Call to action in defence of ‘Bruce’, the Great White Shark
by Jeff Hansen, Managing Director Sea Shepherd Australia
In response to a number of recent shark accidents that tragically resulted in fatalities, the West Australian (WA) government has announced their shark mitigation policy, or in layman’s terms, their cull of Great White Sharks. This is being led by the Hon. Premier Barnett and, at the time, by acting Fisheries Minister Troy Buswell.
Carcharodon Carcharias is the scientific name for the Great White Shark. It is listed on the IUCN (International Union for the Conservation of Nature) Red List and is a protected species, vulnerable to extinction. Little is know about the Shark’s population, habits and migration routes, and almost nothing is known about their reproduction. They take over 15 years to reach maturity, with a maximum life span believed to be more than 30 years. They carry their babies or pups for 11 months before birth but it is unknown how often or how long they reproduce after reaching maturity.
The Great White Shark is an Australian icon, also known as Great White, White Pointer and White Shark. The Shark is depicted in the animated film Finding Nemo as the character ‘Bruce’, voiced by Australian actor Barry Humphries, and Australia’s legendary golfer Greg Norman is also known by the name ‘Great White Shark’.
Below is an excerpt from Guidelines for fishing for sharks posing an imminent threat to public safety:
‘One of the policies created the potential for a protected shark species to be taken before a fatal attack where it is deemed to be posing an imminent threat to public safety.
This policy only applies in State waters, (typically within three nautical miles of shore) where the relevant Minister has issued an appropriate exemption for this purpose. The policy does not apply in Commonwealth waters where a similar exemption would be required from the Federal Environment Minister.’
‘Imminent threat’ in this context means that any shark over three metres long that comes near a popular designated beach will be killed by contracted commercial fishermen. As well, drum-lines will be deployed 1 kilometre off popular beaches. Drum-lines consist of a buoy with two lines attached to it, one anchored to the sea floor and the other, a baited hook, aimed to catch and kill large sharks. However, other marine life such as turtles, seals and dolphins are often indiscriminately and tragically killed by the drum-lines.
In 2012 a report <Link ‘report’ to: http://www.fish.wa.gov.au/Documents/occasional_publications/fop108.pdf >was prepared for the Department of Fisheries, Western Australia, by Bond Universities, Associate Professor, Daryl McPhee. The report was titled Likely effectiveness of netting or other capture programs as a shark hazard mitigation strategy in Western Australia.
The report advised against particular shark control activities, stating that, "due to the environmental impacts of shark control activities, it is not recommended that either shark nets or drum-lines be introduced into Western Australia." The report also confirmed that the proposed methods of shark control do kill turtles, dolphins, seals and other marine life.
Putting things into perspective
The top 20 things that on average kill people more than sharks each year:
- Obesity - kills 30,000 people annually
- Lightning - kills 10,000 people annually
- Texting while driving kills 6,000 people annually
- Hippopotamus - kill 2,900 people annually
- Airplanes - kill 1,200 people annually
- Volcanoes - kill 845 people annually
- Falling out of bed - kills 450 people annually
- Bathtubs - kill 340 people annually
- Deer - kill 130 people annually
- Falling icicles - kill 100 people annually just in Russia
- Hot dogs - kill 70 children annually
- Jelly fish - kill 40 people annually
- Dogs - kill 30 people annually - just in the USA
- Ants - kill 30 people annually
- USA High school football - kills 20 people annually
- Vending machine falling on people when they shake them - kills 13 people annually
- Roller coasters - kill 6 people annually
- SHARKS - kill 5 people annually
So judging by this new imminent threat policy, what is the WA government going to be calling for the cull of next? Given dogs kill on average 6 times more people that sharks, does that mean any dog found to be within certain radius of a human can be posted as imminent threat? This is a ridiculous policy based on a knee jerk reaction with no scientific basis whatsoever.
Lets not forget humans kill 100 million sharks a year. Who is really is the monster here?
Shark accidents, not attacks
The simple fact is that millions of people every day enter the ocean worldwide. The small number of human deaths per year that occur from encounters with sharks is a true testament to the sharks’ intelligence. We are not the food of sharks and if they wanted to eat us, they would be doing so every single day. We are slow and would be an easy meal compared to a fast moving seal, but we are not the food they are looking for.
Sharks are highly sensory driven animals that rely on their sensors for their survival. They are constantly learning and feeling out what is happening in their ocean environment. When we humans see something new, we look, smell, touch to feel it, however, sharks don’t have hands, so the only way they can do this is to feel with their mouth. There have been cases of an empty surfboard floating on top of the water and a shark will come up and give the board an investigative bite. Shark bites are of an investigative nature, however tragically, these bites may have a fatal result.
There is a massive difference between how a shark attacks a known food source, such as a seal, and an investigative bite from a shark. These shark related tragedies are shark accidents, not shark attacks.
Making Matters Worse
The killing of sharks that are over three metres in length means the removal of mature sharks in WA waters, which will have a catastrophic impact on the recovery of the species. The killing of Great White Sharks as proposed by the WA state government is in direct contradiction to Australian National Environmental Law, specifically the EPBC Act (Environment Protection and Biodiversity Act) which specifies that the Great White Shark is vulnerable to extinction, and under which a Recovery Plan for the Shark has been developed.
In some locations the removal of older, wiser and territorial sharks means that smaller and less experienced sharks will move into an area. This can also lead to more investigative bites as the younger ones learn about their ocean environment and the objects within it.
A Celebration of Nature
There have been a number of people saying that because more Great Whites are being sighted, it means that there are more sharks and therefore their status needs to be reevaluated. The simple reason we are seeing more sharks is because the population of WA is increasing and more people are using the ocean and more people are looking for sharks. It’s as simple as that.
Another point is that we should be celebrating that we have this massive nature spectacle right off the West Australian coast. The Humpback Whale population is now estimated in excess of 30,000, seal numbers are increasing and with that increase in numbers and massive migration of the Humpbacks comes the predators, hunting for the sick, injured, young and vulnerable prey. Those predators are the Great Whites and Orcas (also known as Killer Whales). When so much of our world’s ocean biodiversity is being wiped out, we should be celebrating the fact we have this massive spectacle of nature that rivals that of the African plains with the huge migration of the Wildebeests being pursued by lions and hyenas. If a lion in Africa attacked someone, would we be asking for a cull of lions? The West Australian coast exhibits nature on a grand scale and that surely is something to celebrate!
Tourism is being culled by shark accidents in Australia
Statements that the recent shark accidents in WA are causing a decline in tourism are completely false. Statistics from Tourism Australia state that there were 6.4 million visitor arrivals for the year ending October 2013, which is an increase of 5.4 percent relative to the previous year. The reason that West Australia, and especially Perth, may not be getting its fair share of the national tourism dollar compared to other states is because of its location (being such an isolated city). It is also one of the most expensive cities in Australia, and exuberant prices do not encourage tourists on a budget.
Apex predators maintain the fragile balance
Wolves were systematically killed in the Yellowstone, USA region through the late 1800s and 1900s until the last known wolf pack disappeared in 1926. With these apex predators gone, the elk could graze anywhere they liked and as a result were able to wipe out all the young cottonwood trees and willows in some streamline zones. Water birds disappeared, as they had no reeds to provide cover for them. Beavers had no material or water to build their dams, which meant they were unable to create aspen habitat, important for their protection. Now, the re-introduction of the wolf into Yellowstone is completely turning things around, highlighting the importance that apex, keystone species play in a fragile ecosystem.
In North Carolina shark numbers plummeted due to extensive shark fishing. This resulted in an abundance of cownose rays, which in turn resulted in the depletion of the food of the cownose rays, the scallop, and the complete collapse of the North Carolina scallop fishery.
Areas where Great Whites are removed means seal numbers will increase and once again the balance of intricate and interdependent ocean ecosystems will be out of whack. The Great White shark is an apex predator, a keystone species that removes the weak, sick and injured animals as prey, in an effort to maintain the healthy balance of our oceans.
There is a small group looking at a campaign called “Protect People, Not Sharks”. Other statements are put people first not sharks. To those people I say this:
With up to eighty percent of every breath we take coming from our oceans, the ocean really is our life support system. Great Whites are the doctors of our oceans, maintaining the healthy balance of our oceans ecosystems. The simply reality is that an ocean without sharks is a planet without people.
We, as a species, rely on sharks for our survival. We need them - they don’t need us. We need to give them the respect they deserve; our survival depends on it. If you want to put people first, you need to put the environment first. In this case, put sharks first, as this is the only way to maintain the balance in our oceans, and to maintain our life support. If a loved one were on life support, you would do nothing to tamper with it. The oceans are our life support and sharks maintain our life support. We must protect the Great White Shark or the repercussions on future generations will be severe.
Living in Peace and Harmony
It’s and understandable response to fear the unknown, and that is all that is happening here. There is a minority of people that have a fear of the unknown and their reaction is to lash out at their fear. There have even been reports of people putting large drums of burley (blood and fish guts) into the water in a process known as chumming near popular beaches like Scarborough WA, in a bid to attract sharks in close to the shoreline to try and create more hysteria to try and encourage a cull.
We know very little about the Great White Shark, but we do know that it is an apex predator that plays a critical role in the health of our oceans by maintaining the fragile balance of marine ecosystems. The Shark has remained virtually unchanged for millions of years and has lived in peace and harmony with the natural world, unlike us.
Here lies an opportunity for us to learn something about a species we know little about, that we share this planet with. I would like to see the money, proposed to be spent on hiring commercial fishermen to kill sharks, diverted into research with tagging and beacons at popular beaches and swimming spots, especially those near seal colonies where sharks are likely to frequent.
There also needs to be more signage at beaches and swimming spots, so that if a tagged shark is present in the area, a beacon will go off to let swimmers and surfers know that a shark is in the area. There needs to be more education and discussions with Great White behavioral experts like William Winram, an IUCN Ocean Ambassador who has offered his assistance to both the WA government and Federal Environment Minister, Greg Hunt.
Real time tagged information needs to be transparent and easily accessible to the public (online) so that people can become more engaged and learn for themselves about Great Whites. This would be a tremendous learning tool for schools and kids education. As well, the WA government should look to implement ocean pools, like those found in abundance on the east coast of Australia. The benefits of implement such a scheme would be beneficial to WA residents and tourists alike.
All those in favor
The only people supportive of a cull are those that are ill informed or refuse to be informed or educated. I am seeing that an overwhelming majority of beachgoers, swimmers and surfers are against this insane policy. Of course, it’s no surprise that groups like WASC (West Australians for Shark Conservation), The Wilderness Society and Surfrider Foundation Australia are against this. The Greens are also leading the charge for the sharks with shark ambassadors like Senator Rachel Siewert and Hon. Lynn Maclaren.
Even Sharon Burden, the mother of a young surfer named Kyle Burden (21) who died after he was bitten by a Great White in 2011, says there needs to be a legal challenge to the West Australian government's controversial new "bait and kill" policy. Sharon Burden is saying the WA government needs to provide scientific evidence to back up the plan and asked how it would prevent "cowboy" fishermen hunting sharks. Mrs. Burden would like to see a legal challenge that requires the Barnett government to provide evidence to support their decision. "I think we would all benefit from an independent forum that allows us to hear the facts without the politics," stated Mrs. Burden.
Sea Shepherd sends their sincere condolences to Mrs. Burden, but also honours her for sending a very powerful message by speaking out against the insanity of the Barnett Government on this matter.
One thing that has been really touching is the personal messages I have received, especially from children and concerned parents. A very proud mum named Rahnae Hawkins from the Perth area wrote to me saying, “When I told my 5 year old daughter they wanted to kill the Great White Sharks (my favourite animal), the first thing she said was ‘Mum, we have to stop them.’”
My own daughter Abby (three) has been saying, “Daddy, we have to stop the naughty people from hurting Bruce, we don’t want to hurt Bruce, Daddy.”
Children want to grow up in a world with whales and sharks; a world with biodiversity in our oceans, that benefit us all.
What you can do
Contact Premier of Western Australia The Hon. Colin Barnett
You can act to have your voice heard to save WA’s sharks by urging Premier Colin Barnett and the West Australian government to abandon their plans to begin a shark cull in Australia by calling, faxing, emailing and sending mail to:
Office of the Hon Colin Barnett MLA
Premier; Minister for State Development; Science
1 Parliament Place
WEST PERTH WA 6005
Ph: (08) 6552 5000 | Fax: (08) 6552 5001
International: Ph: +61 8 6552 5000 | Fax: +61 8 6552 5001
Or by adding your voice to the tens of thousands of Australians already getting behind sharks here:
If you see anyone putting chumming the water near popular beach spots, please take photos or at least write down their registration and let us know at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Come to the rally – January 4th at Cottesloe beach, WA, meet to the left of the Indiana Teahouse.
Time: 10am to 11:30am. Guest speakers include representatives from Sea Shepherd Australia, WASC, Conservation Council and politicians including Greens Senator Rachel Siewert and Shadow Fisheries Minister Dave Kelly MLA.