Conservationists in Australia are worried that research assessing the number of great white sharks may be used to justify a cull. It comes as Liberal politicians from Western Australia passed a motion to debate whether or not the federal government should allow states to kill great whites at the Liberal’s federal council in June.
The debate that has been simmering in Australia regarding how to deal with sharks has been reignited following the death of 17-year-old Laeticia Brouwer, off the coast of Western Australia, after she was attacked by what is thought to have been a great white while surfing. This is the 15th person to be killed in Australian waters by sharks over the last 17 years, with all but two of those people being surfers or divers.
The idea of shark culling, while popular among some politicians, is still a very controversial practice among the general public. Back in 2014, the government in Western Australia introduced a policy to capture and kill large sharks using baited drum lines after the federal government made the state exempt from national environment laws that prohibit the killing of great whites.
This practice, however, was subsequently met with wide-scale protests, not only in Western Australia but in other Australian states, as well as further afield in New Zealand and even South Africa. The indiscriminate targeting of sharks, coupled with the fact that other species may have inadvertently been getting killed, meant that it was eventually dropped, although drum lines were still deployed in specific circumstances.
The Greens party senator Peter Whish-Wilson has now accused the Liberals of politicizing the death of Brouwer and using it to push their agenda to delist the great white. It is thought that the Liberals are wanting to use the data being collected by the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO), who will publish its official report on the number of great whites later this year, to justify the reinstatement of a shark cull.
But there are difficulties when it comes to sanctioning a cull of great whites. Australia is one of 124 nations to have signed the UN Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species, which includes the far-ranging great white shark. Under this code, they must provide protection for the species, and delisting them would require a two-thirds majority of the signatories present to vote for the change.
Conservationists and surfers alike have been arguing for alternatives to shark nets and bait lines, such a beach patrols and spotter aircraft. But due to the limitations of these methods, there has also been increased focus on personal protection devices, like the shark shield, which sends out a magnetic field to deter the creatures.