In response to seven fatal shark attacks over a three year time span, government officials in Western Australia (WA) implemented a cull. During a preliminary 13-week period from January to April this year, 172 sharks were caught on a series of baited drum lines. As per the policy, sharks over 3 meters long were killed with no regard to species. A total of 68 sharks were killed during this time frame. WA’s government had hoped to continue the program for at least 3 more years, but the Environmental Protection Agency recommended against it last week, halting the cull. The government has until September 25 to appeal the decision, though it is not likely to do so.
The announcement followed a public environmental review about how the program would affect threatened species, including the great white shark. The cull also caused international outcry, leading to thousands protesting on Perth beaches and collecting over 25,000 signatures on petitions against the culling measure.
“Despite the proponent’s best efforts to make conservative and plausible estimates, the advice received from the [Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization] stated there remained too much uncertainty in the available information and evidence about the south-western white shark population, population trends and the bycatch from commercial fisheries,” EPA Chairman Paul Vogel stated.
As the EPA’s objective for marine life is to “maintain the diversity, geographic distribution and viability of fauna at the species and population levels,” there wasn’t sufficient evidence that the the cull program would allow the agency to uphold that mission. None of the sharks that were caught on the drum lines were great whites, but 94% were tiger sharks. Tiger sharks are a near threatened species, and have not been responsible for a fatal attack in the region since 1929.
Vogel stressed that the decision came purely from an environmental standpoint, and did not factor in how the program would or wouldn’t promote public safety. Even without the cull, there are other ways to keep Australian swimmers safer. One plan involves tagging sharks with sensors that will automatically update a Twitter account to alert beaches of a predator’s whereabouts. There are numerous other non-violent methods that will keep humans away from large sharks without threatening any species.
Not only will the program cease to be funded and maintained, but the drum lines are actually being removed from the water. This will prevent animals from accidentally becoming injured or killed by the discarded fishing gear. Drum lines and nets are still used elsewhere around Australia, though many conservationists hope that their use will also be discontinued.