While most Australians spent the weekend celebrating, one commercial fisherman spent Australia Day capturing and killing a three-meter tiger shark – the first casualty in a government-sponsored shark culling program that is set to run through the end of 2014.
Spearheaded by the Western Australia (WA) government – in response to seven shark attack deaths in WA over the past three years – the controversial shark cull has been condemned by environmentalists and ordinary Australians alike. In fact, a new poll found that more than 82 percent of Australians oppose the killing.
Additionally, the UMR Research poll of 500 adults found that “83 percent of [respondents] haven’t changed how often they swim, surf or take part in other recreational activities in the ocean because of the risk of shark attack [and] 78 percent feel safe from shark attacks when going into the ocean.”
The survey results, which were reprinted by The Sydney Morning Herald, also indicated strong demand for humane methods of shark attack prevention. Sixty percent of respondents said that high-risk beaches should be protected with some form of mesh barrier or netting.
WA premier Colin Barnett, who was heckled at an Australia Day event on Sunday, stood by his government’s decision to go ahead with the culling.
“When you have sharks that are three, four, five meters long of known aggressive varieties, swimming in the water very close to beachgoers, that is an imminent danger,” he said. “I get no pleasure out of seeing sharks killed but I have an overriding responsibility to protect the people.”
The Guardian reported that activists had removed bait from drum lines set in place to catch the sharks – with great white, tiger, and bull sharks measuring three or more meters in length being targeted specifically. As with Sunday’s first catch, the sharks will then be shot at close range and dumped back into the ocean.
“How can we condemn Japan for the indiscriminate killing of whales and dolphins, and do this to our precious protected marine life here in Australia?” asked Jeff Hansen, the managing director for militant conservationist group Sea Shepherd’s Australian branch. “This method is utterly cruel and inhumane and these animals can take many hours to die.”
A citizen of Perth also started a Change.org petition, addressed to Barnett, that demands an end to the culling. So far, more than 20,000 people have signed.
The program was given the go-ahead by federal government minister Greg Hunt, who granted WA an exception to the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act. The Act bans the hunting of great white sharks – a protected species in Australia.
Last month, a group sponsored by the Department of Fisheries WA, started tagging large sharks and tweeting their locations to swimmers and surfers. Surf Life Saving Western Australia also sends live alerts from lifeguards and patrol helicopters – all non-lethal ways to keep humans from becoming fish food.