Sharks were very active in the clear, jewel-like waters of Western Australia (WA) in 2011. In fact, there were four shark attack fatalities over a fourteen month period. This highly unusual number spawned a review of the region’s shark mitigation strategies by regional officials. In the midst of the heated debate, some local politicians and residents started making suggestions for a shark cull.
Outraged by this news, SOS Founder Ryan Kempster and a colleague, Barbara Wueringer, gathered the support of over 120 scientists, who work with sharks on a regular basis, to back a petition advising the WA government to adopt non-lethal shark mitigation measures. In addition, they also set up a public petition, sponsored by Support Our Sharks, which gathered over 19,000 names of people opposed to the culling of WA’s sharks (in just 12 days). Ryan and Barbara were also helped by David Shiffman a shark scientist from the USA, whom upon hearing the news of the proposed cull wrote an article for Southern Fried Science (a popular science blog), which was instrumental in gathering more signatures for the public petition. Finally, another important contributor to the campaign was Christopher Neff a shark researcher based in Sydney who's continuous interaction with the media promoting non-lethal shark mitigation measures had a huge impact.
As a result of our combined efforts, the WA government took a stand against retaliatory fear, investing $13.65 million into a shark response unit, further research, and swimmer education instead of destroying thousands of sharks.
“This is a fantastic outcome for public safety and shark conservation in WA,” exclaims Ryan. “The shark mitigation measures outlined by WA Fisheries Minister Moore set a benchmark for other Australian states and will place WA as a national leader in beach protection and shark conservation.”
Non-lethal Shark Control Plan
Instead of a shark cull, the WA government adopted public safety measures such as increasing helicopter surveillance patrols, using shark repellents, extending blood and offal disposal bans near swimming beaches, and tagging sharks frequently sighted near popular swimming areas. There will also be additional research into shark behaviour, and the Fisheries department will review local fisheries management strategies.
In addition, the WA Department of Fisheries will implement a community engagement strategy and media campaign to provide information about avoiding shark hazards.
While the WA Government does not currently support shark nets, the Department of Fisheries say that they will evaluate the effectiveness of shark nets used in the eastern states. We will keep a close eye on any proposals for shark net installations in WA, as there is no scientific evidence that they are an effective measure to improve public safety.
Shark nets give the public a false sense of safety when in reality sharks are free to swim around the nets, often getting caught as they leave the shallow “protected” areas. Shark nets are indiscriminate and catch any and all marine life that come in to contact with them, including dolphins, turtles, whales, manta ray, dugongs and even humans. SOS will be closely monitoring any calls for ‘Shark Nets’ in WA, and will certain fight against any plans to put them at our beaches.
“On behalf of the 19,000 who signed the petition,” says Ryan, “I would like to extend our sincere thanks to Norman Moore and members of the WA cabinet for reaching such a landmark decision. This is a great day for WA sharks and shark conservation worldwide.”