Expert opinion: The Australian shark cull

Dr Nicholas Ray, a researcher in Great White shark population dynamics at Nottingham Trent University, gives his view on the planned shark cull in Western Australia.

Dr Nicholas Ray, a researcher in Great White Shark population dynamics at Nottingham Trent University, gives his view on the planned shark cull in Western Australia.
Last year the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) in Thailand saw members vote to protect vulnerable shark and ray species from illegal and sustainable trade.

New additions to the list of protected species included the Oceanic Whitetip (Carcharhinus longimanus), Scalloped Hammerhead (Sphyrma lewini), Great Hammerhead Shark (Sphyrna mokarran), Smooth Hammerhead Shark (Sphyrna zigaena) and the Porbeagle Shark (Lamna nasus). These species can now only be traded with CITES permits and evidence will have to be provided that they are harvested sustainably and legally.

This year the Western Australian Premier, Colin Barnett, has defended the decision to go ahead with a shark cull, using baited drum lines to attract the sharks near popular beaches and surf breaks.

The recent spate of attacks in the area have been attributed to Great White Sharks (Carcharodon carcharias) which appear on the International Union for the Conversation of Nature (IUCN) Red Data list as a vulnerable species and are thought to one day very soon be on the brink of extinction.

To this day, very little is known about population numbers of Great White Sharks and many myths exist surrounding their reproductive behaviour, so conservationists around the world, and even many shark attack victims, have called for there to be a rethink in the 'cull' of these species. Under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 these creatures are protected by Australian law, but how times and attitudes appear to have changed in only 15 years after the recent spate of attacks.

Along the coast of Western Australia 'kill zones' have been marked where sharks bigger than three metres will be caught and removed from the ocean, however there is still an issue of the 'bycatch', which means that smaller sharks could also be caught, along with an array of other fish and mammal species in the surrounding waters of Australia.

The move has sharks being killed and disposed of away from beaches and any sharks meeting the size and species requirements are being shot and taken away to be discarded. From an ecosystem level this would result in the nutrients bound up in the shark species not re-entering the ocean directly through decomposition and as sharks are seen as apex predators they are ultimately helping to regulate and maintain the balance of marine ecosystems.

By taking out individuals more than three metres long, mature adults, and therefore breeding populations, are taken out of the equation, leaving the IUCN Red List reaching ever closer to the next level of 'endangered'.

The coast of Western Australia is home to a great diversity of marine life but, in particular, reports have stated more than 132 species of shark and shark-like rays inhabit these areas.

Where the baited drum lines will be deployed surely it begs the question that this will encouraging more sharks into the area and potentially increasing the risk of shark attacks by those sharks that evade the drum lines and get close inshore?

Dr Nicholas Ray
Course Leader for BSc (Hons) Environmental Science
School of Animal, Rural and Environmental Sciences
Nottingham Trent University

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Expert opinion: The Australian shark cull

Published on 20 January 2014
  • Category: Press office; Research; School of Animal, Rural and Environmental Sciences

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