January 10, 2014
Western Australians Protest Against Shark Killings
Fatal shark attacks and plans to catch and destroy sharks off Australian beaches have brought authorities and environmentalists into conflict.
Sharks are a common sight around Australian coasts. Swimming from many of the country’s wonderful beaches is generally safe but the danger of shark attacks cannot be dismissed lightly. When I lived in Australia many years ago, there was a constant watch for sharks, including small aeroplanes patrolling the coast looking for them. I remember clearly my reaction when I heard the first shark alarm at a beach near Perth. I was a fair way out body surfing when the alarm went off. I thought I would stay calm, look cool, and slowly walk back to shore but when I saw everyone else scramble to get out as quickly as possible some deep primeval fear kicked in and I made an undignified flailing dash back to shore. So much for being cool. It was a false alarm like most, but I was always glad of those look-outs afterwards. A couple of years later, when I was staying in Broome, I used to swim in the turquoise sea there, but usually in the town’s shark-proof swimming cage. After seeing a lot of sharks around the area, particularly a huge 14 foot hammerhead off the jetty I was happy to swim in that cage. Sharks were not the only danger – jellyfish, the deadly stonefish, and numerous sea snakes made the beach users life a little more interesting than back in the UK. Then as now however, remote beaches were unpatrolled and you just took your chance.
With so many sharks around, attacks and fatalities do occur, and the most recent was only a month ago. A 19 year old bodyboarder, Zak Young, was killed by a shark near Coff’s Harbour in New South Wales. He was about 200 yards off shore when what was thought to be a Bull Shark attacked him while sitting on his board. His friends bravely took him back to shore but sadly he could not be saved. It must be said that attacks are rare in the area and one local lifeguard could only remember 2 attacks in his 35 years he has been there and they did not result in serious injuries. Only a week before Zak Young’s death, another young man was killed by a shark near Gracetown in Western Australia. 35 year old Chris Boyd, a father of two, died while surfing. His was the third fatal attack in the area in less than ten years. It was suspected that a Great White was involved in this case.
The Australian Shark Attack File shows there were 22 attacks and 2 deaths in 2012. Now, with such incidents in mind, western Australian authorities want to start catching and killing sharks to protect the State’s beaches. The plan is to install a number of drum lines, each with 72 baited hooks, off Perth’s beaches from January 10th this year. Any sharks caught which are over three metres long would be shot and the commercial fishermen who are contracted to carry out the job will dispose of them. Large numbers of people turned out to protest against the planned killings at Cottesloe Beach near Perth. There is concern among environmental experts that killing large numbers of sharks would upset the ecological balance in the marine ecosystem and that better prevention and deterrence methods are available. Some believe it will make matters worse as the dead sharks would attract more to the area. A further worry is that there will be significant collateral deaths among other species caught by the lines. But, in spite of the protests, the WA government plans to go ahead as it fears further shark attacks and fatalities put the public at risk and do not want the bad publicity that would bring. It is all very reminiscent of the dilemma at the heart of the old Jaws films but this is only too real.
Image Credit: Thinkstock