‘Don’t kill the sharks!’ – an open letter to Western Australian politicians

With a bit of public education, more people will learn when swimming should be avoided. EPA/Nic Bothma

Three recent shark attacks in Western Australian waters have led some politicians in WA to request the culling of the sharks involved, and the increase of fisheries quotas for sharks.

What no politician has mentioned is that the likelihood of being attacked by a shark is very low. This holds true both globally and locally, in Western Australia.

As a result, myself and Mr. Ryan Kempster have created an open letter and collected signatures from more than 100 professionals who work with sharks and rays on a daily basis, and also some members of the general public. Additionally, an online petition was also set up, which has so far collected roughly 19,000 signatures.

By collecting signatures from the general public, the letter (and petition) shows there are many people around the world who care strongly about how sharks are treated. More importantly, we believe politicians should pay attention to shark experts – experts who believe the culling of sharks is ineffective.

Our opposition to culling sharks is based on several facts:

  • The identification of a “man eater” shark is not possible while the shark is still alive, as its stomach needs to be cut open and the contents viewed.

As a result, culling sharks after an attack will lead to many innocent sharks being killed, possibly without finding the shark responsible for the attack.

  • Culling sharks is merely a cosmetic solution to the problem of shark attacks. Public education and shark avoidance are measures with long-lasting effects that will ensure the friendly co-existence of sharks and humans.

After all, we are only visitors in the ocean, which is not our native habitat.

  • Non-invasive methods such as aerial patrols have been proven to work in minimising, even further, the small chance of a shark attack.
AAP/Jack Atley

Such patrols are in use in South Africa, and have also been in use in Western Australia. However, recent media reports suggest the patrols have been halted, as no funding is available.

Shortly after the tragic third attack on a diver, Mr. Wainwright, a Channel 7 helicopter flew over a near beach on Rottnest Island and took an aerial photograph of a three-metre-long shark.

This photograph proves sharks are visible from aerial patrols and that patrols can be used to warn people of a potentially dangerous, large shark nearby.

  • The general public needs to be educated to avoid the various conditions under which the small chance of a shark attack is increased.

These conditions, such as dirty or turbid water, are outlined by the Australian Shark Attack File.

In Australia, white pointers are also protected by the Environmental Protection and Biodiversity Conservation (EPBC) Act and by various pieces of state legislation.

Thus every measure should be taken to protect these animals. Increasing fishing quotas or even calling for the introduction of fishing quotas for this species is an international issue, as these animals make transoceanic migrations, and global populations appear to be linked.

PHYLOMON!

On Friday October 21 we sent our letter to several politicians in Western Australia, including the WA Premier Colin Barnett, the Fisheries Minister Norman Moore, the Mayor of Cottesloe Kevin Morgan and the Perth Mayor Lisa Scaffidi.

To date, we have not received a response to the letter. But we still hope it will influence the decisions these politicians make and the opinions they voice in public.