by Natalie Banks - Australian Operation Apex Harmony Coordinator

Shark Spotters at work in Cape Town, South Africa. Photo: Blair RanfordShark Spotters at work in Cape Town, South Africa.
Photo: Blair Ranford
The Lennox-Ballina board riders club should be congratulated on attempting to bring the community together to find a common voice to the increasing shark encounters in the region. Community voices need to be heard on this topic. It is no surprise to me however, that without being given the opportunity to learn about the whole range of options available to them, and to then be surveyed on each option, the majority supported a cull of sharks. Without understanding the pros and cons of each option available, they have made an uninformed guess at what might work.  

The media frenzy that followed is also to be expected. Across the globe, people are being told "Australians want to cull sharks." When in reality, the situation is much, much the opposite. A small minority of people support a shark cull. And when given factual information on the options available, those figures reduce even further.

The NSW authorities do not support a shark cull. The WA community overwhelmingly did not support a shark cull. And generally, the Ballina-Lennox Head community are not supportive of a shark cull.

But let's look as this further. New South Wales are already culling sharks... Thousands of predatory sharks are killed annually, mainly through commercial fishing and in shark nets. Yet shark bites and attacks continue to happen. Hawaii killed over 4,500 tiger sharks over 18 years and found that the level of shark attacks remained the same prior to, and after, culling sharks.

It is my belief that people want something to be done and immediately. And this is understandable. People are scared. But decisions on how to protect the community should not be based on fear. Two immediate solutions which have been proven to work and available right now for the Ballina and Lennox Head community are a shark spotting programme and electronic deterrents. As a scuba diving instructor, I use a Shark Shield for peace of mind. This device was recently proven to work 90% of the time by the University of Western Australia. Given that we can not ever protect ourselves 100% when entering the habitat of wildlife, and that shark encounters are rare, I like those odds.

Shark Spotters is an initiative that started over a decade ago by volunteers specifically for the surfing community in Cape Town, South Africa. They use a system of flags and alarms to alert ocean users of shark activity at eight beaches from 8am to 6pm. In close to 11 years they have spotted over 1,700 sharks and during this time there has been one fatality (low visibility spotting day and black flag up to indicate this) as well as a serious shark attack where the man chose to ignore all the warnings provided.

Again.... Given there is no 100% solution, this initiative offers a great deal more peace of mind than a 150m shark net which is not an enclosure that is in 17 days of the month, and in just the last 10 years alone, has not prevented these unwanted shark encounters at some of New South Wales most popular and netted beaches:

  • 16 April 2005 – Bronte – Simon Letch (40) had surfboard bitten by bronze whaler
  • 15 March 2006 – Bondi – Blake Mohair (15) had his surfboard nudged by a 2m bronze whaler
  • 11 April 2006 – Newcastle – Luke Cook (15) received minor lacerations on his foot from a juvenile bronze whaler while surfing
  • 12 February 2009 – Bondi – Glen Orgias (33) loses left hand after being bitten by 2.5m white shark while surfing
  • 1 March 2009 – Avalon – Andrew Lindop (15) bitten on leg by suspected 2.6m white shark while surfing
  • 26 December 2009 – Avoca - John Sojoski (55) received lacerations to lower leg after accidently stepping on shark
  • 11 Feb 2010 – Mona Vale – Surfer Paul Welsh (46) bitten on left lower leg by a wobbegong shark while teaching son (10) to surf
  • 7 December 2011 – Maroubra – Ronald Mason (14) bitten on leg by a wobbegong while surfing
  • 3 Jan 2012 – North Avoca – Surfer Mike Wells (28) receives about 50 puncture wounds to right arm by a suspected bronze whaler
  • 18 Jan 2012 – Redhead Beach – Glen Folkard (44) bitten by white shark on thigh while surfing
  • 17 Oct 2014 – Avoca – Surfer Kirra-Belle Olsson (13) was bitten on left calf and ankle, and received puncture wounds to left foot while surfing
  • 5 Feb 2015 – Merewether – Bodyboarder Ben McPhee bitten on ankle by 1.8m shark (believed to be a bull shark)

It's time to get real about solutions on how to protect loved ones.

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