Letter to WA Premier Regarding Shark Culling

January 20, 2014

 

Read our recent letter to Australia's Prime Minister and WA Premier Colin Barnett regarding the latest decision to cull sharks.

 

"As an association of veterinarians advocating for animal welfare, we wish to express our opposition to the Western Australian State Government’s proposed ‘bait and kill’ policy for large sharks. Our concerns about the Government’s policy are outlined as follows:

 

1) The Great White Shark has been listed as ‘vulnerable and migratory’ under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999, and is a legally protected species in both state and federal legislation, as well as being Red-listed as ‘threatened’ by the IUCN (International Union for the Conservation of Nature). The proposal of a bait and kill policy to a species already in decline will further harm its survival. This also sets an alarming precedent for disregarding legislative protection based on conservation status, particularly given Australia’s shameful record of species loss. 

 

2) The killing will not be humane. Large sharks caught by hook and line experience severe capture distress, pain and injury, and will remain in this state until they are discovered by contractors and shot.

 

3) The use of baited drum lines will not selectively kill sharks, so will result in the deaths of marine species such as dolphins, turtles, seals, humpback whales, smaller sharks and other fish, many of which are harmless and may already be threatened or endangered. The loss of key breeding stock of some fish species will be detrimental to the local commercial fishing industry.

 

4) This policy will impact in unknown ways on the ocean’s delicate ecosystem, an issue that appears not to have been considered.

 

5) The policy is unlikely to meet its stated objective of reducing shark attacks on humans because it has not received careful consideration or accepted the advice of scientific experts in the field. We acknowledge that the risk of shark attacks has increased, but this raises the empirical question of what has altered in the interaction between humans and sharks in the coastal environment of concern. We note evidence that the increased risk of shark attacks is associated with changes in human behaviour, such as increasing numbers of people engaging in water sports and venturing into isolated coastal areas, rather than with any change in shark numbers (West, 2011) to be addressed is simplistic and potentially dangerous, especially given historical evidence that shark culls have not been successful in decreasing shark attacks on humans, an example being the culling of 4,500 sharks in Hawaii between 1959 and 1976.

 

6) The policy has been developed in an alarmist manner, and has exaggerated the risk of fatal shark attacks to humans, which is 1.1 per year, in contrast to the greater risk of death by drowning, at 87 deaths per year (West, 2011). Therefore, targeting sharks as the only factor to be addressed is simplistic and potentially dangerous, especially given historical evidence that shark culls have not been successful in decreasing shark attacks on humans, an example being the culling of 4,500 sharks in Hawaii between 1959 and 1976.

 

7) The policy has been imposed on the Australian public despite their obvious distress at the prospect of Western Australia’s beautiful coastline becoming a ‘kill zone’. This is likely to do more to harm the tourist industry than reports of individual deaths from shark attacks, and there has been considerable international interest in the recent public rallies attended by thousands.

 

Sentient supports the views expressed by Dr Ryan Kempster and 100 shark scientists in their open letter to the WA Government, recommending a focus on non-lethal alternatives to the current shark control proposal, such as a government-managed capture, transport and release program with shark tagging and monitoring (which has been effective in Brazil) and increased public education about reducing the risk of shark attacks.

 

We request that the WA Government urgently repeals the proposed shark mitigation program and redirects resources towards developing options for shark management that are humane, sustainable and scientifically proven."

 

Sincerely

Sentient, The Veterinary Institute for Animal Ethics"

 

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