26 October 2011

Experts petition cull of great white sharks

One hundred academics and professionals in the shark and stingray field have signed a letter of petition against the government of Western Australia's proposal to cull great white sharks.
great white shark

Despite being a protected Australian species, the Western Australian state government has called for the culling of great white sharks. Credit: iStockPhoto

SYDNEY: One hundred academics and professionals in the shark and stingray field have signed a letter of petition against the government of Western Australia’s proposal to cull great white sharks.

Following the death of American diver George Thomas Wainwright earlier this month in waters off Australia’s southwest coast, the state government has said it is looking at several measures to address the issue, which includes potentially permitting commercial fisherman to catch more sharks. This week the government gave the go-ahead for any great white sharks to be killed if they pose a threat to human life.

“This is an unprecedented situation where we’ve had three fatalities in a number of weeks,” said Western Australia (WA) Premier Colin Barnett. “This is not about being anti-shark – this is the domain of the shark – it’s simply about protecting the public.”

Not the solution

The academic petition letter against the shark culls and for non-lethal alternatives has accumulated over 5,000 signatures, and has been sent to Barnett, Fisheries Minister Norman Moore, Environment Minister William Marmion, Perth Lord Mayor Lisa Scaffidi and Cottesloe Mayor Kevin Morgan.

“The culling of any species of sharks is not the solution. Not only will this be indiscriminate killing of a protected Australian species (under both the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act and state legislation), there is no way of being sure the sharks caught will be those responsible for the attacks,” said Shaun Collin, a WA Premiers Research from the School of Animal Biology and UWA Oceans Institute at the University of Western Australia in Perth.

“Non-lethal shark protection measures such as spotter planes and patrol boats should substantially improve the ability to identify large sharks and enable swimmers and divers to avoid them. Australia (and especially WA) has one of the highest levels of biodiversity in the world. Culling sharks will upset the important role these apex predators play.”

No shark attack increase

Great white sharks (Carcharodon carcharias) have a distinctive torpedo-shaped body, pointed snout and large pectoral (on the side) and first dorsal fins (on the back). They have a lifespan of over 30 years and can grow up to 6 m long. They are found worldwide, including in waters from southern Queensland to north-western Western Australia.

According to Collin, there is no data to suggest that shark numbers are increasing off WA’s coastline, and that shark attacks in Australia have remained at a rate of approximately one per year for the last 50 years.

“There is no scientific evidence to suggest that the short time period between the recent attacks is a reflection of an increased population size of white sharks. It could simply be related to the seasonal fluctuation of the number of white sharks within specific areas and that white sharks might naturally be more often occurring around the populated Western Australian coastline at this time of the year,” said Charlie Huveneers, a shark ecologist from the South Australian Research and Development Institute and Flinders University in Adelaide.

“Although shark attacks are tragic events and are often highly mediatised, they are still very rare events with a low probability of occurrence. White sharks are also known to undertake very large migrations between South Australia and Ningaloo Reef on the west coast and off Rockhampton on the east coast. As a result, the culling of a few specimens within one location is unlikely to significantly reduce a risk of shark attack, which is already extremely low.”


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