Disturbing truth behind Australia’s shark nets

Photo credit: Nick Caloyianis, National Geographic

Photo credit: Nick Caloyianis, National Geographic

Shark nets and baited drum lines in Australia have killed thousands of marine animals in the bid to protect ocean users from shark attacks.

Since 1962, a staggering 84,800 marine animals have been caught in Queensland’s shark control program alone, including vulnerable and endangered species such as turtles and whales, as well as shark species that do not threaten human life. Over 9,000 unborn pups have been lost.

The Shark Files Queensland group is analysing catch data, made available after Sea Shepherd Australia’s freedom of information request.   

The Queensland Shark Control program covers 86 beaches using 30 shark nets and 360 drum lines with baited hooks. Shark nets sit 4 m below the surface and are not anchored to the seabed. Nets are designed to catch and kill sharks rather than provide an impenetrable barrier that keeps sharks out of an area.

Shark nets are indiscriminate killers. Bycatch includes fish, marine mammals, sea turtles, seabirds, and rays. Shark nets have even been erected in protected marine reserves such as the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park. In Queensland, only four species of shark are released if found alive: grey nurse, tawny, zebra, and whale sharks.

Animals caught on drum lines and in nets, including undersized sharks, non-threat sharks, and other marine animals, can suffer for hours before dying because nets are not patrolled regularly enough.

Sea Shepherd report that fatal shark attacks were decreasing before the shark control program began in 1962. There has been no additional reduction in fatalities in Queensland since then, even though drum lines and shark nets have increased. The program also targets a number of shark species that have not been implicated in a fatal attack.

Sea Shepherd Australia National Shark Campaign co-ordinator Natalie Banks is urging Queensland Fisheries Minister to review targeted species.

In addition to non-threat shark species, over 26,700 other marine animals, including 5,044 turtles, 18,110 rays, 1,014 dolphins, 689 dugongs, and 120 whales (all Australian government protected animals) have been caught by drum lines and shark nets, according to Sea Shepherd Australia. Turtles include endangered loggerhead and critically endangered hawksbill turtles.

To date, the program has killed 763 great white sharks. Yet fatal attacks by great white sharks are rare in Queensland. An internationally protected vulnerable species, great white shark populations are also decreasing due to fishing activities.

Apex predators are important to ecosystems and killing them has knock-on effects.   

With a lack of scientific evidence to support the shark control program, Sea Shepherd is calling on the Queensland government to consider non-lethal control measures such as Shark Spotter and capture, tag, release programs, and Eco shark barriers.

“It is time for Australia to move on from the 1930’s when shark nets were first installed in the country, and to embrace new technology which protects both ocean users and our precious marine life,” says Sea Shepherd’s Natalie Banks.

Read the full article at Nature in Mind 

Feature image credit: Grey nurse shark by Richard Ling on Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0) 

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Tracy is a freelance writer with special interest in scientific research and news on wildlife, the environment, animal welfare, and mental health. Follow my 'Nature in Mind' blog at www.tracybrighten.com and Twitter @TracyBrighten1

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