Australia has some of the most fascinating wildlife in the world, but for some reason people seem intent on harming it in cruel and unusual ways. Last month saw the bizarre killings of three platypuses. Now divers have revealed the brutal stabbings and mutilations of fiddler rays off Australia's Victoria coast.
The divers found and photographed the dead fiddler rays, also known as banjo sharks, in the waters off the Mornington Peninsula in the Port Phillip Bay, with deep grooves and gaping wounds on their heads.
In one photograph, divers found five of the creatures with their heads split open. Another local diver, Jane Bowman, reported to Fisheries Victoria that she had seen at least 18 other creatures with the same stab wounds on a recent dive.
Five slaughtered banjo sharks found discarded in May. PT Hirschfield
It is thought this could be the work of recreational fishermen, slaughtered as unwanted catch and thrown back into the sea. In Victoria, it is illegal to return fish to water with injury or damage.
Finding so many of these creatures mutilated, and in one sad case still alive and struggling, has prompted Melbourne-based Project Banjo Action Group to step in and try and stop the casual barbarism.
“There is a lack of regulatory clarity about the treatment of 'wanted' rays,” Project Banjo coordinator PT Hirschfield told IFLScience. “We have video evidence of rays that have been chopped in half – their tails removed presumably for a tiny amount of meat as food or bait – but then thrown back in alive to die a slow death. There is currently no regulation safeguarding against this practice as the ray is deemed 'wanted' because part of it was retained.”
Banjo shark (aka fiddler ray) with a fatal cranial split. Jane Bowman
Hirschfield explained that many fishers are appalled at the treatment of these animals and that it is likely recreational fishers who are frustrated at catching something inedible, coupled with a disregard for the creatures, mean they kill them and throw them back. However, some larger rays are also caught, and the group has found evidence of the animals being mutilated and parts cut off for shark bait, before the animals, still alive but dying, are thrown back.
This smooth ray was found with its wings cut off in April. Mark Jones
Project Banjo thinks the best way to end confusion about the regulations of wanted and unwanted catch in the area is to ban the killing of rays. An online petition currently has over 26,000 signatories and they have met with both Fisheries Victoria and VRFish, the most prominent recreational fishing body, with both agreeing they will be considering regulatory reform.
“In collecting photographic and video evidence… we have managed to have the long-term unacceptable treatment of rays put squarely on the agenda of regulatory and industry bodies who are able to canvas the communities they represent in moving towards better outcomes for the rays of Port Phillip Bay,” Hirschfield told IFLScience.
Ray populations are not currently endangered but the casual slaughter clearly has to stop and the momentum of this people-powered campaign is providing hope that the laws will not only be updated in Victoria, but across Australia as well.