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Long Time Ocean Swimmer: Shark sightings nothing to fear

Last September, the  government of West Australia announced the spending of AUD 6.85 million to monitor and cull sharks close to popular beaches. The US government recently announced plans to place great white sharks on their endangered species list.

The contrast in policies shows just what a difficult and divisive issue sharks have become, after a dramatic rise in fatal shark attacks in WA.

The package includes funding to track and kill sharks that pose a risk to swimmers, to set drum lines to catch and kill sharks that come close to shore, further research, the purchase of jet skis and to trial a beach enclosure. A short time solution, and harmful for the environment.

“We need to have a much more sophisticated understanding of sharks in particular and the marine environment generally before we think these sorts of stop gap solutions are going to be of any long term use. We just can’t go out there and kill every shark,” said Peter Robertson, from the WA Wilderness Society. And how effective are shark nets? In 2009, the NSW Government conducted a study and released a “Shark Meshing Program Report” that reviewed the effectiveness of shark nets on reducing shark attacks. It stated that “the annual rate of attack was the same both before and after meshing commenced.” So why are these measures actually taken? It seems they are a very political  way of keeping voters happy…

 

Shark nets are used throughout Australia and are extremely un-selective: they also catch whales, dolphins, and other sea life. Photo: Office to Ocean

And not all swimmers agree on this. The spate recent shark sightings along the Sunshine Coast is not cause for alarm, according to long-time Coolum resident Ron Hooper. And he should know.

Every day Ron swims 250m out to sea with the 79ers swimming group. In the 30 years since the group began its morning swims, members have seen only one shark. Ron, who has been visiting or living in Coolum since he was a boy, said there had always been sharks swimming up and down the Coast.

Sharks sighting and alarms were a regular occurrence in the past, he said. “At Christmas time, when I was up here as a boy, the club used to catch a tiger shark nearly every year – about 14 foot and they’d bring it in as a display and to raise money. “We used to call First Bay, Shark Bay. “We wouldn’t put our foot in the water. Everyone was wary of Shark Bay.” Ron said shark attacks were rare these days, considering “we’ve got people in the water from daylight to dark every day of the year”.

 

And Ron is not the only water user, who agrees that sharks should be left undisturbed. There are organizations like Surfers Against Shark Culling (https://www.facebook.com/surfersagainstsharkculling), who state on their Facebook page: “We need research into non-lethal solutions, not a knee jerk reaction which could decimate not just one, but several species.”

 

And former pro Mick Campbell wrote on Facebook: “Shark cull in w.a !!? The politicians need culling before the sharks.. Fukin joke…… The ocean has dangers , it’s your choice to swim in their house…. If u happen to be on the menu then that’s bad luck!!!!”

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