By now I’m sure you’ve heard that the government of Western Australia has decided to pursue a shark cull. The government supported program allows for the killing of sharks in Western Australian waters, including threatened Great Whites. There have been reports of people shooting sharks, but most of the culling will be done be baiting large hooks o floating drum lines designed to capture larger sharks near shore. the problem with this practice is that while it is passive and requires less man power, it is also indiscriminate. There have already been reports of the capture (and release) or sharks that are smaller than the limit.
So, how dangerous are sharks? There have been 7 shark attack related deaths in Western Australia since 2010. World statistics on shark attacks since the 1500s (available here) show that shark attacks are pretty infrequent and are often non-fatal. If sharks are responsible for fewer deaths per year than say… vending machines, then who called for this cull? Surfers right? Maybe. The article I linked in the previous sentence includes exactly one quote by one surfer about how the government had no choice due to the number of fatalities. However, the same news source also carried this article. In it a surfer uses logic to point out exactly how silly the shark cull is. If you read the comments you will see that almost everyone agrees with him. According to polls, something like 82% of Western Australians are against the decision and yet it is still happening. As a result protests are occurring on beaches and celebrities are speaking out. Most notably Richard Branson and Ricky Gervais.
The program is not popular and it is not necessary, so why is it happening? Elected officials were probably concerned with one of two things: re-election and/or tourism. If people are afraid of shark infested waters they are less likely to visit, right? Maybe, but I think most people will still go ahead an assume that they will not be one of the 2 or fewer people killed by a shark each year. Being observant and respectful of nature and other organisms is all that is required to keep you safe. Millions visit the beach each year, only a handful encounter a shark attack. Safety or tourism may have been a concern. If so, admirable, policy makers must be better educated on issues before making a decision such as this. If this was about re-election it certainly seems to have backfired. When you run a program with 18% support you are probably not going to get re-elected.
Now, what can we do to make beaches “safer” without killing sharks? Our friend David Shiffman over at Southern Fried Science has infinite wisdom on the subject. Check out his post here. In summary, educate the public, look around, hang some signs. It isn’t that difficult, but it seems like that wasn’t quite good enough in Western Australia.
Check out #NoCull, @whysharksmatter, and #savesharks on twitter or any major news source for updates.
Update: A friend of mine who live in Perth, Australia just sent me this pdf. This is the official document from the Premier approving the shark cull.