SOS Campaign:
Stop The Cull

Home - Stop the cull campaignAbout - Stop the cull campaignGet Involved - Stop the cull campaignResources - Stop the cull campaignDonate to SOSUpdates - Stop the cull campaign     

What is shark culling?

Shark culling is the selective killing of wild sharks in order to reduce their population size in an attempt to decrease the likelihood of a shark bite on a human. Shark culling programs typically use a combination of nets and drum lines to catch and kill sharks.

The most widespread shark culling method is through the use of 'shark nets', which are placed around popular beaches to reduce the number of shark bite incidents. However, these nets do not offer complete protection, but, instead, work on the principle of "fewer sharks, fewer attacks". The large mesh size of the nets is designed specifically to capture sharks and prevent their escape until, eventually, they drown. Due to boating activity, the nets float 4m or more below the surface and do not connect with the shoreline, thus allowing sharks the opportunity to swim over, under and around the nets.

However, not all shark nets are intended to kill sharks. Netted beach enclosures were placed along 36 Hong Kong beaches following two clusters of shark bites and shark hunts in 1993 and 1995. Small rings that make up the nets limit deaths and by-catch. However, the maintenance of this program is estimated to be cost-prohibitive for most locations. In contrast, New South Wales and Queensland in Australia as well as KwaZulu Natal in South Africa use gill nets which are designed specifically to cull shark populations.

Who uses shark culling programs?

Current Active Programs:

Australia (New South Wales): The New South Wales (NSW) Department of Primary Industries (DPI) manages the Shark Meshing Program (SMP).  It was introduced in Sydney in 1937 and now covers a total of 51 beaches. The SMP is listed as a Key Threatening Process (KTP) under both the NSW Fisheries Management Act 1994 (FM Act) and the NSW Threatened Species Conservation Act 1995 (TSC Act) as it adversely affects two or more threatened species listed under those acts.

Australia (Queensland): The Queensland Shark Control Program (SCP) has been in place since 1962. It relies on nets, drum lines or a combination of both to cull sharks.

South Africa (KwaZulu-Natal): In 1952, the city of Durban installed a series of shark nets, based on a similar system that was being used in Australia, to cull sharks close to popular beaches. The decision came after a spate of shark related fatalities in the region between 1943 and 1952. Today, the KwaZulu-Natal Sharks Board manages the region's shark nets and drum lines.

France (Reunion Island): In 2014, the French Island of Reunion, east of Madagascar, installed drum lines to cull the local tiger shark and bull shark populations in an attempt to reduce the number of shark bite incidents after a series of fatalities in 2012/2013.

Past Programs:

Australia (Western Australia): In 2014, the Western Australia State Government deployed 72 drum lines of the Perth metro area and the South West region as part of a wider shark mitigation program. Due to public opposition to the program and the lack of scientific support, the cull was abandoned later that same year.

USA (Hawaii): From 1959 to 1976, the state of Hawaii culled 4,668 sharks including 554 tiger sharks. After no significant decrease was recorded in the rate of shark attacks the program was abandoned and deemed an ineffective control measure.

New Zealand (Dunedin): After five shark attacks in Dunedin between 1964 and 1973, the decision was made to install shark nets to protect bathers in Dunedin waters. However, in their 40 year history, the nets caught no great white sharks, but did kill more than 700 non-target species. As a result, in 2012, city councillors voted to remove the nets.

Why is culling not a good solution?

Between 2008 and 2012, fisheries data showed that 54 'protected' great white sharks had been killed by the netting program in NSW and Queensland. The nets also killed 13 endangered grey nurse sharks during the same period. In addition to sharks, many other forms of marine life are caught and killed in the nets including whales, dolphins, dugongs and turtles. Reports show that the majority of marine life caught and killed in the nets is overwhelmingly “non-target” species. In 2011 in NSW, 61% of the marine life killed in the nets was “non-target” species; in 2010, that number was 64%. A 2012 independent report by Bond University into the appropriateness of ‘shark’ nets in Western Australia found that “due to the environmental impacts of shark control activities, it is not recommended that either shark nets or drum-lines be introduced”. The negative environmental impacts of shark nets also influenced the government of Brazil to rule out their use as a shark control measure even though they had experienced a large number of shark attacks. Additionally, in 2011, New Zealand chose to remove their shark nets in light of environmental concerns.

Why are sharks important?

As predators at the pinnacle of the marine food pyramid, sharks play a critical role in ocean ecosystems. They regulate the natural balance of these ecosystems at all levels, and so are an integral part of them. As they usually hunt old, weak or sick prey, they help to keep these populations in good condition, allowing the healthy and strong animals to reproduce and pass on their genes. The effects of removing sharks from our oceans, although complex and rather unpredictable, can be ecologically and economically damaging. For example, studies have shown increases in normal prey species due to the loss of sharks, which then decimate commercial stocks and cause entire fisheries to shut down. Coral abundance declines and is replaced by macroalgae. Species diversity declines. Ecological chain reactions are set in motion which cannot be undone. Thus, we should fear a world without sharks far more than one with them.

What is the solution?

If we really want to make the public safer, the focus should be on education and research. Public awareness and education about sharks will stop the hysteria, stop the media sensationalism and turn public opinion from fear to acceptance of sharks. The solution is not to kill anything that poses a threat, it is to educate people on how to minimise their own risk. There really needs to be some perspective involved as to the minute risk we take when we enter the ocean, especially in comparison to other daily activities which hold a much higher risk to our health and wellbeing. With the correct information, we can make a informed decision as to whether or not we accept the risks involved in entering the ocean. In recent years, some countries have recognised the importance of sharks, affording them extra protection by establishing sanctuaries. But every time that someone is bitten by a shark, there are immediate calls for a cull to protect human life, which acts as a sobering reminder that attitudes towards sharks have not changed enough. The public, especially the friends and family of victims, are understandably emotional, but it is at these times that there is an even greater need for educated decision-making rather than emotionally-driven retaliatory actions.

Join our campaign to Stop The Cull and encourage people to protect sharks and better educate themselves on how to stay safe in the ocean. Visit our Get Involved page for more information.