Our Green Gurus

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Shark overkill

shark-in-net

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By the founder of Eco Divers, Dave Thomas

The issue of beach meshing and shark culling has been fraught with emotive and controversial discussion for 70 odd years. I have been tangled up in it for the last 10.

The meshing started in 1936 in Sydney, as the 150 year anniversary celebrations were to be held in 1937, and a shark incident would not have been good press. Prior to that, there was an average of one fatality per year, mostly due to a lack of quick medical attention.

Most sharks are opportunist feeders or scavengers and prefer not to work hard or have to fight for food, conserving energy much like lions and wolves do. In the past we’ve used Sydney Harbour as a tip for waste from meat works (besides other nasties) yet when sharks appeared they were the bad guys.

Sharks are predatory fish that belong in the ocean ecosystem, and they have been around for a very long time; longer than us, but we seem to be working hard to change that. While only a handful of the 500-plus sharks species worldwide are considered a potential threat to humans, we’re indiscriminately killing even the most threatened of these.

Take the harmless grey nurse shark – it was never a ‘man-eater’ and has been totally and unnecessarily culled to the brink of extinction, with only a few pockets of these graceful creatures left. We got it wrong big time because they looked scary. You can add the hammerhead shark to that list as well.

Around 50 nets are used between Wollongong and Newcastle, some more in Queensland. In NSW they are set between September and April. They don’t go headland to headland or top to bottom, that is a myth – they are 6 m high in 12 m of water, set on the sea floor, and about 150 m long. Made from very thin nylon, these gill nets randomly catch any animal that comes along – including whales, dolphins, turtles, dugongs and seals (all of which are protected), as well as sharks and rays.

According a previous Department of Primary Industries (DPI) Minister McDonald, “the nets are there to stop sharks setting up a territory and encourage them to move along”. But sharks are highly migratory, and most never stop swimming. Indeed, they need to keep water moving over their gills to stay alive, and it’s hard to move along when you are dead.

No politician is willing to stand up for removal of the nets for fear of a shark attack soon after. Many media outlets jump on the sensationalist news of attacks, swaying our leaders to initiate culls. If you’re after the facts I’d suggest a recent report; the ‘Bather Protection Program’ – it provides far more accurate details and facts than the sensationalism of our newspapers.