One of the main justifications for the recent shark cull trial in Western Australia has been made through drawing on the results of the long-standing shark mitigation programs in both Queensland and New South Wales. Once you delve into the realities of the shark control programs in each of these states, it is simple to determine that other avenues would prove much more effective at both protecting swimmers from an already minimal risk of shark accident, and safeguarding fragile marine ecosystems for generations to come.
The History of Queensland’s Shark Control Program
The largest shark cull program in Australia began in Queensland in 1962, when the government installed drum lines and shark nets along popular beaches in the Sunshine Coast, Gold Coast and Cairns. Townsville and Mackay followed in 1963, when devices to capture and kill marine life were installed in these locations, including around Magnetic Island on Australia’s Great Barrier Reef. The program grew as Rockhampton (1969), Bundaberg (1973), Rainbow Beach (1974), Tannum Sands (1983) and Point Lookout (1984) were all to follow as the years passed on. As of 2014, there is a total of more than 360 drum lines and 30 shark nets deployed along the coast, which cause death and injury to thousands of marine animals each year. Many drum lines and shark nets are situated within marine protected areas along the Queensland coast, including the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park, Great Sandy Straits Marine Park and Moreton Bay Marine Park. All drum lines and a majority of shark nets are in place all year round in Queensland.
Initially, the program was installed as a direct result of a number of fatal shark incidents in 1962, when the Queensland Government decided that they needed to act to protect swimmers and other beach goers from a similar fate, and the culling of target shark species regardless of the indiscriminate nature of the devices was the solution decided upon. However, as marine scientists and shark behavioural experts have found through the installation of shark control equipment in places such as Hawaii, the number of large sharks present in the waters off the coastline of an area does not necessarily have a correlated effect upon the rate of shark incidents in that location.
Moreover, the reason for the programs’ installation should come under scrutiny. The circumstances surrounding the incidences in 1962 that sparked enough controversy to implement the Queensland shark control program, show us that we need to look into the individual cases of shark incidents to learn how to minimize risks.
Baited drum lines and shark nets set 300m - 500m from the coastline do not provide a screen to ensure complete safety of the general public using Queensland beaches. Experts have often warned that using baited hooks to attract feeding sharks close to beaches could potential increase the risk of human-shark encounters. Many sharks in Queensland have also been found in shark control equipment sporting large bite marks or body parts missing, indicating that larger sharks are using baited drum lines and nets as a means to prey upon animals already caught on the devices. Shark nets used in Queensland are at a length of 186 metres and, contrary to popular belief do not provide a complete barrier or enclosure to ensure swimmer protection. In fact, many sharks and other marine animals caught in shark nets off Queensland are found along the ‘beach side’ of the net.
Queensland’s History of Shark Incidents
Between the years 1853 and 2013, at least 71 people were involved in fatal shark incidents off the coast of Queensland. A majority of these have been attributed to tiger sharks, with only a single fatality attributed to a great white shark in over 160 years.
There has been a significant decline in fatal shark incidents in Queensland, however contrary to many reports in mainstream media and some official websites, this declining rate of fatal shark incidents cannot be said to be the result of the installation of drum lines and shark nets during the 1960s, 70s and 80s. In fact, the rate of fatalities had begun to decrease 40 years prior to the implementation of a shark control program in Queensland. Even in areas that do not possess SCP equipment, a decrease in fatalities of 28% has been observed since.
Furthermore, there has been no additional reduction in fatalities in the state since the program began in 1962, despite half a century of increasing drum line and shark net deployments. The fact that members of parliament and councils attempt to claim that the shark control program has been a success is quite misleading, considering that 83% of drum lines in Queensland have been deployed along locations where a fatal shark accident has never occurred. It is quite easy for the government and media to add comments claiming that the program has rendered beaches safer when there had never been a documented threat to swimmers posed by sharks in the decades previous.
Something that should also be mentioned is the tragic death of a woman in 2006 at Amity Point, an area where drum lines are in place, thus proving that the shark control devices are no guarantee of safety whilst swimming in the ocean. In fact, in 1992, Queensland Shark Control Program gear was dislodged in a storm and entangled and killed an 8 year old boy whilst he was body-boarding off Nobby’s Beach on the Gold Coast. One could easily argue that the shark control program devices themselves pose a threat to swimmer safety by both leading beach goers into a false sense of security, and the threat of entanglement to humans.
One of the largest issues with the shark control program in Queensland is the significant damage it causes to marine life along the coastline. Shark nets and drum lines indiscriminately kill marine animals, that is, they capture and kill any species of marine life that swim too close to the 186m long shark nets, or that are attracted to the baited hooks on one of the 360+ drum lines up and down the coast. Over the course of 52 years, over 57,000 sharks of various species (most non-threatening to humans) have been caught in the shark control program and close to 30,000 other marine animals have been caught as ˜by-catch" including whales, dolphins, dugongs, seals, marine turtles, rays and other marine life.
The Western Australian Government sought to target Bull Sharks, Tiger Sharks and Great White Sharks of over 3m in 2014, whereas the Queensland Shark Control Program encompasses almost a dozen additional ‘target’ shark species- some of which have never been implicated in a fatal accident with a human. While the Queensland shark control program reportedly killed almost 12,000 tiger, bull and great white sharks between the years of 1975 and 2001, many other species are also unfairly targeted and labelled as ‘dangerous’ sharks by the Queensland Government and thus killed by government contractors. The targeted shark species in Queensland include:
- Great white shark (Carcharodon carcharias)
- Shortfin mako shark (Isurus oxyrinchus)
- Tiger shark (Galeocerdo cuvier)
- Bull shark (Carcharhinus leucas)
- Dusky shark (Carcharhinus obscurus)
- Spinner shark (Carcharhinus brevipinna)
- Pigeye shark (Carcharhinus amboinensis)
- Sandbar shark (Carcharhinus plumbeus)
- Sicklefin lemon shark (Negaprion acutidens)
- Silky shark (Carcharhinus falciformis)
- Great hammerhead shark (Sphyrna mokarran)
- Scalloped hammerhead shark (Sphyrna lewini)
- Smooth hammerhead shark (Sphyrna zygaena)
- Winged hammerhead shark (Eusphyra blochii)
The most recent available data shows us that over the last decade in Queensland (2001 - 2013), 6250 sharks were caught on drum lines alone. A yearly average of 480. 97% of these sharks considered to be at conservation risk according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), with 89% of the sharks caught being under 3m in length (Western Australia’s size requirement for a shark to be classified as a ‘threat’ to humans and subsequently killed). Furthermore, 89% of the sharks caught in Queensland since 2001 were captured in locations where no fatal shark incident has ever occurred.
Over the past 52 years, the Queensland Shark Control program has been responsible for killing 763 vulnerable Great White Sharks, an animal registered under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 as well as both the Appendix II of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Fauna and Flora (CITES) and on Appendices I and II of the Convention on Migratory Species (CMS). While Great Whites have only been known to be responsible for the death of one person in Queensland since 1853, reports indicate that there could be as few as 3,500 Great White Sharks left in the world’s oceans due to decades of overfishing. When also considering its impact on critically endangered Eastern Grey Nurse Shark populations, with 242 animals caught in the program over 52 years, it is easy to see how the current Queensland program continues to have a large and unnecessary impact on species with an already real threat of extinction.
Sea Shepherd highlights the large risk to more than 100 different marine species that the shark culling methods impact along the east coast of Australia as well as in Western Australia. Public outcry by locals in 2014 has been passionate, with many people living in Queensland and New South Wales only finding out for the first time that an extensive culling program has been in place in ‘their own backyard’ which acts only to appease the fear of people entering the ocean, falling short of offering any real shark mitigation solutions. Rallies with thousands of attendees and public forums have been held along the east coast to educate locals and to gain support for sharks and marine life conservation within Australia.
The Queensland Government states on it’s website:
“Nets do not prevent sharks from entering a particular area. They are, however, intended to catch 'resident sharks' and sharks that move through an area while feeding on bait fish. The SCP aims to reduce the number of potentially dangerous sharks in particular areas rather than create an impenetrable barrier against shark attack.”
Sea Shepherd believes that in an age where approximately 90% of large predatory marine animals have been wiped out of the ocean due to commercial fishing and other human activities, we have a duty to take care of our life support system. When it comes to protecting people who choose to enter the ocean for recreational reasons there are many more effective, non-lethal, ways in which we can increase swimmer safety, as well as ensure the safety of Australia’s fragile marine ecosystems. Sea Shepherd intends to see the end of shark culling in Australia, to make room for well-researched, non-lethal alternatives.
Learn more about the Queensland shark control program: