by Jonathan Clark – Apex Harmony Queensland Coordinator

Saturday 19th December, Sunshine Coast, Queensland, Australia

Australia tiger sharks on drum line. Photo: Sea ShepherdAustralia tiger sharks on drum line.
Photo: Sea Shepherd
On Saturday 19th December the Queensland Apex Harmony crew consisting of Adam Bomb, Glenn Paice, Paul Clarke and myself met at the Mooloolaba River having had a 4:30am start to the day. The weekend was the first time we have taken the Sea Shepherd RHIB out on the Sunshine Coast. I had taken a jet ski out almost a year prior, so had some familiarity with the area and conditions.

As with all these trips we accept the low chances of finding anything caught. And it raises a particular quandary… is it a success when we find something? Either way, it is always something that makes us angry and sad? We have to resolve this with the fact that when we find an animal caught in the equipment it is good for us in our mission to bring change. It galvanizes us into action and provides something to share with our community and the wider public. Obviously there is no causal link between our being out there and animals being caught. We feel the outrage when we find them, but we feel the success that we were there when we could do something about it… even if all that is, is to record and report.

We launched and headed straight out to Mudjimba Island finding it quite rough despite the good forecast. Cutting between Mudjimba and the beach we checked the first of the drum lines… finding no animals and suspecting a lack of bait too. But visibility was pretty poor in the cloudy and choppy conditions. Pushing north we found marine debris in the form of three onion bags and a cardboard box, which we duly retrieved. Working Sea Shepherd Marine Debris Campaign at the same time, with each piece of plastic taken out of the ocean, a potential life saved! We checked each of the drums and nets to Coolum before deciding to turn having been out for well over an hour in rough conditions, despite wishing we could run all the way to Noosa.

A pretty rough trip back confirmed my thoughts that we were at the limit of conditions to be running this boat in. Visibility was poor and so the chances of finding catch and by-catch was thus reduced.

We rounded Mudjimba and headed for the beach at Twin Waters and checked lines and nets to Maroochydore where the nets were set loose and looking quite shabby with plenty of growth, indicating that the gear may not be changed as frequently as it is supposed to be. One surprise was the difference in gear compared to the Gold Coast where drum lines have yellow buoys and nets each have three orange buoys and yellow floats. On the Sunshine Coast, the nets also have yellow buoys making it a little less easy to distinguish from a distance.

We tried our pinger testing procedure where we lower a GoPro into the water and cut the engine for a minute. We are trying to ensure that each of the nets have operational pingers as they are supposed to. The pingers are supposed to deter whales and dolphins from the nets.

So completing the check south as far as Mooloolaba Beach we debated whether to call it a day after two and a half hours of rough seas. It was decided to check around Point Cartright as I knew it was close and there were drum lines there. The first drum line at first, looked as though it had white line on it but it started to look suspicious as we checked and rechecked. Lesson: You cannot tell from the motion of the buoy. But we agreed it looked like a shark on the line. Adam was quick to don a mask and check. A small shark was just hanging vertically and quite still; it was dead. And it was so small,  probably only one metre long.

I was busy keeping the boat angled into the waves and a safe distance from Adam. Adam’s anger and sadness was evident. But I go back to my thoughts about success on these missions – and that’s measured by our being there when there is something caught and being able to document.

We used a pole we had on board to cable tie to the camera pole to enable a closer reach. After a commendable effort, it was a pretty tired Adam that climbed aboard when we had decided we had got the best footage we could.

With the shark being dead, we decided not to call the authorities, as it would have made no difference. In retrospect this is something we will change. In future we will call regardless, so that we can also document their actions in every case we can.

This was my first shark on a drum line. I have seen one in a net before – that too was just a small shark that posed no threat. And previously I found an eagle ray in a Maroochydore net. So the mission continues, and will do so until we convince our government to replace these archaic instruments of marine destruction and replace them with non-lethal technologies and personal responsibility.

Jonathan Clark
Qld Coordinator of Sea Shepherd Apex Harmony 

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