Evidence received about the need for, and
effectiveness of, lethal shark control programs
The preceding chapters largely provide background information about the shark
management techniques used in Australia. This chapter begins the report's
examination of the evidence received by delving into the issue that is at the
heart of the inquiry: whether the lethal shark control programs used in New
South Wales and Queensland, and previously proposed for Western Australia, are
effective and appropriate public safety measures. The evidence outlined in this
chapter provides a foundation for the chapters that follow, including Chapter
5, which consider the exemptions granted to state governments to conduct trials
of lethal shark control measures; Chapters 6 and 7, which examines the
alternative shark mitigation and deterrence approaches and technologies available;
and Chapter 8, which contains the committee's overall conclusions.
The need for, and effectiveness of, lethal shark control measures
attracted significant and passionate debate. Accordingly, this matter is
discussed in this chapter at length. The chapter begins by examining views on
the extent to which state governments should have a role in protecting members
of the public who decide to enter waters where shark populations exist. The
chapter then examines the arguments received in favour of the lethal shark
control programs, followed by the evidence questioning, or presenting arguments
against, lethal shark control programs.
Role of government
Before examining the evidence received about the effectiveness of lethal
shark control measures, it is instructive to consider the evidence put forward
regarding whether governments have a legitimate role in providing such measures
in the first place.
It is evident that governments within Australia and globally have taken
different approaches in response to shark bites. For example, as this report
has identified, lethal shark control programs have been used in New South Wales
and Queensland for decades. Lethal measures are also used in South Africa and
However, the committee was advised that governments in the United States do not
respond to shark bite incidents. Professor Colin Simpfendorfer remarked that
the government policy there is 'essentially not do anything in terms of going
out and trying to catch or reduce populations' as the potential of encountering
a dangerous shark is seen as 'an assumed risk'.
It is evident that significant amounts of public money have been spent
on shark control measures and research. A non-exhaustive list of government
expenditure on shark matters in recent years is at Table 4.1. The table also
notes some private sector and community expenditure that was highlighted during
Table 4.1: List of programs and
expenditure relating to sharks, various years
|National Environmental Science Program funding in relation to
|Expenditure associated with the development of the Shark Recovery
|New South Wales
|Shark Management Strategy
||$16 million over five years (including $7.7 million for surveillance,
detection and deterrence measures; $7 million for research; and $1.3 million
for education and community awareness) (2)
||$1.4 million/year (estimate)(3)
|Cost of shark control program
|Research into behaviour of large sharks (2009)
||$125,000 over five years(4)
|South Australian Aerial Patrol
||$400,000 (2015–16) (3)
|South Australia Surf Life Saving Association expenditure on aerial
|Beach and aerial surveillance
||$12.24 million over 2012–2017(5)
|Extended beach patrols in the south west to cover school holiday
||$2.62 million (2014–15 to 2018–19) (5)
|Funding to Surf Life Saving WA for jet skis (2012) and a trial of
drone surveillance technology (2016)
|Various beach enclosures
||$1.2 million by state government,(5) $510,000 by City of
Joondalup (plus $40,000/year to maintain) (6)
|Drum line trial
||$1.28 million (2014)(5)
|Serious threat policy
||$2.8 million (2012–2020)(5)
|Trial of Clever Buoy technology at City Beach (2016–2017)
|Funding for the Shark Response Unit, SmarkSmart website and BeachSafe
||$4.43 million (2011–2020)(5)
|Shark Monitoring Network and shark tagging and tracking
||$3.7 million (2013–2020)(5)
|Other science and research projects
|Watchtowers at Cottesloe Beach
|Private and community sectors
|Clever Buoy research and development
||$10 million over 15 years(8)
|Australian Aerial Patrol
Notes: Date ranges for multi-year funding and future
funding commitments is indicated where available. Figures given by third
parties are indicative only.
Sources: (1) DoEE, Submission
55, pp. 8–9; (2) New South Wales Department of Primary Industries (DPI),
"NSW Shark Management Strategy', www.dpi.nsw.gov.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/0006/581694/nsw-shark-management-strategy-factsheet.pdf
(accessed 7 November 2017); (3) Australian Aerial Patrol, Submission 6,
pp. 9, 19; (4) Queensland Department of Agriculture and Fisheries, Submission
32, pp. 1, 4; (5) DoEE, Submission 55, Attachment 3; (6) Mr Tony
Pickard, Mayor, City of Joondalup, Committee Hansard, 20 April 2017, pp.
31, 33; (7) Mr Richard Talmage, General Manager, Shark Mitigation Systems, Committee
Hansard, 17 March 2017, p. 44; (8) Mr Lindsay Lyon, Managing Director,
Shark Shield, Committee Hansard, 20 April 2017, p. 4.
This section builds on evidence previously noted in this report about
the relatively low risk of a person encountering a dangerous shark compared to
the risks associated with many other activities that can result in fatalities
or injuries. Evidence received about the effects of lethal shark control
measures on the marine environment and the cost of the measures is also
Arguments in favour of government
State governments themselves have made some of the clearest arguments in
support of government action to help reduce the risk of people encountering
dangerous sharks while engaging in water-based activities.
In correspondence provided in December 2016, the then Premier of Western
Australia, the Hon Colin Barnett, advised the committee that his government was
'committed to addressing its duty of care to minimise the risk of shark
Similarly, the relevant New South Wales minister has stated that, '[a]lthough
no government can guarantee complete safety', the New South Wales Government is
'committed to doing everything it can to ensure the safety of beachgoers,
swimmers and surfers'.
The Queensland Government considers that the lethal shark control measures it
operates are an 'important safety initiative'.
The extent to which these declarations of government responsibility to
minimise the risk presented by sharks rest with the states alone is less clear.
The Department of the Environment and Energy submitted:
It is the responsibility of state and territory governments
to focus on public safety and manage the risks to people from sharks in their
waters. States and territories are primarily responsible for determining which
measures best provide for public safety in their jurisdictions.
Yet in his correspondence to the Commonwealth Minister for the
Environment and Energy, the New South Wales Minister for Primary Industries
argued that shark encounters have national implications that necessitate the
Commonwealth's attention. The Minister for Primary Industries commented:
Public safety is a responsibility of all governments.
Unprovoked shark interactions are not specific to NSW and are considered a
national issue where State and Commonwealth Governments need to work
cooperatively to ensure the protection of swimmers and surfers.
Individuals and community organisations also commented on the need for
government to play a role in public safety regarding sharks.
Mr Daniel Webber argued that the community, and therefore the
government, has a duty to protect children through measures that directly reduce
the risk of encountering a shark. Mr Webber argued that, at present, personal
deterrents are not suitable for young surfers due to the electric shocks
incurred (this is discussed in Chapter 6). Likewise, he argued that education
measures have limited benefits due to the risks that teenagers are willing to
take. Mr Webber explained:
Surfing really is an addiction, and any young surfer who
finds good waves going unridden will paddle out no matter what the conditions.
Besides, teenagers thrive on risk, especially if someone is advising them
against an activity. I should also add that younger surfers surf more often and
longer than most adults, and smaller boards are more likely to be attacked. So
they are a high-risk group.
In its submission, the Ballina Lighthouse & Lismore Surf Lifesaving
Club argued that the government has a role in supporting research that
facilitates new technologies for shark deterrence. The Club noted that an
additional benefit of government support for the development of these technologies
could be the creation of an export industry.
Mr Andrew Stark, Chief Executive Officer, Surfing Australia, commented
that, in his view, the role of government in minimising the risk of a person in
the water encountering a dangerous shark should involve a combination of
approaches. Mr Stark explained:
There is not any one particular answer: investment in
technology and science, investment in education around the dangers of it,
investment in current programs whilst you are working on new programs, investment
in surveillance and investment in community consultation. A lot of things are
already happening. There is probably more that can happen. It is not a one‑key-fits
approach. There are certainly a number of different strategies from different
stakeholder groups to make sure that this is addressed holistically.
Arguments against lethal measures based
on the inability of governments to guarantee public safety
It was widely accepted that governments have a role in promoting the
safety of beachgoers. However, some submitters and witnesses argued that it is
not possible for governments to ensure a completely safe ocean environment. As
governments cannot guarantee public safety, these submitters and witnesses
reasoned that governments should not implement or maintain measures that damage
the marine environment.
For example Ms Claudette Rechtorik, Manager, SEA LIFE Trust
Australia/New Zealand, argued:
The government has a role to play in the safety of the
beach-going public. However, it is not the role of the government, nor is it
even possible, to give the ocean-going community a 100 per cent safe ocean
environment. The deployment of shark nets and drum lines is creating not
only a false sense of security but one that carries a significant toll for tens
of thousands of threatened and endangered marine life. Through multiple surveys
in multiple locations, the consistent response from the majority of respondents
is that they do not support mechanisms that kill our marine life.
Ms Jessica Morris, Marine Scientist, Humane Society International (HSI),
Given the fact that the government can never guarantee public
safety in the ocean, we wish to again emphasise that by-catch of protected,
harmless and threatened wildlife in Australia's shark control programs is
unsustainable and, therefore, should be unacceptable to policymakers.
Similarly, Australia for Dolphins argued that governments 'cannot ever
guarantee public safety in the ocean' and should 'adopt a risk management
approach' with an emphasis on non-lethal shark management strategies.
The Australian Marine Conservation Society (AMCS) acknowledged that
human–shark encounters have 'the potential for very significant consequences
for individuals, families and friends'. The AMCS also recognised that governments
'can and should implement beach safety mechanisms in relation to shark
interactions'. However, the AMCS emphasised that shark interactions 'are still
highly rare events' and 'it is not possible to mitigate the risk entirely'.
Furthermore, the AMCS argued that there 'is no one perfect solution to keeping
sharks and humans completely separated in the marine environment, and there
should be no expectation of such'. According to the AMCS, lethal shark control
programs 'are doing more damage to the marine environment than providing
benefit to ocean users' and is an approach that is 'both archaic and
emphasising the need for personal responsibility and a limited role for
Several stakeholders who oppose lethal shark control measures asserted
that individuals who choose to enter waters where sharks may be present are
doing so at their own risk. As a result, these stakeholders reason that there
should be a greater expectation that these individuals take personal responsibility
for this risk. Accordingly, government actions to alleviate the risk presented
by shark bites should be limited.
For example, Associate Professor Daryl McPhee noted that:
From the perspective of governments there is a question as to
how much a government should intervene, and to what cost, and to what extent,
to provide mitigation for people to undertaken a leisure activity of their
choosing, when and where they choose. Millions of dollars of taxpayers money is
spent annually in response to unprovoked shark bite and its mitigation.
Associate Professor McPhee asserted that 'individuals need to take
greater responsibility for their own safety as the priority, and not rely
principally on government'. In support of this view, the associate professor contrasted
the programs in place to protect water users from sharks compared to the lack
of specific and extensive public safety measures introduced for other leisure
Using an analogy from the terrestrial environment, a mountain
bike rider or a rock climber does not expect a government to make an area 100%
safe for those activities. They may expect a government to provide up to date
information which facilitates them making a more informed decision, but not
active programs to eliminate hazards.
Associate Professor McPhee added that, in his view, there is a role for
government in developing educational material and supporting research needed
for 'developing the tools' to respond more effectively to the risk of shark
incidents. However, the associate professor emphasised that governments do not
need to fund such research in its entirety, particularly as there 'is a lot of
commercial interest in this area'. Finally, Associate Professor McPhee
suggested that the government could assist in improving the support provided
following a shark incident. He explained:
I think there is a significant gap in support for victims,
their families and first responders. It is a very acute post-traumatic stress
disorder. Certainly the New South Wales government in the last round provided
some funding for that area. I think that is an area Commonwealth health
services could also look at. I do not know what that would look like, but to me
this seems to be a very clear gap where a lot of support could be undertaken.
Dr Sharon Burden highlighted the need for personal responsibility in
relation to undertaking ocean-based recreational activities, with
government-backed efforts to promote public safety playing a supplementary
role. Dr Burden stated:
To me, as individuals we play a key role in saying: 'What
will I do when I choose a sport that is in the ocean? What personal
protective equipment am I prepared to use and purchase? Given all that, the
apps available, the information at the beach and the local knowledge I have
when I step into the water, have I done everything I possibly can to keep
If then, later, on top of that, you have governments working
collaboratively together with surf lifesaving and local organisations to make
that beach safer—whether it is through drones, shark spotting towers or
whatever it might be—we have layered up the protection from both sides, and
that is the best that we can do.
Sea Shepherd Australia argued that state governments are not responsible
for the conduct of marine animals. In comments similar to those expressed by
Associate Professor McPhee (see paragraph 4.22), Sea Shepherd contrasted the
risk of shark bite with that associated with other leisure activities that can
have a higher rate of fatalities but do not trigger the same expectation for
government intervention. Sea Shepherd submitted:
While Sea Shepherd agrees that unprovoked, fatal shark
attacks are tragic, traumatic events, the State Government is no more
responsible for the actions of surfers and swimmers than it is in protecting
hikers and bee‑keepers from fatal attacks by bees. Providing an
expectation for State Governments to be responsible for the actions of
swimmers and surfers is placing massive obligations and excessive burdens on
Although Sea Shepherd argued that state governments are not responsible
for the actions of surfers and swimmers, it emphasised that governments are
subject to legal obligations regarding the protection of the environment,
including protected species.
Sea Shepherd argued that:
...the duties on the State imposed by these legal instruments
trump any perceived responsibility that the New South Wales, Queensland and
Western Australia Governments cite as justification for their shark control
Evidence given by the Australian Aerial Patrol also indicates that some
surfers ignore or are dismissive of the efforts put in place to enhance their
safety. As noted in Chapter 2, Mr Duncan Leadbitter explained that when
a patrol detects a shark, it conducts orbits until 'the shark is spooked
and has swum away...or we are confident that people are out of the water'. Mr
Leadbitter informed the committee that:
Most of the time people will get out of the water. Surfers
commonly do not. They will just give us the bird and keep surfing. On my local
beach surfers see sharks on a relatively regular basis and most people just
ignore them. You give people the chance to get out of the water and...we have on
one occasion called the police to try to get people out of the water.
Arguments for maintaining lethal programs
The principal argument put forward in support of the shark nets and drum
lines is the low rate of shark bites that have occurred in the areas featuring
lethal measures since those measures were introduced. For example, the
Queensland Department of Agriculture and Fisheries submitted that since 1962,
when the Queensland shark control program was introduced following
multiple fatal shark bites, 'only one fatal shark attack has been recorded at a
beach serviced by the program'. The department added that this 'is despite the
large increase in the number of people swimming at these beaches over the same
Similar observations have been made regarding the New South Wales shark
meshing program: since the program was introduced, only one fatal shark bite
incident has occurred at a meshed beach.
The submission from the Queensland department responsible for managing
the state's shark control program explained that the state government is
committed to maintaining the program.
The department provided the following reasoning:
Prior to 1962, regular shark attacks occurred on popular
Queensland beaches and made them unsafe for recreation. Since the Government
implemented the [shark control program], the number of shark attacks occurring
on our beaches has decreased dramatically, with only
29.3 per cent of unprovoked and fatal attacks nation-wide occurring in
Some individuals and organisations agreed that the low rate of incidents
at beaches that feature lethal shark control measures demonstrates the success
of these programs.
In support of his conclusion that the lethal measures used in New South
Wales have been successful, Mr John Heaton compared available statistics on
shark incidents between the shark meshing program area
(SMP) from Newcastle to Wollongong and the non-SMP area from Byron Bay and
Yamba. He stated that between 1995 to 2015, 25 incidents occurred,
comprising encounters that resulted in injuries and encounters that did not.
Between September 2014 and October 2016, the Byron Bay–Yamba coastline has experienced
18 encounters, including two fatalities. Mr Heaton argued:
This is the comparison between a SMP area and a non-SMP area
– 25 in 20 years compared to 17 in 2 years. The odds are definitely in a
person's favour if you use the ocean between Newcastle to Wollongong. The
current SMP provides the many millions of public & tourists a certain level
of reassurance. Therefore, it is a question of equality to afford other areas
experiencing a high level of shark interaction, the same level of reassurance.
Mr Heaton explained that he was initially opposed to the proposal to
trial shark nets in the New South Wales north coast. However, he changed his
mind 'after the continual attacks in 2016 and the "experts" not
having a clue for the ongoing shark activity close to the shore'. Mr Heaton
explained that he is willing to support any measure 'that will assist to
prevent interactions between ocean users and sharks' and that, in his view, the
measures should be used in any area that has a high rate of shark incidents.
Mr Heaton concluded: 'I make no apology for supporting measures that put human
life above marine life'.
At the committee's Byron Bay hearing, Mr Don Munro argued that, based on
catch rates, drum lines in Queensland 'are an effective way of reducing the shark
levels' and are 'definitely working'.
Similarly, Mr Alan Baldock stated that he is 'a strong believer in drum
lines'. Mr Baldock stated:
If you talk to...a lot of the professional fishermen in the
Ballina, Yamba and Evans area, they will all tell you the same thing. The real
will thin them out on the coast so you do not have to be way out in the ocean
and you do not have to go and kill hundreds of sharks. They will work just
along the coastline. The system is they will hook the shark and kill it. The
will let the shark drop to the bottom of the ocean. It will decay and send out
a smell for miles and miles, and that is what deters the other sharks. That is
how they work. That is why they work on the Gold Coast, and they have been
since 1964. If you read the stats, you would know that.
Mr Fred Pawle argued that the Queensland program has proven that 'nets
and drum lines are an effective and cheap way of protecting people while
causing minimal disruption to the marine environment'.
Mr Pawle stated:
If a shark is caught in a net or on a drum line, sharks know
to stay away. Even scientists acknowledge this. This happened off the Neptune
Islands, when some orcas took out a great white. They did not see any more
sharks for a month or two, if I am not mistaken. Similarly, off the Farallon
Islands in Northern California a few years ago some orcas took out some great
whites there, too, and the great whites disappeared. My theory—and, again, I am
not a scientist—is that the sharks being caught in nets and drum lines off
Queensland are deterring other sharks from coming close.
Mr Pawle continued:
I am not proposing the extinction of a species, I am simply
questioning the wisdom of sacrificing one of the greatest aspects of life in
Australia for the sake of several large, dangerous shark species being able to
inhabit our beaches. The Queensland marine ecology has not collapsed as a
result of more than 50 years of nets and drumlines. Why can't these relatively
cheap, effective protective measures be implemented around the country?
Stakeholders who support the current lethal programs were optimistic that
the level of bycatch associated with some of the measures could be reduced. For
example, Mr Munro told the committee:
Certainly no-one I speak to wants to see bycatch. We do not
want to see that sort of thing happening at all, but we have to be practical.
We are the apex predator. Human life must prevail over all other types of
animal or marine life. So we are hopeful—and I am sure it is going to
happen—that we will see an initiative or a system put in place where both human
and marine life will be protected.
Arguments questioning the effectiveness of, or in opposition to, lethal
The committee received a large number of submissions from individuals and
organisations that oppose the use of lethal shark control measures on the
it is considered that the lethal measures are not effective in
reducing the risk of encountering a dangerous shark;
the impact of the measures on the populations of protected shark
species (including species that are not considered dangerous to humans);
the impact of the measures on the populations of other marine
concerns for the welfare of target and non-target species.
The following submission extract is an example of the overall argument
against lethal measures:
The management of sharks is a vexed and emotive issue.
However...the current lethal measures in place are neither protecting humans from
sharks, nor are they protecting marine life. Instead, they create a false sense
of security for beach-goers. At the same time they indiscriminately kill
thousands of non-target animals.
This observation from CSIRO is also instructive when considering the
effectiveness of lethal shark control measures:
Although there is little doubt that these devices reduce risk
of shark encounter by removing sharks, the actual amount by which risk is
reduced has not been assessed. It is clear from research on movement patterns
and occupancy of beach areas by sharks that the number and frequency of attacks
is often a poor indicator of the local abundance of sharks.
Nevertheless, as Professor Colin Simpfendorfer observed, scrutinising
the effectiveness of lethal control measures is challenging as 'we have nothing
to compare [them] to'. Professor Simpfendorfer explained:
There are lots of people who talk about the shark program
being effective or not being effective and telling us they have proof one way
or the other. The reality is that because we have nothing to compare it to,
we don’t know what it has done.
The following paragraphs examine in detail arguments against lethal
shark control measures, as well as other evidence received which raises
questions about the effectiveness of such measures.
lack of effectiveness and inadequate information to evaluate effectiveness
Many submissions and witnesses either argued that lethal shark programs
do not provide bathers with significant protection or questioned how reliable
assessments about the effectiveness of the programs can be made based on the
information that is currently available.
An observation about lethal measures made by several stakeholders is
that the measures do not prevent all sharks from approaching beaches. That is,
mesh nets and drum lines may catch sharks, but these devices do not provide a
physical barrier separating humans from sharks.
As noted in Chapter 3 (and illustrated at Figures 3.1 and 3.2), the nets
range from 150 metres to 186 metres in width. The vertical coverage of the nets
is also limited; bottom set nets result in a gap between the surface and the
top of the net, whereas surface-set nets feature a gap underneath the net to
the seafloor. Accordingly, some submitters argued that the relatively small
coverage of mesh nets mean that nets cannot provide effective protection. For
example, the Ballina Environment Society submitted:
Shark nets could only be considered a placebo, due to the
public perception of protection, as it is not possible for the four 150m nets
deployed in Ballina Shire, within 500 metres of the shore to prevent shark
The Sunshine Coast Environment Council wrote:
On a beach kilometres long, a
net only 186 metres in length does very little to stop a shark from reaching
the beach. Sharks can simply swim around or underneath nets, which questions
not only the economic viability of the measure, but the actual purpose of the
program as a whole.
Although the Sunshine Coast Environment Council questioned the ability
of nets to provide a safe environment for bathers, it did argue that the nets
are effective at 'creating a false sense of security'. The Council commented
that this 'is likely due to a lack of education about how shark nets actually
work'. In the Council's view, '[i]f the public were to become widely aware that
nets are less than 200m in length and only 6m deep, this sense of security
would likely fade'.
In the submission authored by Ms Kathrina Southwell on behalf of
Australian Seabird Rescue, Ms Southwell advised:
Members of the public are often shocked when I have shown
them the length of the shark net at Lighthouse Beach. Most people's response is
"How is that supposed to protect us from a shark when they can swim over
or around the net?"
Ms Southwell added that many local residents and visitors 'still believe
that the net covers the whole length of the beaches and that the sharks cannot
get in to where people are swimming and surfing'.
Available statistics support the argument that nets do not act as a
barrier preventing all sharks from approaching beaches. A review of the
New South Wales program conducted in 2009 noted that 23 shark encounters
had occurred at meshed beaches since the program began.
Furthermore, submitters cited reports that 40 per cent of sharks trapped
in nets are found on the beach side, meaning that the nets did not provide an
area for beachgoers that is clear from sharks.
In addition to the evidence expressing scepticism about the
effectiveness of mesh nets, evidence suggesting that drum lines also do not guarantee
public safety was presented. Sea Shepherd Australia submitted that:
Since the installation of
shark control measures in Queensland, there have been 17 unwanted shark
encounters at beaches with drum lines and/or
shark nets including a fatality on 7 January 2006 when 21-year-old
Sarah Kate Whiley was mauled by up to three bull sharks while swimming in
waist‑deep water with friends at Amity Point (North Stradbroke Island),
despite the eight drum lines installed at the time.
Associate Professor McPhee stated that:
In an area where I spend a lot
of time, and where I take students, there have been drum lines in place for 30
years and there was a fatal bite there with those drum lines in place. So you
can get fatal shark bites right next to shark control equipment.
The committee also received evidence of cases where dolphins have
removed bait from the drum lines, rendering the drum lines ineffective for
Although CSIRO noted nets and drum lines do not provide a barrier
stopping sharks from approaching beaches, it recognised that, as the devices
remove sharks, 'there is little doubt that these devices reduce risk of shark
attack'. However, CSIRO added that 'the actual amount by which risk is reduced
has not been assessed'.
CSIRO's concerns in this area were explained using the following example:
...if a single white shark was present off Bondi Beach on a
particular day and it became entangled in the deployed net, then the risk of
encountering a shark on that day, and hence attack risk, has been reduced
If on another day there were 100 white sharks off Bondi Beach and a single
shark was again entangled, the risk of encounter has not been significantly
diminished despite the same catch rate. What is also unknown is whether any of
these sharks were likely to be involved in a shark attack. It is clear from
research on movement patterns and occupancy of beach areas that the number and
frequency of attacks is a poor indicator of the local abundance of sharks and
For many individuals involved in activities associated with a
higher-risk of encountering a shark, such as divers, it is evident that lethal
measures can be of limited relevance. This is because lethal measures are
focused on beaches, whereas these activities take place further away from the
coastline. The Western Australian Minister for Fisheries observed:
It is blindingly obvious in Western Australia that the people
who are most at risk are divers and surfers. Putting in place more drum lines,
or anything of that nature, is not going to give protection to the people who
are most at risk. If you are diving at a reef a kilometre off the coast, you
are not going to be protected by a drum line placed at a beach.
Number of dangerous sharks removed
Despite the logic that devices which reduce the number of sharks reduce
the risk of humans encountering dangerous sharks, it was suggested that lethal
shark programs could only ever have a limited impact. Mr Brendan Donohoe from
Surfrider Foundation Australia argued:
Taking out a couple of hundred sharks statistically makes no
difference at all, and any surfer knows that. When you are out there, you are
in their territory.
The threat to humans posed by the sharks caught by lethal measures was
also questioned. A group of academics from the University of Wollongong
submitted that most individual animals of the target species caught in the New
South Wales meshing program 'are too small to pose a risk to humans'.
Furthermore, the species targeted by the program include 'some species that
have not been implicated in dangerous encounters with people, such as the
broadnose sevengill shark'.
Other instances where lethal measures are considered not to have been
successful include the following:
The 2014 trial of drum lines in Western Australia was put forward
as an example of where lethal measures were not effective at catching white
sharks. Ms Jessica Morris, Marine Scientist, HSI, stated that the trial
caught 'almost 200 sharks, and none of them were white sharks'.
Ms Natalie Banks from Sea Shepherd Australia and Professor
Jessica Meeuwig referred to a cull in Hawaii of over 4,500 sharks over nearly
two decades. After an evaluation demonstrated did not affect the number of
fatalities, it was abandoned in favour of non-lethal measures.
Under the first New South Wales north coast trial of shark nets, the nets
caught nine target sharks, with target sharks representing three per cent of
the total catch. These figures can be contrasted with results of the SMART drum
lines used in the trial area. SMART drum lines, which are drum lines that are
not designed to kill sharks, caught 36 target sharks. This represented 92 per
cent of their total catch.
Other submitters pursued the argument that mesh nets are based on
outdated knowledge about shark behaviour and movement patterns. The Migaloo 2
Shark nets were originally deployed around 80 years ago with
the idea that short shark nets would deter sharks making that area their home
base. Yet now with advanced tagging technology it has been discovered that
most of the targeted sharks migrate large areas and wouldn't make that area
home even if the nets weren't there.
Associate Professor Laurie Laurenson, who has undertaken analysis indicating
that lethal measures are not effective in reducing the number of shark interactions,
Part of the reason we think that culling is ineffective is
because large sharks can travel very large distances in very short periods of
time. So for a culling program to be effective, it needs to cull all sharks
from a much wider range. That is, the current culling programs cannot protect
single beaches without culling sharks from the entire area, with the area
defined by how far and how quickly sharks can move (about 100 km per day).
commenting on the location of lethal measures, incidents at protected beaches
and developments since the measures were first introduced
Some stakeholders also questioned the argument that the low incidence of
fatalities at beaches featuring lethal measures since the shark control
programs were introduced demonstrate that lethal measures are successful.
This reasoning was challenged on several fronts.
Regarding the New South Wales program, Dr Christopher Neff stated that
the conclusion of one fatality since the nets were introduced in 1937 'fails to
acknowledge that shark bite fatalities ended in 1929'. Dr Neff added that the
absence of shark bites at beaches that do not feature shark nets should be
taken into account, as should the absence of shark bites in the years during
World War II when the nets were removed.
The New South Wales program is chronicled and critiqued in the
submission from Sea Shepherd Australia. Among other points made in the
submission, Sea Shepherd responded to arguments commonly made in support
of lethal measures which are based on the low number of fatalities in locations
where the measures are used. Sea Shepherd asserted that these arguments do not explain
the shark encounters that have occurred at beaches where lethal measures are in
Sea Shepherd submitted that:
excluding fishing-related incidents, 40 shark incidents have
occurred at netted beaches, including 24 incidents between September 1992 and
the end of 2016—almost one per year;
statistics indicate that 'the rate of unwanted shark encounters
at the Central Coast's ocean beaches (the most recent location to receive
shark nets) has increased since the shark nets have been installed, from 1
incident every 22 years, to 1 incident every 4.4 years'.
Ms Natalie Banks from Sea Shepherd argued that the low number of
fatalities which have occurred at netted beaches in New South Wales should be
considered alongside evidence that dangerous shark encounters still take place
at those beaches. Ms Banks explained that 46 shark encounters have taken place
at netted beaches in New South Wales, with two cases in recent times that 'were
very serious and it was only because of blood loss prevention that those people
actually survived'. Ms Banks provided similar evidence with respect to the
Queensland shark control program:
In Queensland, where they have drum lines, in 2006 there was
a fatality where there was not one or two but three bull sharks that went past
eight drum lines at Amity Beach. You have also had 16 encounters in Queensland
where there are shark control measures...I think people need to look at the whole
story, rather than looking at just elements that suit their argument.
Submitters also commented on advances in medical responses, including
better knowledge about how to respond to shark bites and improved
transportation to hospitals. In addition, other developments that improve beach
safety were noted, such as surf lifesaving clubs.
Furthermore, the HSI observed that various other activities permitted when
lethal control measures were first introduced and which may have attracted
sharks nearer to shore are now banned; examples provided included abattoirs
discharging offal into the sea and the commercial whaling stations in southern
Queensland and at Byron Bay.
In some locations, lethal devices are not in place year-round—for
example, it was noted that shark meshing in New South Wales is only
carried out during the peak season (summer). Dr Daniel Bucher and Professor
Peter Harrison remarked that improvements in wetsuits mean that a significant
number of surfers, are 'in the water year-round, yet remarkably there continues
to be no fatal attacks on netted beaches even at these times when the nets are
not in the water'.
It is also considered that comparisons between states with and without
lethal shark measures fail to adequately account for differences in the marine
environments. Mr Blair Ranford commented:
Here in Western Australia we see the Queensland culling
program held up to be the beacon of light for why it should be brought in here,
but I think that ignore some very, very important facts—simply, they are
completely different environments that we are talking about. Queensland,
traditionally, does not have a history of a large number of great white shark
attacks; very much, the majority of it is bull sharks, then, to a lesser
degree, tiger sharks, and then, lastly, it is great white sharks in the history
of attacks in that area. Bull sharks are far more territorial. Even though they
still cover vast areas, they certainly are known to spend a lot more time
inshore close to river mouths et cetera, and that is where the majority of
their risk comes from. Also, Queensland is a semitropical to tropical
environment; it is not an area where great white sharks spend large amounts of
time. It is also not an area that has any seal or sea lion populations, which
is exactly what we have here in WA. So, to compare the two of them together is
really misleading. It doesn't really address the fact that they have two
specifically different issues when it relates to shark attacks. For Western
Australia it is great white sharks and for Queensland, in a completely
different environment, the majority of the time it is bull sharks.
Other observations on evaluating
lethal control measures
Various submitters and witnesses highlighted difficulties in conducting
meaningful assessments of lethal control measures. A key issue is the ethical
difficulties involved in undertaking research in this area. Associate Professor
It is very difficult if not impossible from a range of
perspectives, including an ethical perspective, to put together an experiment
and conduct it to determine with a high degree of probability what the benefit
of shark nets are in terms of actually reducing risk. That would involve
putting people deliberately at risk and at a heightened risk without their
knowledge. So that is off the table obviously.
The low number of shark incidents also has implications for statistical
analysis. Associate Professor McPhee commented that comparisons between beaches
protected by lethal measures and those that are not are 'extremely difficult'
You are comparing zero, zero, zero, one, one, zero, one and
two, so you do not get anything that is particularly meaningful from a
Likewise, Professor Jessica Meeuwig argued that the effectiveness of
lethal measures cannot be considered proven due to the low number of incidents.
With reference to the Queensland program, the professor reasoned:
If you look at where the drum lines are, you see that 83 per
cent of the drum lines are in locations where there never ever had been a
fatality before they came in...To say, 'Oh, look: since we brought drum lines in
there have not been any fatalities,' when there were never any there before is
awkward. At Magnetic Island there was one in 1923, and since they brought
in a massive number of drum lines, yes, there has not been one, but how do you
compare zero and one?
Dr Leah Gibbs commented that a correlation between a low number of shark
bite incidents and the presence of lethal measures 'does not prove causation'.
Dr Gibbs added that correlation 'can be very convincing, especially to a poorly
informed public', however, in her view, arguments based on correlation overlook
various 'quite complex' social, biological and ecological factors.
CSIRO submitted that it is 'disappointing' that the efficacy of lethal
shark control measures on public safety and the effects of these measures on
the long-term viability of the white shark population are unclear 'given the
decades over which some of these programs have run'.
Professor Nic Bax from CSIRO observed:
...if one was to set up a shark-netting program, a drum-line
program, I think...from a scientific view of management...it would be
important that there were clear objectives: what was it trying to achieve; and
would you know whether it had been successful. Because, if you have no idea
about whether what you're proposing is going to be successful or not, or there
is no way of measuring that, then it's really just a guess. And so I guess our
strong feeling is really that, in these areas where we're trying a very
experimental form of management—be it lethal measures of shark removal or non-lethal
measures—it's very important to get the information that we can from those
activities. And, if there's another Senate inquiry in five years' time, there
will be clear information on whether these techniques work or not, and we're
not in the same position with different perceptions of how these different
CSIRO suggested that, while shark removal programs continue, the
management arrangements for the programs should include 'effective catch
monitoring, clear trigger points and decision rules regarding the level of
catch for both target and bycatch species'. CSIRO continued that there should
be agreed actions in place in response to the trigger points being reached and
that all of these management arrangements should be 'linked to defined
In light of the evidence about the limitations of the lethal shark
control programs, the cost of the programs was questioned. Australian Aerial
Patrol, which did not express a view on the effectiveness of the program,
nevertheless questioned the efficiency of the program compared to other
measures such as aerial surveillance. It submitted:
The shark meshing program costs an estimated $1.4 million per
year, involves about 5000 net lifts and takes a very small number of
potentially dangerous sharks (about 30 or so). It is thus, incredibly
Professor Meeuwig provided similar criticism of the Western Australian trial.
Professor Meeuwig explained that, although the actual figures are not publicly
available, her best estimate is that the three month drum line trial which
killed 173 tiger sharks
and zero white sharks cost over $1.5 million. Professor Meeuwig concluded that
the lethal measures were 'counterproductive' as 'by virtue of spending $1.5
million-ish on that program, we did not spend money on other things' that the
professor considered should have received funding instead.
The current state government minister, the Hon David Kelly MLA, also
commented on the expense and limited effectiveness of the Western Australian
trial. Among other observations about the trial, the minister noted that in the
south-west of the state, an independent contractor 'was paid $5,000 a day and
did not catch a single great white shark'.
Dr Sharon Burden commented that at Bunker Bay, where her son Kyle died,
there are no signs indicating previous shark bites and an ongoing risk of shark
encounters. When the former Western Australian Government proposed the
introduction of lethal shark control measures, Dr Burden explained that her
'immediate frustration' with the proposal is that basic measures such as
signage were not implemented. Dr Burden argued:
To me, when you haven't even done the basics of putting up
some information signs that inform—not scare but inform—why are you taking this
extreme measure when there is no real evidence that it is going to actually work?
shark conservation and populations of other species
Submitters and witnesses highlighted the significant number of target
and non-target marine species caught by shark nets and drum lines. For example,
Ms Jessica Morris, Marine Scientist, HSI, reported that between 1975 and
2001, the New South Wales and Queensland shark control programs killed 11,899
sharks (including shark species and sizes considered dangerous to humans and
those that are not considered dangerous) as well as approximately 53,000 other
As a result of the high numbers of sharks killed, concerns were
expressed about the effects of lethal measures on the population of shark
species and the efforts in place to conserve certain species.
Greenpeace noted that the deaths of sharks approaching or of
reproductive age 'threaten the reproductive output and recovery of shark
species populations'. In addition to the removal of sharks from the
population, Greenpeace argued that a male–female population imbalance can be
created—it indicated that four female tiger sharks are caught for every one
male tiger shark that is caught. Greenpeace submitted that negative effects on
population growth due to shark control measures 'will create problems for
entire ocean ecosystems by creating an imbalance in population sizes of species
consumed by sharks'.
Submitters noted that the population of the grey nurse shark, which is a
critically endangered species, is negatively affected by lethal shark control
measures. Ms Jessica Morris, HSI, noted that the grey nurse shark is 'being
captured and killed in numbers too great to sustain the population'.
The AMCS noted that the recovery plan for the grey nurse shark states that
mortalities caused by shark control measures are considered a threat to the
recovery of the species.
The importance of sharks for the health of the overall marine eco-system
was also addressed. Mr Jeff Hansen, Managing Director, Sea Shepherd Australia,
questioned how seal and whale populations would be kept in check if sharks were
killed in the large numbers that would be necessary for lethal measures to guarantee
public safety. Mr Hansen remarked:
Are we going to take control of a natural, wild environment
and try to manage that? That is absolute insanity.
Concerns were also expressed about the level of bycatch and the effects
of lethal measures on the populations of other threatened and protected species
besides sharks. HSI argued that bycatch from shark control programs is often
'more severe than bycatch associated with Australia's commercial fisheries'.
Furthermore, many of the species caught:
...are listed as threatened with extinction under state and
federal laws, and international treaties. Australian state, territory and
federal governments are obliged to protect and promote the recovery of
threatened species populations.
Australia for Dolphins submitted that the 2015–16 annual report on the
New South Wales program indicates that 86 per cent of the 748 marine
animals caught 'were threatened, protected, or species not intended to be
targeted by the shark nets'.
To illustrate their concerns, submitters commented in detail on the
implications of lethal shark control measures for particular non-target
protected species. The AMCS provided the following evidence in relation to
Dugongs are classified as vulnerable to extinction by
the...[International Union for Conservation of Nature] in response to global
declines in population. Northern Australia is regarded as the last remaining
global stronghold of this species, with numbers elsewhere having been reduced
to small relict populations. As dugongs are long-lived animals with very low
reproductive rates, it takes a long time for their populations to recover from
declines caused by additional mortality. Even a slight reduction in adult
survival due to incidental drowning in nets or other factors could cause a
chronic decline in dugong populations. Thus, the 689 dugongs killed in the
Queensland shark meshing program over 52 years to 2014 represents a threat to
the population of this vulnerable species in that state. As dugongs tend to
remain in the one area throughout most of their lives, this mortality is likely
to have caused significant local declines in dugong populations.
The effects of lethal measures on sea turtles were also discussed. The
AMCS explained that turtles 'are one of the largest groups of bycatch in the
shark control programs', with more than 5000 turtles captured in nets and on
drum lines in total to date under the Queensland shark control program. The AMCS
added that the recovery plan for marine turtles identifies the Queensland shark
control program 'as an issue of concern which should be managed with the intent
of reducing mortality'. The AMCS further added that the plan indicates the need
'to significantly reduce the take of green turtles in [shark control programs]
and reduce the take of loggerhead turtles to zero'.
A further group of marine animals that attracted comments in relation to
shark control programs is whales. The author of the submission from the Migaloo
2 Foundation informed that committee that:
During the last 7 years sailing with the humpback whale
migration from Byron Bay to Hervey Bay I have heard of many whale entanglements
in shark nets. Of these whale entanglements many have resulted in death by
drowning of both baby and adult humpback whales. Although some entanglements
have resulted in the whale being freed on one occasion at least, I can testify
that all of the ropes and floatation equipment was not cut off and the whale
would most likely have died of exhaustion or starvation as it would not have
been able to swim all the way to its feeding ground in the Antarctic as it
would have been like swimming with a jumper and gum boots on.
In addition to the above evidence, the submitter advised they have
witnessed a humpback whale entangled in shark net ropes and floatation gear. A
photograph was provided in the submission and the submitter reported that the
whale 'was forced to stop swimming and rest about every 10 breaths'.
Dr Jan-Olaf Meynecke provided further evidence about whales being
entangled by shark nets off the south east coast of Queensland.
The International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW)
'at a minimum', nets should be removed during periods of whale breeding and
migration. IFAW explained that, for Queensland, this would involve removing
nets from the start of June until the end of October, and for New South Wales
the end date of the current seasonal removal of nets during winter would need
to be extended to October rather than August.
Some further observations about the implications of shark control
measures on marine species are as follows:
Although they did not support drum lines, some witnesses who
oppose lethal measures acknowledged the lower rate of bycatch of non-target
species associated with drum lines compared to nets.
Lethal shark control programs present 'a serious animal welfare
problem' because the measures used cause many animals to experience prolonged
and painful deaths'.
Finally, Professor Daniel Bucher responded to the suggestion put forward
by some supporters of lethal measures that the measures are appropriate as,
regardless of questions about their effectiveness, the deployment of these
measures help the public feel safe. Professor Bucher stated:
To be honest, I do not think 'it makes people feel good' is a
good enough reason to be killing dolphins, turtles and endangered animals. That
is not on. I have always made the analogy that, if I wanted to go bushwalking
in the Serengeti, would it be reasonable for me to ask the Tanzania government
to shoot all the lions? 'Actually, don't shoot them, blow up some cluster
bombs; I don't care if you knock off a few giraffes, elephants and zebras in
the process, as long as you get a few of those lions, and then I can go
walking in safety.' That would be a stupid thing to do. It would be laughed out...But
that is effectively what we are doing with nets.
about lethal measures has changed
Some witnesses suggested that lethal measures such as nets are no longer
supported by large sections of the community. In examining this evidence, it is
important to note that reliably ascertaining community views on matters such as
this could be quite difficult. Based on the evidence available to the
committee, the level of awareness in the community about how lethal measures
operate is also unclear, which has implications for interpreting information
put forward measuring public opinion. Some of the evidence presented is also
general in nature, or based on limited data. Overall, this evidence provides an
interesting perspective, but conclusions are not drawn from it.
That a wide range of views on shark control measures can be identified is
demonstrated by the following comments by Associate Professor Daryl McPhee:
We are a coastal culture, a beach culture, as a nation, but
there are a great diversity of views within that. Even when I look at surfing
forums, there are surfers supporting shark culls and surfers opposing them, and
there are surfers who, whilst obviously not happy that their fellow surfers and
families have been injured, are happy that there are fewer people on their
waves, particularly out-of-towners. So we have a very diverse range of views.
Some of the evidence received questioned specific claims made about
public opinion, such as the surveys conducted by the DPI as part of the first
north coast trial of nets, and it was suggested that lethal measures were being
introduced to satisfy a small group of vocal people.
Nevertheless, this section canvasses the DPI surveys while also focusing on
broader comments about community views on lethal measures. One such argument
put forward by opponents of lethal shark control measures is that these programs
are out of step with current community expectations. In describing lethal
measures as 'outdated technology that was used to address public fears at the
time they were introduced', HSI argued that:
Over the last five decades, the public's ecological awareness
and understanding has grown to replace the misplaced fear and hysteria that
once came from ignorance. Despite the heavy focus placed by some sections of
the media on shark incidents, the community at large understands the importance
of protecting our unique marine ecosystems, which include apex predators such
as sharks and balancing this with protection for ocean users. This is
especially true in areas of high ecological importance and diversity, such as
the Great Barrier Reef, where nets and drumlines are still present year round.
A similar position was held by the AMCS, which included the following
statement in its submission:
Lethal shark control programs are not a solution for shark
interactions and the environmental awareness of the beach-going public has
shifted in the many decades since the shark cull measures were first imposed in
QLD and NSW. Ocean-users are now much more conscious of the need to ensure
their safety when visiting our beaches and coasts and also the need to protect
the marine environment and marine species such as sharks.
As part of the first New South Wales north coast trial of shark nets,
telephone and online surveys of residents were undertaken to test community
attitudes towards the trial. In the report on the trial published in August
2017, results of surveys undertaken before and after the trial were presented.
These results indicate that 'overall, Ballina Shire and Evans Head
residents were more positive than negative towards the concept of nets in pre‑ and
post-trial telephone interviews'.
However, opinions on whether the trial had been successful were influenced
significantly by views on bycatch. The report on the first trial commented:
There was a strong correlation between attitude to bycatch
and the perceived success of the trial from the telephoned respondents. Of
those who felt bycatches were acceptable, 82% felt that the trial had been a
success. In contrast, 65% of the respondents who assessed the bycatch as
unacceptable deemed the nets to be unsuccessful.
The report continued:
Despite differences in attitudes between residents and
non-residents, most stakeholders within both groups were united on the
unacceptability of bycatch in terms of the overall success of the trial. Of the
sampled residents, 68% of telephone and 60% of online respondents thought that
the bycatches in the nets were unacceptable (vs 91% of non-residents). These attitudes
appear to reinforce perceptions regarding the overall success of the trial,
with more Ballina Shire and Evans Head residents indicating that the nets were
unsuccessful rather than successful during telephone interviews (48% vs 37%)
and online questionnaires (55% vs 38%). Non-residents were more extreme in
their views, with 87% saying that the nets were unsuccessful.
Mr Leon Deschamps argued that lethal measures are still in use in
Australia because of an aversion to change. Mr Deschamps explained:
I was born and raised in the town that had 800 people in it.
It is a small town and it is a small Australian town. One of the things small
Australian towns hate is change. I think for the broad community of Australia
that goes right through to our innate culture that defines us. We don't like
change. We're presently using a 1950s technology, a technology that was introduced
when domestic violence was still legal in the home. Times have changed; we have
Dr Christopher Neff argued that attempts by government to prevent shark
bites 'are not really about preventing shark bites, generally', rather they are
'more about preventing certain frequencies of shark bites in certain
locations that produce political penalties'. Dr Neff explained:
For instance, in New South Wales the political capital upon
which shark nets rest is a narrative that there has only been one fatality at a
netted beach since 1937. This is absolutely accurate. However, the data omits
that there have been 29 shark bites at netted beaches in New South Wales over
that same period. The goal is not to stop all shark bites, but rather to stop
fatalities and clusters for which the threshold is low and the political
penalty might be high.
Dr Neff advised that the majority of respondents to studies on the
public attitude to sharks following shark bite incidents he has conducted
consider that no one is to blame for shark bites. The majority of respondents
also consider that government should choose non-lethal measures in response and
that the primary purposes of lethal measures is not to protect the public, but
rather to 'calm the public' and to help tourism. Dr Neff concluded:
Whatever the committee decides and whatever the states do
regarding shark bite prevention, the simple fact is that Australians...get it.
They get that these policies do not generally work and that killing sharks is
not intended simply to protect the public. I think that shows an underlying
level of confidence in government that is shaky and should be concerning to
Navigation: Previous Page | Contents | Next Page