharks - despite their age - are not sexually mature and therefore only breeding adults would be subject to culling.

      report
    36. Nick Kermode

      logged in via email @hotmail.com

      In reply to Mike Swinbourne

      Glad you found it interesting Mike, I did also. Unfortunately what the research suggests to me, made clear in the last paragraph of the paper, is the latter of your hypotheses is most likely correct. Previous research has shown males reach maturity around 4m while females 4.5-5m so "targeting" any animal over 3m means they will be targeting only breeding animals, made worse now by the probable suggestion they have taken longer to reach maturity than first thought. This is very depressing news when coupled with what we are about to attempt to do them. I still hold hope for an eleventh hour reprieve but the government hasn't listened to any of the experts so far, so what do you think the likelihood is now?

      report
    37. Mike Swinbourne

      logged in via Facebook

      In reply to Nick Kermode

      I think the likelihood of a reprieve is about none-to-Buckley’s unfortunately. I guess the question is, what do we do from here?

      On the upside, the government in SA said that they would not do anything like that here – but of course that remains to be seen if and when someone gets killed by a shark near an Adelaide beach.

      It would appear that the WA government is immune to reason and evidence, so continuing down that path is a waste of time. I would put the options into three categories…

      Read more
  2. Allan Gardiner

    Dr

    Troy Buswell needs to be asked to explain that, if this targeting of sharks is not fear-driven, does this then mean that the culling of any other creatures at any time is always fear-driven? I feer..err..feel that Mr Buswell needs be targeted over his acting like a proper numbs_cull.

    report
  3. Angry Ginger

    logged in via Twitter

    There is an entirely different set of parameters between the WA situation and the Hawaii case so I think its mischievous to imply some sort of scientific analogy between the two.

    There is much anecdotal evidence, check WA surf lifesaving twitter feed, talk to someone in the south west of WA who surfs or dices or fishes or knows someone who has lost someone to an attack, there is something unprecedented happening off the WA coast. Look at the number of deaths over the past few years. I would argue…

    Read more
    1. Jarrod Chestney-Law

      logged in via Facebook

      In reply to Angry Ginger

      "The alternatives seem to be less sharks or more shark food - ie cull sharks or dramatically reduce seafood consumption."

      Both are unlikely. The highest probability is KILL THEM ALL! More food so we can continue to eat as we choose. No sharks so we can continue to waggle our fat, seafood gorged feet in the water.

      report
    2. Mike Swinbourne

      logged in via Facebook

      In reply to Angry Ginger

      "....There is much anecdotal evidence...."

      There is no such thing as 'anecdotal evidence'. There are anecdotes, and there is evidence. The phrase 'anecdotal evidence' is an oxymoron.

      "..... I would argue there's enough evidence to do something....."

      There is neither the evidence, nor do we have to do something. Just because a few people - and it is an absolutely miniscule number of people - got bitten by sharks is not a reason to do anything at all.

      One of the few valid points you raise…

      Read more
    3. Jane Rawson

      Editor, Energy & Environment at The Conversation

      In reply to Angry Ginger

      Hi, this previous article (and a few others: search 'sharks' on our site) look at the scientifically proven means for reducing shark bites. This article also suggests that in terms of number of people in the water, shark/human interactions off WA are lower than they used to be https://theconversation.com/how-to-prevent-shark-attacks-20890

      report
  4. Chris Gillham

    Journalist

    In 1981, the Albany skipper of Australia's last whaling boat predicted that shark attacks in WA would increase as the whale population recovered.

    He wasn't being bitter about the closure of his industry. He was simply pointing out that white pointers in particular are the primary hunters and scavengers of whales, and where there are more whales there'll be more sharks. He spent decades chasing whales and watching the leviathan sharks that were always stalking in the background.

    It took about…

    Read more
  5. Daniel Boon

    logged in via LinkedIn

    Politicians (and do-gooders) do far more damage to humans than all the sharks combined .....

    report
  6. Nick Kermode

    logged in via email @hotmail.com

    “We are living in an interminable succession of absurdities imposed by the myopic logic of short-term thinking.”

    Jacques-Yves Cousteau

    report
  7. Shirley Birney

    logged in via email @tpg.com.au

    The culling of terrestrial or marine animals means little to WA’s government. FOI revelations published in 2011 revealed that the Gorgon project on Barrow Island had resulted in the deaths of 1550 threatened and vulnerable species. Several of the critters were wiped out by workers stepping on them while others were trapped in pits or stuck between pipes or crushed during land clearing. However, Mr Barnett’s Department of Environment and “Conservation” said that no fines would be issued because…

    Read more
    1. Shirley Birney

      logged in via email @tpg.com.au

      In reply to Shirley Birney

      Sorry, "within 12 nautical miles of WA’s coastline" should read beyond 12 nautical miles of WA's coastline.

      report
  8. Bob Bingham

    Mr.

    Australians have a phobia about sharks and see them as a threat to their way of life. I was appalled the discover that the shark nets at Surfers paradise do not keep the sharks out but just kill them to keep the numbers down to reduce attack and are seen to be 'doing something'.
    The natural World is under threat from our activities and any senseless killing is a real affront to life.

    report
  9. Paul Mahony

    Campaigner

    I wonder if the WA government will confiscate and destroy all cars in the state in an effort to reduce the number of people killed on the roads.

    report
  10. Al Black

    Business Analyst

    If our children want to swim or surf, I don't buy into the idiotic idea that the sea belongs to sharks and we have no "right" to enter their domain. Sea, Earth and Sky - it is all ours to manage. I don't want sharks driven into extinction, just ones big enough to kill humans harvested from popular swimming and surfing areas. We have a right to protect ourselves and our children from these ocean-going killing machines. My objection to the cull is that the WA government is going to spend Taxpayer's…

    Read more
    1. Allan Gardiner

      Dr

      In reply to Al Black

      Well-noted on the "suffers" Al, but "sufferers" would be closer to the bone[crunch]. Your proposals all sound good in theory but there's too much mercury in large sharks, so a size limit already exists for sharks taken for human consumption. The one good thing that can always be said for White Pointers is that they are very fair-minded, in that they're nasty to everyone. There could be a rather lucrative opening here for a shark whisperer. Swim vigilantly and carry a well-equipped amphibious assault battalion with you, but don't fire upon them until you see the whites of their ey..err..teeth.

      report
  11. Neil Whyte

    Health retreat Manager

    Never said that I am embarrassed to be a Western Australian, but I can't help feeling a bit like this to the rest of the world looking upon us.
    Normally men can think logically, but Colin Barnett has obviously failed in this department - which normally means that a woman( or women) perhaps have emotionally captured him sold him hook, line and sinker - to the point where can't think logically with his other head above his shoulders.
    When someone uses the word ' hopefully', its quite clear that…

    Read more
  12. Comment removed by moderator.