Shark Control Programs: Do They Keep us Safe?
Monday, 21 Jan, 2019
What are Shark Control Programs?
Using baited drum lines and mesh nets, shark control programs aim to reduce local populations of large sharks and therefore reduce the number of human and shark incidents along our coastline.
Nets and baited drumlines have, however, been proven to be an outdated and ineffective method of protection for ocean-goers. A study conducted by Deakin University in 2016 showed that there is no change in the risk of a shark incident between beaches with or without nets.
These programs also have significant impacts on the broader marine environment with many non-targeted species including sea birds, whales, sea turtles and dolphins becoming trapped and killed in these devices.
Advances in technology coupled with the improved education of beachgoers provide a more effective way to create safer beaches in Australia with less ecological cost.
Drumlines catch sharks using bait attached to large hooks suspended from a large plastic float that is anchored to the seabed. Drumlines are used off popular swimming beaches in three states of Australia. Whereas Queensland continues to use traditional drumlines to kill sharks, New South Wales and Western Australia employ SMART (Shark Management Alert in Real Time) drumlines as research and “mitigation” tools.
SMART Drumlines send an alert when a shark has been captured on the line through a satellite-linked GPS communications unit attached to a baited hook and are designed to be non-lethal. SMART drumlines may, however, still result in the death of marine animals if the response time is not fast enough or a susceptible species such as hammerhead is caught.
Shark nets do not provide an enclosure for swimmers. In addition to proving deadly to sharks, one of the main issues with shark nets is their non-selectivity. In the process of catching targeted sharks, they also catch other animals including turtles, rays, sea birds, dolphins, whales, and harmless sharks and fish.
Shark nets in New South Wales (pictured) are 150 metres long and suspended below the surface 500 metres offshore. Shark nets in Queensland are a bit different: they include a surface set of buoys, are 4-6m deep in 12m water and are 186m long.
Nets in New South Wales and Queensland nets have killed tens of thousands of sharks, including sharks that are otherwise protected by our own Environmental Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act and international agreements, such as grey nurse sharks and white sharks.
Around the world, shark mitigation strategies that do not harm delicate marine ecosystems are being explored. Sea Shepherd supports non-lethal technologies guided by science to both increase safety and protect ocean life, such as the five examples listed below.
Aerial Drones in the Hands of Beach Safety Experts
Aerial drones can serve as an important tool for reducing the risk of shark bites on our beaches. Flying autonomously or piloted, drones can monitor beaches by scanning for sharks with image recognition software.
Shark-detecting drones are already being trialled on New South Wales beaches as part of that state's shark management strategy, allowing for real-time monitoring of popular coastal areas.
Sea Shepherd is advocating for a move to equip Surf Living Saving branches with drones from Government grants. Such a program would be managed by those already expert in beach safety, utilise proven technology and be flexible enough to cover flagged beaches and surf breaks. They also provide more certainty than any other method in determining if a shark has proceeded away from an area, thus allowing a well-informed decision to allow swimmers back to the water. This would provide a positive story for tourism and importantly, not harm sharks or other marine wildlife.
Where wave energy is low and drones may not be utilised, barrier technology such as the Eco Shark Barrier, a proven Western Australian development, may be used to form a complete enclosure, from seabed to surface and protect swimmers. The unique design of the Eco Shark Barrier creates a safe swimming area that blends into its surrounding environment – causing zero impact on wildlife.
Education and outreach about shark behaviour are fundamental means of helping to protect swimmers and ought to be part of any mitigation methods.
By knowing that sharks are more active in certain places, like river mouths, and at dawn and dusk, the potential for encountering a shark can be minimised - helping to keep our beaches safer as well as protecting sharks. Sea Shepherd recommends signage programs in order to educate the public on shark behaviour and the low risk of shark-human interactions. Understanding the different risks associated with different species and conditions is key to this.
Personal Protection Devices
Personal protection devices such as the those that employ an electromagnetic field may be used to deter sharks in specific circumstances.
Many new technologies are expensive to produce, test, and trial under scientific conditions. Therefore, Government has a role to assist in at least the scientific testing and trialling phases. Subsidies go a long way to helping reduce unit costs as the technologies become affordable on a wide scale. This has been done for a broad range of products that benefit people and industry, and should be extended to these devices. This approach can greatly benefit local developers, businesses and of course end-users.
New technologies are emerging and should be explored as a means to an effective shark bite mitigation system.
Shark Spotters is one such successful program. “Shark Spotters” is a network of human spotters who spend time surveying and monitoring the ocean for shark movements. This program has great benefits for the community both in the water and ashore. Sea Shepherd, with the assistance of local politicians and the team from South Africa’s Shark Spotters conducted a successful trial off Byron Bay’s Wategos Beach in 2016.
Shark nets and drumlines are indiscriminate killers of the magnificent marine life that we have in our ocean, and they do not keep beachgoers safe. It is time to transition to scientifically-proven non-lethal technologies.