Despite tragic losses, shark culling is not the answer
Each year thousands of swimmers take to our beaches, with this number increasing every year as population and tourism increases. But there is no evidence to suggest shark attacks are increasing; we simply see yearly variation in the number of attacks.Our hearts go out to the families of the men who lost their lives in the recent shark attacks in Western Australia.
These are tragic losses, and it will be hard for anyone to find the words to comfort the families at this time. The growing call for a shark cull, however, is not the right response. According to the Australian Shark Attack File (ASAF) there have been only 53 human fatalities in the last 50 years in Australian waters from shark attacks – that’s 1.06 attacks per year.
Some years there are no fatalities recorded, other years there have been up to three in a year, but the average remains around one per year. Each year thousands of swimmers take to our beaches, with this number increasing every year as population and tourism increases. But there is no evidence to suggest shark attacks are increasing; we simply see yearly variation in the number of attacks.
2011 has clearly been a bad year so far in Western Australia and each and every attack is truly a tragedy for those involved but this should not be misread as a sign of increasing shark numbers or an increased risk to beach goers. It is important to remember that most sharks serve as top predators at the pinnacle of the marine food pyramid, and as such they play a critical role in ocean ecosystems.
Directly or indirectly they regulate the natural balance of these ecosystems, at all levels, and so are an integral part of them. The effects of removing sharks from our ocean ecosystems could be ecologically and economically devastating.
The International Fund for Animal Welfare is calling on the public and politicians to resist the urge to lurch into killing already threatened species of sharks. A shark cull would be disastrous not only to our marine environment but also Australia’s reputation as a world leader in marine conservation.
The focus should be on encouraging the use of non lethal shark protection measures such as spotter planes and patrol boats. If you are concerned about the risk of shark attacks then follow the precautions recommended by the ASAF. Most attacks occur under very specific conditions related to when and where you swim and what activities you are undertaking whilst in the water. Simply being aware of these conditions and acting appropriately will dramatically reduce the already very small risk of being attacked. The ASAF provides the following advice:
- Swim at beaches that are patrolled by Surf Life Savers.
- Do not swim, dive or surf where dangerous sharks are known to congregate.
- Always swim, dive or surf with other people.
- Do not swim in dirty or turbid water.
- Avoid swimming well offshore, near deep channels, at river mouths or along drop-offs to deeper water.
- If schooling fish start to behave erratically or congregate in large numbers, leave the water.
- Do not swim with pets and domestic animals.
- Look carefully before jumping into the water from a boat or wharf.
- Do not swim at dusk or at night.
- Do not swim near people fishing or spear fishing.
- If a shark is sighted in the area leave the water as quickly and calmly as possible.