Greenpeace Australia Pacific BLOG

3 scientific ways to help prevent shark attacks. No shotgun required.

Posted on January 29, 2014 by Tom Ganderton
Shark being killed with a rifle next to a boat.

We’re shocked and saddened to hear that the first shark was killed on Australia Day under Western Australia’s brutal catch-and-kill policy.

This image was tweeted by The West Australian on Sunday 26 January. It shows a three metre long, female tiger shark being caught with a hook and killed with a rifle. Reports say her body was then dumped at sea to fall lifelessly to the ocean floor.The worst thing is, this bloody policy is a knee-jerk reaction with virtually no scientific basis to say it’ll stop people being attacked while having a dip in the ocean.

It’s no secret that Greenpeace loves sharks. As an apex predator they play an essential role in maintaining the balance of our marine ecosystems.

Surely the millions of dollars being spent on killing sharks could be better used to support strategies that are proven to reduce attacks? Here are just a handful of ways to start:

1. Educate beach-goers on the risks

The WA Department of Fisheries released its report (PDF 300kb) in 2012 about factors that could put swimmers at increased risk of being attacked by a shark. Here’s what they recommended:

  • Stay out of the water if sharks have been sighted in the area.
  • Stay close to shore (within 30m of the water’s edge).
  • Don’t go in the water alone (stay in groups).
  • Avoid water temperatures lower than 22C.
  • Avoid water depths of greater than 5m when swimming or surfing.
  • Avoid swimming after heavy storms, or in low light conditions (dusk and dawn).
  • Avoid swimming if there are seals, dolphins, whales or baitfish nearby.

Getting this information across to beach swimmers could go a long way to keeping people safe.

2. Get more sharks on Twitter

It might sound crazy, but this brand new initiative could just work.

The newly installed Shark Monitoring System saw more than 330 sharks tagged with electronic devices set to send out a tweet whenever they swim within one kilometre of a beach.

The tweet appears on the official Twitter account of Surf Life Saving Western Australia (@SLSWA). It even includes details of the shark’s size, breed and approximate location – like this:

Tweet of a shark's location

Tweet of a shark’s location

Dr Rory McAuley of the WA Department of Fisheries said the battery in the device could last up to 10 years, giving researchers an unprecedented look into shark movement patterns.

3. Do more and better scientific research 

There’s still so much we don’t know about what causes sharks to attack humans. But the more we know, the more effective government interventions will be.

As Ryan Kempster, a shark biologist at the University of Western Australia said:

“We need to better understand exactly what causes sharks to bite people, what factors are responsible for them venturing closer to shore and more about their biology and life history.

“This kind of research helps us better understand where sharks will be and how they’re likely to behave. More of the same could help us develop strategies to coexist with these important apex predators and continue to enjoy the ocean safely.”

A shark cull doesn’t make sense

The WA Government is in a tricky place with this shark cull policy. It genuinely wants to keep Western Australians safe at the beach, and no one wants to see people needlessly hurt while having a swim.

There’s no ‘magic bullet’ to this complex and controversial issue. A hardline approach like this – according to the scientists – won’t do anyone or our oceans any favours today nor in the future.

What do you think – is the WA ‘shark cull’ policy a defensible method of controlling human deaths from shark attacks at sea? Leave a comment below and let us know what you think.

Blog post by: Tom Ganderton
Tom Ganderton is a Content Creator at Greenpeace Australia Pacific.
All blogposts by Tom Ganderton
  • Dennis L Vickers

    This is what happen in lovers key 2 the Pilot Whales @ Lovers Key in FL. I toke the pic, my self. The 4th.

  • Duncan

    The sea is not our home, so we have nothing to look for. And should be happy that we can use for our pleasure. So get it live in the sea with rest and have respect for nature!

    • Tom, Greenpeace staff

      I agree with you Duncan – it’s so important we find a way to co-exist peacefully. Thanks for your support.

  • Dave Jamieson

    every
    year along the nation’s east coat, hundreds of sharks are killed by
    nets and baited drum-lines in longstanding programs to protect swimmers
    at 136 beaches. These shark control measures have proven effective.
    Between 1919 and 1961, there were 27 reported fatal shark attacks in
    Queensland; since nets and lines were introduced 53 years ago, there has
    been one fatality at a controlled beach. It is 60 years since the only
    NSW death at a netted beach (bodyboarder Zac Young was killed at
    unprotected Campbells Beach last year). Before the 1930s, deaths
    occurred at the rate of one a year – and in both states the number of
    people in the water has at least doubled since the measures began. The
    controls are not foolproof, with sharks able to swim beneath or around
    the nets, yet indisputably while thousands of sharks have been killed,
    many human lives have been saved.Given this history it is surprising
    that shark control measures introduced in Western Australia – after
    seven fatal attacks in three years – are generating such controversy.
    Either the protesters value the lives of West Australian sharks more
    highly than eastern states sharks, or they value the lives of West
    Australian beach goers less than swimmers on the east coast.Havent heard any green peace activism over the eastern states doing this for the last 60 years. Get off your fund raising activism high horse and start saving lives.

    • Tom, Greenpeace staff

      Hi Dave – sharks play an incredibly important part of our oceans, and as an apex predator they help maintain the balance of these delicate ecosystems. They’re an essential part of our oceans. It’s awful to hear about anyone who it killed at sea from a shark attack, but there are more effective and less harmful ways to deal with this problem. In response to your question about our work in WA – the reason we launched the campaign in WA is because we saw a clear opportunity to make a difference before the policy was introduced. Killing sharks to prevent attacks on humans is unacceptable wherever it happens.

      I hope this answers your questions.

      • Dave Jamieson

        where do you live and surf tom?

  • Elana Mulvay

    its not ‘having a dip in the ocean’ that beach goers are worried about. Its when we want to enjoy water sports, and can’t due to the massive increase in shark numbers. I follow the twitter page and am constantly overwhelmed with how many sharks are sighted and how often they are at our major swimming and surfing beaches. More research would be great, but the truth is that while this is happening, more innocent people are dying and families are being ripped apart simply by enjoying the sports they love. There is no evidence that shark numbers are decreasing due to lack of research done on the subject in previous years. So we have to take the fact that regular beach goers are seeing sharks now, when they havnt in the past 30 years, and people are being taken in places where surfers numbers havnt changed in a long time, as a sign that shark numbers are increasing and are dramatically out of balance in the oceans ecosystem.

    I would like to know how often the writer of this goes to the beach and what water sports he does? And if he knows anyone who’s lives have been torn apart by the tradgedies of the recent shark attacks.
    Because greenpeace was down at trigg beach a few weeks ago trying to get support, but when asked, the protesters refused to even get in the water, let alone swim out to the buoy/can like our future surf life savers are doing every day.

    Save People, Not Sharks

    • John

      I have a feeling that sharks take a different perspective on this, especially considering that we have no right “tearing their families apart” simply for the fact they exist and have the potential to be predators. I feel you may also need a lesson in ecosystems, because this killing also has a major effect of all marine ecosystems, which will then have a major effect on us land dwellers.

    • SJG

      If you camp in bear country, you take a risk. If you swim in crocodile territory, you take a risk. If you swim in shark territory… self-explanitory. That’s their home.

    • Camilla Drummond

      if it’s not the sharks it is jellyfish-which seem to be taking over as their predatators are overfished..anyway It is madness to try & exterminate sharks so humans can swim & enjoy sports in shark’s domain…you need to get your priorities right..you are thinking like the masses who only think of themselves & not the repercusions on the planet & biodiversity..

    • Tom, Greenpeace staff

      Hi Elana – thanks for taking a moment to discuss this important issue.

      It’s really terrible to read about anyone losing their life from a shark attack at sea and the effect this has on their families’ lives. I do swim regularly at the beach – living in Australia we have so many beautiful beaches available to us. However I’m relieved to never have been affected by a rare attack directly. At the same time, sharks are an apex predator that play a really important role in the health of our oceans, maintaining a healthy balance that ultimately maintains a healthy fishing industry for example, healthy shark populations are known to help keep coral algae free by managing parrotfish populations (see this link for more: http://www.aims.gov.au/latest-news/-/asset_publisher/MlU7/content/sharks-increase-reef-resilience). Sharks are also a very mobile species and can cover large areas of water over time.

      I hope that more funds are put into research and community awareness programs so that help anyone swimming in our oceans understand the risks and can hopefully avoid this happening to them or their loved ones.

  • Lu

    People wake up!! Sharks are part of nature!!! Killing them is not the right thing, whats wrong with mankind??, everything that bother us, we kill it? Its that the right thing to do? I Dont think so! We should find ways to prevent shark attacks, not getting a gun and point it in their heads like this men did!! It’s sad…THINK A BETTER WAY

    • Tom, Greenpeace staff

      Absolutely Lu, I agree that more effective and humane alternatives exists to this ‘shark cull’ policy. I hope these are included in any response to terrible shark attacks at sea.

  • Allie

    I just don’t understand how people can think that it is perfectly ok to damage the earths natural ecosystems and oceans simply for their own convenience. Killing off animals that have been a part of the earth much longer than we have, simply because they are an inconvenience to humans, is disgusting. People need to stop thinking that just because they want something, they can have it. We aren’t the only occupants of this world, and we need to respect the other species that call it home. Additionally, the ocean is not even an environment that humans can habit. We’ve already destroyed enough of the land of Earth, where and when will it stop?

  • John

    The sea is the sharks home, they are not just soulless killing machines.
    I have been swimming with sharks any chance I get and never had 1 attack me.
    People know that they are in the water so simpler stay out if you don’t like the risk.

    Sharks don’t have hands so they bite things instead, and most attacks are mistakes thing it’s a seal or fish in distress. It is so wrong to kill these animals why not go kill all the drug dealers and murderers if we kill anything that could hurt us

  • Niall Casey

    I agree. Tag as many large sharks (capable of attacking humans) as possible and perhaps correlate the likelihood of being attacked with the proximity of these tagged sharks. Similar to bushfire warnings at the side of the road, a board would be visible at beaches which indicated the likelihood of a shark attack based on tagged sharks in the area. Swimmers/divers/surfers etc would then know the risk and have to make a decision based on this. I realise there are thousands of sharks out there that meet the “3+m man-eater description” but I would have thought that the cost of tagging would be reduced by people willing to volunteer there time to perform the tagging process. This tagging process could be the largest tagging programme in the world and Western Australia would be commended for their initiative/foresight rather than ridiculed for their poor judgement and planning

    • Niall Casey

      Also the WA Department of Fisheries Report looks like it was done in an afternoon. Just an observation.

  • Celeste

    Don’t understand the logic behind this at all. What are they going to do, keep culling until there are absolutely no sharks left in WA? Seriously the problem is the people taking stupid risks, and a beautiful piece of nature is once again having to pay for it

  • Lizabeth

    Humanity does seem to value itself way and beyond any other life form. It’s strange how we get so het up over the rights of different races, ages, sexuality, gender issues etc but when it comes to other species that are equally important in this big beautiful world of ours we don’t seem to care two hoots? We (humans) affect this planet particularly the environment far more than any other creature. We rape the earth and poison it on a daily basis, we overpopulate without a thought to what our children might be inheriting if anything worth having at all after the previous generation has finished with it. In some ways I hope there is such a thing as reincarnation so that the bastards that are stuffing it up now have to live in their mess next time : )
    I really admire organisations like Greenpeace, they heroically keep banging their wonderful heads up against the metaphorical brick wall by trying to keep the masses informed of whats going on. Sadly most people only care about if they might be inconvenienced by not being able to enjoy a water sport in the ocean because a shark might do the unthinkable and eat them. I would like to know how much of the shark’s natural diet is still in the ocean that hasn’t been caught in our deep sea fishing nets or poisoned because human activity? Killing the odd shark here and there isn’t going to solve the possibility of someone being bitten or eaten, all it does it make some idiot politician look as though he or she is tackling the problem and ‘doing something about it’ but in reality that is not the case.

  • Bevanvdl

    This is a ridiculous choice by the government. Its as if people have not even given it a second thought. The fact that there is no scientific proof to back up there side of the story makes it even worse. I have made my aim to be a marine biologist and study these beautiful creatures, and to learn there patterns and prevent future attacks, but at this rate there won’t be any sharks to study. Why can’t the government wake up and listen to the fact that this is there habitat, and what he is doing is going to have an impact on all of us in the future, as this could completely screw up our lovely eco system. He isn’t really saving us! and all up we should agree with sharks because i mean hey if someone walked in to my house wearing speedos I would be scared as well!!

  • Kez

    As a human race it is our responsibility to protect all our natural wonders, stating the obvious ,yes, legislation/policy in place is to protect the economy and nothing more… Sharks do not discriminate, humans do…. the ultimate price will not only be our natural wonders exploited beyond recovery but the economy will eventually pay dearly also…., is all completely Incomprehensible and purely frustrating.

  • KB

    Humans encourage sharks to habituate areas they normally wouldn’t, increasing their curiosity with boats and human activity through tourist activities eg chumming exploiting for tourism revenue, claim to protect them then make an exemption to cull. Hypocrisy!! Lunacy!