Expert opinion: Analysis of the Australian shark cull

Dr Nicholas Ray, a researcher in great white shark population dynamics at Nottingham Trent University, discusses the shark cull in Western Australia.

Dr Nicholas Ray, a researcher in great white shark population dynamics at Nottingham Trent University, discusses the shark cull in Western Australia.

More than three months after the controversial shark culling began in Western Australia, there are still mixed opinions regarding the events that have taken place and the future of 'large' sharks off the WA coasts. In total 172 sharks were caught over the cull period from January 25 – April 30, 2014. Statistically that's nearly two a day captured and handled, not to mention the time spent hanging from the hooks on the drumlines waiting to be 'rescued' or killed.

Stressing of the sharks was a huge topic of discussion when the hysteria broke out about 'Lydia' making her way across the Atlantic Ocean and the possibility of her reaching British shores, but could this just be down to the stress placed upon her as she was handled by boat crew? The same goes for those sharks caught off the WA coast, tagged and released. Only 90 were tagged and released, 50 of the largest sharks killed and disposed of, so what about the remaining 32? Captured, stressed and released for no reason?

The spate of attacks within the region which brought about the action to cull any 'potentially dangerous' sharks over 3m were thought to be focused on the incidents involving great white sharks, however no great white has been recorded as being captured or killed. The largest shark – a 4.2m tiger shark – was captured and destroyed, but records show that tiger sharks may only have been responsible for one shark bite in WA since 1980.

Questions need to be asked as to why no great white sharks were captured. And if these are the true culprits the numbers are so low that if any had been caught, would that have had a great impact on the population numbers in the whole of Australian waters and further afield?

The WA Fisheries Minister Ken Baston was quoted as saying 'the drumline program had proved effective in complementing the other strategies' and it cannot be ignored that the WA Government has put a considerably large amount of money (AUS$22million Shark Hazard Mitigation Program) into the monitoring of the sharks along beaches. It was not just about the culling of potentially dangerous large sharks.

In 2012, a report commissioned by the WA government rejected the use of drum lines as an effective option to reduce shark bite risk. Numerous campaigns from scientists and environmentalists, and outcry across the world, still resulted in the deployment of these lines. It has now become more apparent that the interest of the WA Government was very much focused on restoring the confidence of beachgoers and limiting the closure of beaches due to shark sightings, but there are still huge questions surrounding the barbaric and unnecessary killing of large sharks.

Still to this day there is no scientific justification or evidence brought from the monitoring programme to justify the unlawful killing of these creatures. At the end of the day it is their kingdom, their domain, so who are we to dictate their destiny just so our own species can get pleasure from sunny beaches and warms seas.

The continued aerial and beach surveillance will continue into the near future, so was the mass shark cull really necessary?

Dr Nicholas Ray
Researcher in great white shark population dynamics
School of Animal, Rural and Environmental Sciences
Nottingham Trent University

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Expert opinion: Analysis of the Australian shark cull

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

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