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Australia Has Declared War On Sharks

There have been seven fatal shark attacks in Western Australia over the past three years. It's a consistent increase on previous years—a 100 percent increase no less (two, rather than one per year)—and a lot of people reckon something needs to be done.

by Carly Learson
Feb 3 2014, 5:30pm


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There have been seven fatal shark attacks in Western Australia over the past three years. That's a sizable increase on previous years—two, rather than one per year—and a lot of people think something needs to be done.

So what is it that drives sharks into beaches to chomp on that most protected and defenseless species, humans? Is it the taste? If they were feeding on our more rotund members then that would make sense. They might even mistake them for a juicy seal. But the people attacked in the past few years have been surfers with barely an ounce of fat.

The nutritional value? Humans are the equivalent of hormone-pumped stressed out cage chickens—surely a last resort if you're deprived of vitamins.

Convenience? Possibly. We as humans know all too well the value of drive-through, food that's easy and cheap and makes you feel not hungry anymore but leaves you with regret. We can't swim away and we can't fight back—it's a cheap, easy meal for a Great White.

Or are we at war? We consider ourselves the dominant species, but maybe that's only on land. And land only makes up 30 percent of the Earth. In the ocean, innocent, magnificent creatures like seals and fish, even dolphins and whales, are being massacred and eaten every day by the humans of the sea—sharks. Are they coming after us now?

Maybe sharks are challenging our position as Super Predator. If so, we don't need to worry—Western Australia's Premier Colin Barnett is all over it. He's hired a crack team of fishermen with orders to kill sharks on sight. The people of that state have contributed more than $20 million for patrol boats and baited hooks. Last week they got one—a female tiger shark left hanging by the mouth on a hook for up to 12 hours before being shot in the head four times by a fisherman, the first trophy in Barnett's revenge killing spree. But the sharks are still up, 7 to 1.

To make matters more annoying for the Premier, the sharks have a huge campaign team here on land in the form of conservationists, people who love sharks so much they'd probably be honored to be eaten by one. Some of them are even diving into the ocean and stealing bait from the hooks

Last week the fishermen who were supposed to be the frontline soldiers quit, thanks at least partly to Team Shark's PR department. That hasn't swayed General Barnett—he's sending his own public servants, fisheries staff, out on boats instead.

The premier has been given crucial support for his plan from Australia's Federal Government. We have domestic laws here, and have signed international conventions that forbid the killing of protected species. However, the environment minister, Greg Hunt, has lifted a ban on killing certain protected species of shark because it's in the national interest to get rid of them, since sharks make people afraid to go in the water, or as he puts it, engage in "water-based activities." And that means they won't come from all over the globe to spend hundreds of dollars a night in Western Australia's hotels and buy $11 milkshakes and $19 sausage rolls from their cafes. (By the way, tourists, you're getting ripped off. Even Sydney's cheaper.)

But back to sharks: maybe we've got it wrong and this isn't a new war, but one that's been raging for centuries, and one which we're on the brink of winning. After all, humans manage to kill somewhere between 30 and 70 million sharks every year, and sharks only off a handful of people.

We're already doing a pretty good job of consolidating our position at the top of the food chain here in Australia. We've managed to eliminate 54 animal species in the country since white people arrived, including 27 mammals—a third of what the entire world has managed to do, and many of them animals that could only be found here—so we know what we're doing. Commercial fishing vessels come pretty close to sweeping up entire species every day—factory fishing boats literally suck them out of the sea with vacuums. Trawlers trap not just the fish we eat, but everything else as well. The toxic waste we produce that makes its way to the ocean has seen the life expectancy of orca whales halved, and mammals like dolphins, whales, and seals getting cancer in high numbers. Pumping gases into the atmosphere has caused the temperature of the top 700 meters of ocean to rise faster than any species can adapt to it.

In the end, we might be the sharks' biggest problem, but they're not ours. Pet dogs manage to kill as many humans as sharks, and inanimate objects like walls, roofs, and ladders are responsible for 1000 times more fatalities each year. Greg Hunt's beloved water-based activities led to at least 48 drownings last year.  

The chances of getting killed by a shark are estimated at 1 in 292,525. You're more likely to get struck and killed by lightning.

This cull is overkill and, quite frankly, stupid.

Follow Carly on Twitter: @carlylearson

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