William Winram | Sharks Down Under
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Sharks Down Under

The Wizards of Oz

December 11, 2013

I have been on a promotional tour for the Australian premiere of the new IMAX film Great White Shark 3D in Sydney and Melbourne, and I found myself having to answer a lot of questions in the light of the recent fatalities involving shark bites on surfers.

Read the news about Nov 23 fatal shark bite near Gracetown, Western Australia and Nov 30 fatal shark bite near Campbells Beach, Queensland.

Naturally, my heart goes out to their family and friends. Losing a loved-one is a tragedy.

I do, however, want to bring some perspective to the intended culling which the government of Western Australia has just decided to enact in hope to “make the sea safe for beach goers and ocean users”.

“Sharks may be killed if seen at popular beaches”

In a Nov 26 statement to the press (see source), Western Australia Premier, Colin Barnett has flagged the possibility of killing sharks spotted at popular beaches in the wake of the fatal attack.

It is the seventh fatal shark attack in WA in just over three years and the Government is currently reviewing its shark control policy.

Mr Barnett has ruled out a widespread cull but says he is considering tougher measures to prevent attacks.

“We will look at [shark culls] very closely over the next couple of days,” he said.

“I don’t know if it’s a cull as such, and maybe that means different things to different people, but I certainly acknowledge that the public is demanding sharks, where they stay around popular swimming or surfing areas should be destroyed, and I’ve got to say I’m in that camp.”

Sharks should be destroyed? How lamentable.

Mr. Barnett: historically, shark culling has proven futile in reducing the number of shark bites on humans. Shark culling only accomplishes one thing: it depletes the ocean from invaluable species, most of which are threatened species. You must look at the global picture, if you think you can cull and think there are no consequences in the long run, you are fooling yourself.

You think you can just sterilize the sea to make it safe for people to play in it? That is an outdated paradigm.
People who enter the sea have to recognize that they are entering a wild ecosystem and accept the risk. It’s that simple.

When you remove apex predators from the sea, you threaten the entire ecosystem they occupy.
50% of the oxygen you breathe anywhere on the planet comes straight from the sea. 25% of the protein you eat comes from the sea. You can’t afford destroying the ocean, therefore you can’t afford destroying sharks. Mr. Barnett: In words you may better understand, sharks have a better economic value alive than dead.

Culling (or whatever you choose to call it) is a giant mistake. Period.

Watch your language

On November 28, 2013 (see source) Western Australia’s Fisheries Minister, Troy Buswell said it was critical the safety of beachgoers came ahead of great whites and he would ask the Abbott Government (note: Tony Abbott is the Prime Minister of Australia) to consider whether they needed to be protected.

“My view is that we need to put the safety of people who use the water over and above sharks.”

Our very own language and choice of words is a reflection of how we view ourselves versus other creatures.

“People who use the water” implies that the ocean is there for the enjoyment of humans and nothing else. Wrong again. We are entering the sharks environment, not the other way around. Call me if sharks start to break down the door to your house and attack you in your living room. They have evolved faster than we thought.

Federal Environment Minister Greg Hunt agreed that human life “has to be paramount” and said he would work with WA to see what could be done about reducing the risks of attack.

Another misnomer is ‘shark attacks’. It somehow attributes the human intention that sharks lurk in the sea in search of a human prey. It could not be further from the truth. Sharks bite. That’s how they figure out whether something is food or not. Our fat content does not rival with sea mammal’s, therefore sharks don’t eat humans. The bite however can be devastatingly fatal. But let’s get real… Humans kill 70’000’000 – 100’000’000 sharks every year. How many people die worldwide due to shark bites? Not enough to matter on the statistical front, in the face of fatal car accidents, or if you want to stick with ocean creatures, there are plenty: deadly jelly fish, venomous fish, crocodiles etc. Are we going to cull them too? Let’s face it, the real predator is mankind.

Shark Geography 101

So the Western Australia government is implementing new policies which will kill vulnerable sharks.
Fact: South Africa and Australia share sharks. In other words, pelagic sharks are highly migratory. For instance, great white sharks of South Africa travel 20’000 km to the Australia’s northwestern coast and back.
Killing a shark in Australian waters effectively influences several ecosystems negatively.

On December 10, Tom Innes, a committee member of the Margaret River Boardrider Club, in Western Australia said the following (see source):

“So in order to reduce the risk of further attacks I think these larger sharks need to be reduced in number.”

That’s not an accurate statement Mr. Innes. Killing larger sharks does not decrease the chance of shark bites. It will certainly reduce their ability to reproduce. If your intent is to sterilize the ocean, then you are spot on.

On December 10, experts and conservationists have taken a stand against the new Western Australia’s tough polices (see source).

Experts and conservationists have bitten back at Western Australia’s tough new policies to prevent deadly shark attacks, which include the establishment of licensed offshore “kill zones”.

Following the sixth fatal attack off the WA coast in two years last month, the state government announced tougher measures aimed at preventing attacks, but denied it was a cull.

Professional shark hunters will be paid to patrol WA waters, with a licence to kill any shark bigger than three metres spotted in designated zones spanning large parts of the metropolitan and south-west coastline.

And baited hooks will also be placed along the coast to catch sharks, with a larger strike team ready to scramble into action in the event of an attack.

(WA) Premier Colin Barnett said he knew the measures were controversial but refused to acknowledge he was sanctioning a cull.

Ahhh, don’t call it a cull, call it ‘kill zones’, somehow it’s more acceptable?

1) Killing sharks over three meters on sighting
2) Placing drum lines – drums with a baited hook fixed to the ocean floor

Effect of 1) killing those animals that are reaching sexual maturity and that would therefore be able to propagate their already threatened species.
Effect of 2) it will kill more than sharks, as other species (turtles, rays, etc) will be attracted to those baited hooks. Way to go, now you’ll even have by-catch.

Mera Nostra ?

Tell me something. Would it be right for people to drive some golf balls in the African savannah and expect snipers to kill off all wild life deemed a threat to them? How about making the Indian jungle free of tigers so that tourists can play hide and seek with their children?
No one on the planet would support this kind of eradication so that we, humans, could play on land. Then why is there a double standard when it comes to the sea? The bias comes from an innate fear we humans harbour for the deep dark sea, we feel more at home on land.

World Parks Congress 2014

On November 27th, the Australian Environment Ministry issued a media release (download the press release here):

“Federal Environment Minister Greg Hunt and New South Wales Environment Minister Robyn Parker announced today that NSW and Australia had been chosen by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature to co-host the landmark environmental congress from 12-19 November 2014. 

“Australia is proud to host this once in a decade event, which sets the international agenda for managing some of the most valuable places on earth,” Mr Hunt said.”

“From today, we’ll be showcasing Australia’s parks on land and sea, not just as beautiful places delegates will visit, but also for their enormous contribution to biodiversity conservation, scientific research and protecting threatened species.


Apparently, federal environment minister Greg Hunt was consulted about the shark killing policies of Western Australia before they were revealed on December 10, 2013.

Mr Hunt, please talk some sense into the Western Australia government.
Education, not eradication.

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