Shark Management Procedures in Western Australia

MEMORANDUM

To: Premier of Western Australia, Colin Barnett

From: Adrienne Mathis—Davidson College, United States

Date: February 2015

Subject: Shark Management Procedures in Western Australia

Current Western Australian shark management tactics rely on culling, a strategy with decreasing scientific and public approval. A new shark management plan must be created to address ecological and conservation concerns before an increase in shark attacks prompts another unpopular cull. I propose a new procedure that requires local policymakers to do the following before instituting another cull: collect more scientific data about shark populations, improve shark reporting technology, and conduct a 3-month trial of relocating rogue sharks. This process will gain more support from conservationists, scientists and the public because of its efforts to minimize the number of sharks killed while attempting to decrease human fatalities. If successful, the marine ecosystem and beach visitors will be better protected and more sharks will be conserved.

Background and Previous Policy

  • Between 2010 and 2013, seven fatal shark attacks occurred in the waters of south Western Australia, a drastic increase from the 13 deaths between 2000 and 2010.[1] Great white sharks, a classified “vulnerable” species, committed five of the attacks.[2]
  • Media attention and public fear prompted the Western Australian government to order a new shark management strategy from January to April 2014 that placed baited drum lines 1 km from the shore along popular Western Australian beaches to attract sharks.[3] All tiger, bull, and white sharks longer than 3 meters were killed.[4]
  • After the 13 week culling period, 172 sharks were caught, 50 tiger sharks over 3 m were killed, and 18 smaller sharks died as bycatch on the lines. Zero great white sharks were caught.[5]

Governmental motivations for culling:

  • Ensure public safety for Western Australia citizens[6]
  • Maintain the tourism industry that brings in $7.5 billion annually[7]

Conservationists’ reasons for opposition:

  • Culling’s unproven effectiveness because of scientists’ inability to isolate its effects from other factors that deplete shark populations such as pollution, illegal fishing, and global warming[8]
  • Ecological impacts of shark depletion such as overpopulation of prey species[9]
  • International desire to protect sharks, especially the vulnerable great white sharks[10]

Current Policy

Culls were to be carried out for the next 3 summers, yet in September 2014 the regulator of the Australian EPA advised against the culling because of the “need to maintain the diversity, geographic distribution, and viability of marine life”.[11] Currently, an “imminent threat” policy is in place, which permits the catch and kill of “rogue” sharks that linger near beaches and could potentially harm beach visitors.[12]

Problems with Current Policy

Three shark attacks have occurred since the last cull.[13] If this trend continues and the media evokes fear again, the Western Australian government may repeal the EPA’s decision to stop the cull to ensure public safety. Procedures should be in place to prevent a hastily ordered cull.

Additionally, the imminent threat policy does not define ‘imminent’ or ‘threat’ and fails to clearly state when a shark should be killed.[14] This ambiguity is problematic because:

  • People can perceive sharks to be an imminent threat without considering the sharks’ ecological motivations for being in that location (nursing or feeding area).[15]
  • Shark species are not easily distinguishable from one another, so visitors may assume a lingering tiger shark, a tranquil species, is as an aggressive great white shark and will be misperceived as a threat.[16]

Recommendation

Complete these three steps before ordering another cull:

1) Conduct more scientific research: Collect more data regarding shark migration patterns, feeding and nursing sites, and previous shark attack trends to determine why shark fatalities have recently increased in certain areas and the damage a cull might have on the marine ecosystem. This research will decrease the uncertainty surrounding culls and shark attacks.

2) Improve shark-reporting technology: Create a mobile app that will simplify and increase reports of shark sightings at beaches. Include an option to draw or photograph the shark so scientists can identify the species. Make reports available to all visitors within a 50-mile radius and post them at the beach. This app can raise visitor awareness and reduce the likelihood of misidentifying the species of the rogue shark.

3) Conduct a 3-month trial of rogue shark relocation: Rather than killing lingering sharks, capture and release them in deeper waters with satellite transmitters to monitor their future movements. Relocation has reduced shark bites by 97% in Brazil[17] and will satisfy the conservationists’ desire to protect sharks. Yellowstone National Park follows similar procedures for grizzly bears.[18]

Explanation and Analysis

The 2014 cull evoked fierce protests from community members, international conservation groups, and scientists because the order seemed to disregard environmental concerns. These proposed steps will educate the public and policymakers and incorporate more conservation tactics into shark management strategies. If more fatal attacks ensue, the Western Australian government will have scientific data to either reassure conservationists that the scale of this type of cull is not harmful to the ecosystem or determine that culling is not the most effective means of handling shark attacks.

SWOT Analysis

  • Strengths: These steps address most concerns of culling opponents: science, education, and conservation. They also show conservationists their concerns are being heard, which decreases political resentment and can prevent protests from conservationists if another cull is ordered because there will be proof of scientific evidence and relocation efforts. This process exhibits Western Australia’s concern for the protection of sharks to the international community. Also increased awareness of shark presence at beaches can prevent human fatalities, especially at remote beaches.
  • Weaknesses: Scientific data, especially about migrating sharks in an ocean full of factors, cannot be completely conclusive, meaning this step has no endpoint. Validity of shark reports will be unknown, and studies cannot measure how many human lives have been saved with relocation.[19] Allocating money and vessels to relocate sharks detracts from resources used to patrol beaches.[20]
  • Opportunities: These steps allow the government to make more informed decisions for all shark management strategies, not just culling. They also empower local beach communities because beachgoers are given a role in both human and shark protection. Western Australia can become a national role model by creating innovative technology for shark reporting, and, if successful, instituting the relocation strategy in other parts of Australia such as Queensland.
  • Threats: More shark attacks may instigate another cull before this recommendation can be completed.

Conclusion

This process requires many resources, yet its multi-faceted approach has the potential to protect the Western Australian government from another severe conservationist backlash. Additional research, improved technology and awareness, and shark relocation can turn Western Australia into a global leader in shark protection and human fatality prevention. To mitigate the above weaknesses, collaborate with conservation organizations to fund relocation efforts and teach the public shark identification tips. Reaching these goals empowers the Western Australian government to make more informed shark management decisions.

 

References

  1. Kerrigan, A. Sharknado in Western Australia. Cornell International Law Journal (2014). at http://cornellilj.org/sharknado-in-western-australia/

[2]. Innis, M. Australian Catch-and-Kill Shark Policy, Meant to Reassure, Horrifies Some. International New York Times (2014). at http://www.nytimes.com/2014/02/04/world/asia/australian-states-shark-cull-policy-draws-protest.html?_r=0

[3]. Gibbs, L. & Warren, A. Killing Sharks: cultures and politics of encounter and the sea. Australian Geographer. 45, 101-107 (2014)

[4]. Trouwborst, A. Aussie Jaws and International Laws: The Australian Shark Cull and the Convention on Migratory Species. Cornell International Law Journal Online (2014). at http://cornellilj.org/aussie-jaws-and-international-laws/

[5]. Graef, A. Australia to end shark cull. Environmental News Network (2014). at http://www.enn.com/wildlife/article/47830

[6]. Innis, M. Australian Catch-and-Kill Shark Policy, Meant to Reassure, Horrifies Some. International New York Times (2014). at http://www.nytimes.com/2014/02/04/world/asia/australian-states-shark-cull-policy-draws-protest.html?_r=0

[7]. Innis, M. Australian Catch-and-Kill Shark Policy, Meant to Reassure, Horrifies Some. International New York Times (2014). at http://www.nytimes.com/2014/02/04/world/asia/australian-states-shark-cull-policy-draws-protest.html?_r=0

[8]. Reed, C. & Le Page, M. Biting back. New Scientist. 222 (2014)

[9]. Kerrigan, A. Sharknado in Western Australia. Cornell International Law Journal (2014). at http://cornellilj.org/sharknado-in-western-australia/

[10]. Trouwborst, A. Aussie Jaws and International Laws: The Australian Shark Cull and the Convention on Migratory Species. Cornell International Law Journal Online (2014). at http://cornellilj.org/aussie-jaws-and-international-laws/

[11]. Shark cull in Western Australia blocked by regulator. BBC News (2014). at http://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-29170035

[12]. Neff, C. The Jaws Effect: How movie narratives are used to influence policy responses to shark bites in Western Australia. Australian Journal of Political Science. (2014)

[13]. Wahlquist, C. Teenager dies after shark attack in Western Australia. The Guardian (2014). at http://www.theguardian.com/australia-news/2014/dec/29/man-dies-in-suspected-shark-attack-in-western-australia

[14]. Neff, C. The Jaws Effect: How movie narratives are used to influence policy responses to shark bites in Western Australia. Australian Journal of Political Science. (2014)

[15]. Vickery, K. Drum lines back in water after shark returns. Perth Now (2014). at http://www.perthnow.com.au/news/western-australia/drum-lines-back-in-water-after-shark-returns/story-fnhocxo3-1227162881756

[16]. Vickery, K. Drum lines back in water after shark returns. Perth Now (2014). at http://www.perthnow.com.au/news/western-australia/drum-lines-back-in-water-after-shark-returns/story-fnhocxo3-1227162881756

[17]. Hazin, F.H., & Afonso, A.S. A green strategy for shark attack mitigation off Recife, Brazil. Animal Conservation. 17, 287-296 (2014)

[18]. Final Conservation Strategy for the Grizzly Bear in Greater Yellowstone Area (2007). at http://www.fws.gov/mountain-prairie/species/mammals/grizzly/Final_Conservation_Strategy.pdf

[19]. Reed, C. & Le Page, M. Biting back. New Scientist. 222 (2014)

[20]. Innis, M. Australian Catch-and-Kill Shark Policy, Meant to Reassure, Horrifies Some. International New York Times (2014). at http://www.nytimes.com/2014/02/04/world/asia/australian-states-shark-cull-policy-draws-protest.html?_r=0

 

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