The start of the summer season has already been marred by two fatal shark attacks across Australian shores over the last week.
The tragic events have placed added pressure on local authorities to prevent similar events from occurring again.
Many are calling for the pre-emptive destruction of the animals in popular surfing and swimming spots because of the risk they pose to humans.
West Australian premier Colin Barnett, raised the possibility of killing the animals that were spotted near popular beaches along his state’s coastline after a 35-year-old father was fatally attacked while surfing.
The emotive calls to destroy sharks have also been fuelled by another fatal attack on a 19-year-old man at Coffs Harbour in New South Wales over the weekend.
But marine ecologists believe educating surfers about the ways in which they can reduce their risk of being attacked would be more effective than the pre-emptive killing of sharks
They argue that the government will never be able to stop the attacks and that hunting down the individual sharks responsible for the attacks was a virtually impossible task.
‘This is like trying to govern lightning strikes. These are not governable events,” said Christopher Neff, a shark attack policy researcher at The University of Sydney said.
”When you go into a shark’s domain you put yourself in someone else’s hands,” he added.
The misconception of sharks as rogue killers of the sea who have a penache for human blood is a result of their portrayal in popular Hollywood films. In fact little is known about why the attacks occur at all.
‘We have a poor understanding of shark behaviour and what the drivers of these events are and that’s partly because they are extremely rare. It doesn’t happen very often and there’s not enough data to make solid conclusions,” said Dr Colin Simpfendorfer, of James Cook University’s School of Earth and Environmental Sciences.
According to data from the Department of Fisheries, more than 50 great white sharks have been killed as part of shark culling programs across NSW and Queensland since 2008.
Shark nets have been placed off-shore across popular beaches in many states during the warmer months, between September and April, for more than 75 years. However they do not cover the depth of the water from surface to seabed and as such are limited in their effectiveness. In fact a 2009 government enquiry into shark meshing found that: “the annual rate of attack was the same both before and after meshing commenced.”
Interestingly the nets inadvertently killed more than a dozen endangered grey nurse sharks during this period because of the indiscriminate destruction of the sharks species captured.
Such environmental costs have seen other nations recall their shark net programs, such as in New Zealand in 2011. Brazil also cancelled their plans to consider the option – even after 11 attacks in 1994 – because of the environmental impact.
While there is no simple solution to preventing attacks from occurring in the future, professionals believe a change of mindset about sharks is important and the best way to safeguard surfers is to educate them about the animals.
”These are not serial killers, they are fish. The moment you stop treating them like fish, you move them into this place where government can intervene and that puts us in the wrong mind-set,” Neff told reporters.
”We are in the way, not on the menu.”
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