Sea Shepherd working together with the community to establish sustainable solutions to shark bite incidents
Around the world sharks are in big trouble, with over 90% of the world’s sharks wiped out through fishing, cruel shark finning and shark mitigation strategies. As a result, between 70 and 100 million sharks dies a year. Places where sharks have been wiped out have been drastically impacted by the loss, with effects ranging from the collapse of fisheries, coral reef growth being stunted, to oxygen depleted dead zones. As important apex predators, sharks have shaped marine life in the oceans for over 450 million years and are essential to the health of our oceans, and ultimately to the survival of humankind.
Sea Shepherd was founded by Captain Paul Watson in 1977 and since 2000, Sea Shepherd has maintained a strong and positive presence in the Galapagos Islands and has been honored to do so. These ‘Enchanted Isles’ are a UNESCO World Heritage Site. This means that all humanity has a responsibility to help protect them from illegal exploitation. Over the years Sea Shepherd has, among other things, supplied radio equipment to the park rangers and police and an Automatic Identification System (AIS) to monitor movements of fishing vessels, all in a bid to assist in stamping out the illegal poaching of sharks. Sea Shepherd has also provided education to schoolchildren about the importance of protecting sharks. And, of course, we initiated the K9 unit that is a partnership with the Galapagos police in an attempt to stop the illegal smuggling of wildlife.
Meanwhile, in Australia, three states have programs in place that kill sharks and other marine life species as a method to mitigate shark incidents/interactions. In 2014 Western Australia installed drum lines, joining Queensland, which uses both drum lines and shark nets, as well as News South Wales which just uses shark nets.
Despite the overall desire for the respective State Government’s to boast about these shark mitigation strategies, the reality is that there have been fourteen shark bites at New South Wales netted beaches since they were installed in 1937 and over six shark bites and one fatality in Queensland since 1962, where not one, but three bull sharks swum past the baited drum lines at Amity Point, off North Stradbroke Island to tragically bite a girl which resulted in a heartbreaking fatally.
Western Australia has only had drum lines in place for four months. Fortunately there has not been a shark incident since the drum lines were introduced, however during the trial, two sharks swum past the drum lines, causing beaches to close as the sharks drew as close as 50m from the shore line.
Regardless of the local, national and international outcry from the public regarding drum lines in Western Australia, elected leaders are unwilling to acknowledge that this suggested "solution" does not eliminate or even reduce the potential for future shark bites. Politicians responsible for the shark cull policy have displayed an unwillingness to explore other shark mitigation strategies, despite alternative solutions being available and the fact that these current initiatives are proving to be not only unsuccessful in mitigating shark incidents, but are also catching a wide range of non-target marine life indiscriminately, killing many of them.
The community has become more sophisticated and aware of marine conservation since the 1930s and the 1960s and has an understanding of how technology plays a pivotal role in providing alternative solutions. We are seeing a shift from myth to reality, where shark bites are being recognised as ungovernable events. The question is whether politicians will also swap easy myths for the hard truth and put forward initiatives base on science instead of emotion and hysteria.
Sea Shepherd has a presence in all three states where drum lines and nets are installed and has been monitoring and documenting these initiatives. Where necessary Sea Shepherd will expose the flaws of governing policies, applying pressure on politicians to make alternative choices to reduce shark bites in their state. This pressure recently resulted in the Western Australian Environmental Protection Authority to receive over 30,000 submissions and a decision to recommend that the Western Australian Government cease it’s desire to continue drum lining for the next three years.
Part of the solution is to liaise with the local population where drum lines and nets are installed, to provide them with an overview of the alternative mitigation options and for them to make informed decisions about what they want in their community.