The shark cull in Western Australia

Initially, I was going to stay quiet about this ordeal in Australia, thinking that it would probably not last for very long pr the plan might never get implemented because they came to their senses.

I was wrong.

For those that don’t know, Western Australia, in response to the whopping 1.1 shark attacks per year (on average) will be catching and killing Great White sharks on “high profile” beaches in order to make them “safer”.  They will place baited drumlines 1km offshore from these beaches; any  white, tiger, or bull shark over 3m (9.8 ft) will be killed.  

Oh boy, where do I begin??

Let’s start with the notion that this will make beaches safer.  By removing all large sharks from these areas you do reduce the possibility of a human-shark interaction.  The reality is however, that by baiting, you are potentially drawing in sharks from remote areas.  It is well known that sharks have an extremely keen sense of smell, and with their inquisitive nature they will go to investigate these smells.  So while you are killing the large sharks swimming near these beaches, you are also likely drawing in sharks from remote areas, so the beaches might not end up as “safe” as they think. 

So, these stats are way overused …. but I believe this is so because they make sense:

There are an average of 5 … yes, 5 … shark-related fatalities each year. 

Things that kill more people annually than sharks: toasters, dogs, and VENDING MACHINES (it’s a very long list, but these were my favorite)

Beyond probably not being as effective as they would want, shark culling is ecologically irresponsible, and I have no idea how such a ludicrous idea has been approved.  Sharks have an important role in the ecosystem, they help keep everything in check.  They are what we call a “keystone species” (This post is sounding eerily similar to one that I wrote a couple months ago).  Without sharks, their environments would go through dramatic shifts, and there would be complete havoc in the oceans for a while, causing many species to go extinct along the way.  We don’t know very much about white shark reproduction.  However, we do not need to know details to know that removing sharks over 3m in length means removing individuals who are reproductively active (or close to it).  They take a relatively long time to reach maturity, have a lengthy gestation period, and do not give birth to large numbers of offspring (this is not all fact, some is theoretical based on knowledge of related species).  Adding all of this together, it is pretty clear that removing individuals from the breeding population is a BAD idea.  

This isn’t just some “we love sharks, please don’t kill them” campaign … there are reasons why knowledgable sharks scientists have spoken out against this.  

Doing this gives people the wrong idea.  It makes the general public think that killing sharks is acceptable.  Do yourself a favor and read “Wildlife Wars” by Richard Leakey, while it is primarily about Elephants, the ideas of wildlife management are still applicable.  The killing of sharks, for food, sport, or fear is a major issue worldwide.  There are an estimated 100 million sharks killed annually (yes, reread that and let it sink in).  By giving the approval to kill sharks in this instance, others will believe they can justify doing the same thing in other areas.   How do you tell people “No” after this?  How do you keep the floodgates from opening?  This practice is already being done in 3 other locations, all of which should also be stopped.

 “The Unnatural History of the Sea” by Callum Roberts (a book that talks about the history of overfishing, and is extremely eye opening) gives an insight to how plentiful fish used to be in our oceans.  Populations are shells of their former selves due to our overexploitation, and this cull will not help as we desperately try to restore balance to the ocean.

Another example we frequently use is the “man and a lion”.  If a man is walking through a savannah and gets mauled by a lion, we say “Well he probably shouldn’t have been walking through the savannah”.  We do not say “Hey guys, let’s go kill that lion, and we’ll get a few more just to be sure”.  This is the mentality we take when someone gets attacked by a shark, and I can’t figure out why.  Whether you agree or not, that water is their territory, we are not built for life in the ocean.  Each time you step foot in the ocean, you step into a different world, accepting the metaphorical terms and conditions of the sea.  A prominent feature of those conditions reads something like this “I hereby accept the fact that there are things living here that could scratch,bite, or sting me”.

I have been fortunate enough to have seen and interacted with white sharks, tiger sharks, and bull sharks.  They are beautiful creatures that, beyond their ecological importance, are stunning to watch and are marvels of evolution.  They deserve our respect and admiration, and a shark cull goes against everything we conservationists are aiming for.  

There is no such thing as a “responsible” shark cull … because the act of culling is irresponsible in and of itself.  

Here is the contact page for the man largely behind this: Colin Barnett  I urge people to email (politely!) 

It is also sad to see that there has been a Facebook group created in support of this act: click here to see it … again, I stress that any objections should be polite and respectful.

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About mdnichol87

Marine Biologist studying towards a Master's in Conservation and Biodiversity at the University of Exeter.
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