“Seven fatalities in three years says to me and my cabinet colleagues that we must act.” – Colin Barnett.
So it’s looking like sharks are about to get shot and killed off the Western Australian coastline. Against the advice of the worldwide scientific community, and supported by some Western Australian coastal tourism ventures, hooks will be baited 1 kilometre off various beaches along the coastline, with contracted fishermen shooting all tiger, bull and great white sharks over 3 metres long, in an attempt to reduce the risk of shark attacks to humans swimming in these areas. Many smaller sharks will get caught and potentially die on these hooks.
This proposal (apparently not a culling, according to the government, though by definition it is, truly, a culling) has thrown many of us regular folk into an uproar. Great whites are an endangered species. This means that they are vulnerable to extinction. They have been protected since 2007. Protected means that humans are not allowed to kill them. Tiger sharks and bull sharks are both classified as near-threatened. It seems pretty black and white- this is a really, really shitty idea.
I had a look at Environment.gov.au to see what they had to say about what happens if you destroy a member of a protected species. Turns out nothing if you have the appropriate permit. I suppose these contracted fishermen will have the appropriate permit. Permits are strange. Permission to kill an animal. Man, the government doesn’t own that thing. The planet does. Those things own themselves, even. Does Queen Elizabeth really own all of the swans in the Commonwealth? How? Because someone in her family said so ages ago? groan
So, from Environment.gov.au…
“Many Australians are concerned about the risk of shark attack. However, fatal shark attacks occur relatively infrequently in Australian waters – over the last 50 years there have been 53 fatal attacks, which is approximately one fatal attack per year.
There are some easy and common sense precautions to take that can help reduce the risk of a shark attack. This risk minimisation advice is reproduced from the Australian Shark Attack File.
1. Swim at beaches that are patrolled by Surf Life Savers.
2. Do not swim, dive or surf where dangerous sharks are known to congregate.
3. Always swim, dive or surf with other people.
4. Do not swim in dirty or turbid water.
5. Avoid swimming well offshore, near deep channels, at river mouths or along drop-offs to deeper water.
6. If schooling fish start to behave erratically or congregate in large numbers, leave the water.
7. Do not swim with pets and domestic animals.
8. Look carefully before jumping into the water from a boat or wharf.
9. Do not swim a dusk or at night.
10. Do not swim near people fishing or spear fishing.
11. If a shark is sighted in the area leave the water as quickly and calmly as possible.”
So, uh… the government website is saying themselves that fatal shark attacks occur relatively infrequently, which is exactly right. Compared to nearly everything else- car crashes, skin cancer, lightning strikes- hell, Australia’s number one cause of death each year is suicide- shark attacks barely make a dint in terms of the safety of this country’s population and visitors.
Suicides in Western Australia have risen to 13.2 deaths per 100,000 people in the period between 2006-2010, and it is the only state to have a reported rise compared to the five years before hand. The government and community response to this is to increase awareness of mental health issues and to increase accessibility to suicide prevention services, counselling and psychology services, breaking the taboo of depression and encouraging education and support. Perhaps looking to this method of death prevention would be of use to those who are concerned about the safety of humans playing in the environment of powerful, hungry predators. Look back up at that quote about shark fatalities and look again at the suicide statistics. This situation is ridiculous.
“Early detection and alarm systems, community education, and increased scientific research should be much higher priorities than indiscriminate killing of sharks and other marine animals” is what the Conservation Council of Western Australia has said about the issue in recent days. Damn straight. Education! And research. Scientists still don’t know much about these man-eaters. More time is needed to study their movements.
Around 300 sharks have been tagged with transmitters, and each time they go within 1 kilometre from the beach a warning signal is sent automatically to the Western Australia’s Surf Life Saving’s Twitter feed. Perhaps the growing population of Perth and it’s surrounding areas (we’ve seen a 20% rise in beach goers over the last few years) should be better informed on these measures that are keeping an eye out for sharks. Maybe they themselves should actively keep a fucking eye out. “Common sense precaution measures”, JUST LIKE THE GOVERNMENT WEBSITE SAID.
Sure, this may be a kind of shitty thing for tourism in the state, and it’s certainly a tragedy for those affected by the deaths that occur as a result of shark attacks, but is it really necessary to have such a brutish and out-dated risk minimisation strategy?
How about installing big old infinity pools along the coast to cater for those who don’t want to risk shark attack? I can easily see that further increasing tourism all along the coastline, and fostering a greater awareness of the ocean’s wildlife. Hell, you could really get cute about it if you wanted to, just get those same marketing people who have been getting cute with Transperth’s communications about train and bus etiquette. They’re pretty condescending, but they’re probably kind of effective.
HEY COLIN BARNETT.I JUST MADE THIS IMAGE(copyright Tahlia Palmer 2013 etc), why not give me a portion of the $1 million dollars you’re planning to spend on killing a bunch of endangered animals, and I’ll come up with a big ol’ state wide education and marketing initiative you can spend the rest of that cash on to make sure people are aware of the risks attached to entering the ocean, and to encourage humans to stop being such egotistical assholes and actually give a shit about the negative impact we’re having the biodiversity of this planet we were born on. Yeah?