This chapter continues the examination of alternatives to currently
employed mitigation and deterrent measures, such as shark spotting programs,
making medical kits available at beaches to aid immediate responses to shark incidents
and education. The chapter then discusses the evidence received regarding
whether the various measures discussed in Chapter 6 and this chapter are ready
to provide an effective response to the risk of shark encounters.
Shark spotting programs
In Byron Bay, a shark spotters program modelled on a program used in
South Africa has been trialled. The program works by:
...positioning "spotters" at strategic points along
the beach and coastline. When a shark is spotted, a loud warning is issued and
emergency assistance is called in the case of an incident. The spotters also
work closely with local Surf Life Saving Clubs.
In October 2017, it was reported that the Mayor of Busselton would
support a shark spotting program if the proposal was also supported by the
SEA LIFE Trust, which contributed funding to the Byron Bay trial, advised
that in 2015–16 the Byron Bay shark spotters observed five sharks 'compared to
only one recorded by authorities'. SEA LIFE Trust described the trial as
'highly effective and implemented at minimal cost'.
Sea Shepherd Australia, which has also been involved in efforts to encourage
the development of shark spotting programs in Australia, noted that the South
African program has operated successfully for over a decade.
A wide range of environmental groups support the implementation of some
form shark spotting program throughout Australia.
Sea Shepherd argued that a shark spotting program 'could be implemented easily
and immediately into specific beaches in New South Wales, Queensland and
Western Australia'. Sea Shepherd explained that two representatives of the
South African program who visited Australia identified 'five beaches in
South-West Western Australia, three in the Gold Coast, seven in northern New
South Wales and two in Sydney which showed promise for a shark spotting
A key challenge with the program is staffing. The Shark Watch program
used in Byron Bay is a volunteer program, which a key challenge for the program
being 'retention and recruitment of enough volunteers to ensure the program's
The South African program is a paid model,
which may be difficult to replicate in Australia due to higher labour costs.
Mr John Heaton, who stated that he is any favour of any program 'that
assists to reduce the number of encounters between humans and sharks', noted
that even with the assistance of technology such as drones, shark spotting is
'very labour intensive'. Mr Heaton submitted:
It is reported that NSW Surf Life Saving membership at
Ballina and Lennox Head Clubs has decreased since the increased shark activity.
I am involved in a volunteer organisation and it is even hard to get 4 people
to volunteer 2 hours per day, four days per week.
A Shark Watch NSW spokesperson is quoted as saying "We
need 32 volunteers at one beach over two days from 9.00am to 5.00pm".
Have a think about the number of beaches and headlands between Byron Bay and Yamba
and try and come up with a figure to adequately cover that coastline! By all
means, incorporate Shark Spotting as another mitigating measure wherever
possible, but it is NOT the complete answer everywhere.
Dr Christopher Neff noted that another limitation of shark spotting
program is that, like other forms of surveillance, it requires certain weather
conditions. Dr Neff argued that 'the public should be informed that cloud
cover, white caps, sun glare, the type of shark, position of the shark, and
size of shark can all affect visibility'.
Other general observations about the limitations of surveillance are
also relevant. Mr Andrew Stark, Chief Executive Officer, Surfing Australia
indicated that surveillance measures can have value, but there are also clear
limitations in their effectiveness. Mr Stark used the incident in 2015 when
surfer Mick Fanning escaped from a shark during a surfing competition to
illustrate his concerns:
All of these different surveillance measures combined are
good, but I would add that when Mick Fanning got attacked by a great white
shark on live TV in South Africa, there was more surveillance than you could
imagine. There were 10 cameras, thousands of people on the beach,
spotters, and people looking straight at him in the water and the surrounding
area, and no-one saw that great white shark. It was on live television.
Another suggestion is that medical kits containing supplies for
controlling bleeding and injuries should be made available at secure locations
near a beach. Although only a small number of stakeholders commented this idea,
those that did were supportive. The deployment of trauma kits can also be
related to other programs, such as surf lifesaving and shark spotting programs.
Kits developed by Sea Shepherd Australia include 'medical shears to cut through
neoprene if necessary, trauma bandages, emergency blankets to keep a patient
warm, tourniquets to stop the flow of blood loss, and a pictorial instructional
The committee also received evidence that manufacturers of surfboard leg-ropes
are producing leg-ropes that can also be used as a tourniquet.
Cr Simon Richardson, Mayor, Byron Shire Council, explained that the kits
ensure an immediate trauma response can be provided:
The bottom line is that if there is an attack on the
beach...sometimes those first few minutes can be quite crucial as far as stemming
the blood flow et cetera is concerned.
Evidence of the medical kits enabling a successful response to a shark
bite can be found from the South African shark spotting program. Ms Banks from
Sea Shepherd Australia explained that the trauma kits available as part of
that program have saved a life.
Representatives of Sea Shepherd Australia, which was the main advocate
of trauma kits during this inquiry, commented that if these kits 'were in a
locked box where a number of people knew the codes there would be great
advantages for saving lives'. It was noted that, at Byron Bay, the kits are
kept a café near the beach to protect the kits from being stolen.
At remote beaches where the kits cannot be stored in a secure location, it was
suggested that a locked box with a code known by locals could be used. On the
risk of vandalism to these unprotected boxes, Mr Hansen from Sea Shepherd
We have spoken to a number of surfers down south [in WA]...and
they said, 'Well, if anyone messes with that, they'd have to deal with us
first.' So whether it would be a locked box or whatever that a number of
the locals know so that at least someone on the beach would know it, we need
something if there are tourists there on the day. There are tourniquets on
leg-ropes that are coming out now, that companies are pushing as well. There
are a range of options.
Cr Simon Richardson, Mayor, Byron Shire Council, explained kits are
available in Byron Bay and the council is investigating making further kits
available 'probably...with the surf lifesavers et cetera'. Cr Richardson noted
that the kits are 'not overly expensive' and suggested that a further
rollout of kits is likely to be supported by the community.
Mr Dale Carr, who survived an encounter with a shark, stated that the
shark attack first aid kit promoted by Sea Shepherd 'is a good idea'. He added:
When I spoke to Dave Pearson and his friends on the south
side of Crowdy Bay—it is a good 12 kilometres away from Harrington—they had one
in their car. They did not need to have it because of a shark attack.
They always had one, and that was just good common sense. Any suggestions
from someone over in Western Australia in regard to remote locations and
medical facilities, I would wholeheartedly support.
It was acknowledged, however, that some training is needed to use the
Regardless of their views on the effectiveness and desirability of
lethal shark control programs and other non-lethal measures, the submitters and
witnesses that participated in this inquiry generally supported proposals for
education programs to help enhance public safety and knowledge about sharks.
This section discusses the evidence received regarding education strategies.
Education about sharks generally
CSIRO noted that although information about sharks can be easily found
'the veracity of some of this information is questionable'. Consequently, CSIRO
submitted that there 'is an important role in continuing to provide accurate
information to the public regarding sharks in the marine environment'.
This issue was picked up by other witnesses, who commented on some of the myths
about sharks that can be accepted. Dr Neff stated:
I would say it is the combination of an absence of
educational information and the presence of movie monster myths. It is the
worst-case scenario, where the only stories people hear are the ones about
rogue sharks—and this happened in Ballina; they said, 'If we just kill the
seven sharks that are responsible for all the shark bites, we'll have solved
the problem.' I heard that same story in Reunion Island. I heard that same
story in Cape Town. I hear that same story Western Australia. There is
this sort of myth that travels, and it really gets a hold of folks, and I
completely understand it, but part of it is the way in which government
reinforces myth-making and folklore instead of public education.
Similarly, the Australian Marine Conservation Society (AMCS) suggested
that government-supported education programs could assist to 'mitigate negative
public attitudes and misplaced fear about sharks'. Noting that the risk of
shark encounters is statistically low, the AMCS argued that education that
assists the public to understand 'the very low risks associated with shark
interactions in relation to the other risks people are exposed to in our daily
lives' is important, including for addressing the concerns of the tourism
Suggestions for education
strategies and programs intended to promote public safety
Several stakeholders argued that raising public awareness about swimmer
safety (such as avoiding swimming where sharks are known to congregate and when
it may be difficult to see an approaching shark)
is an area where education programs could add particular value. There was broad
support for an education program to improve understanding among the general
public and tourists visiting beaches about shark behaviour and conditions or
activities associated with a higher degree of risk.
For example, Mr Chris Peck, General Manager, Lifesaving and Training, Surf
Life Saving Western Australia, stated:
...we certainly think that more education and awareness could
be provided...In terms of developing a culture and an understanding, there is a
long process for that and you have to start somewhere. We do not think we have
enough support to deliver that education and awareness, particularly to school
groups where you are often commencing the development of a culture.
Existing education efforts were noted which, it was suggested, could be
enhanced and expanded. For example, Professor Shaun Collin noted that, as part
of its Sharksmart website, the Western Australian Government has published
an online list of the 'dos and don'ts of interacting in the ocean in relation
to sharks'. Professor Collin noted this should be updated as needed. Professor
Collin added that the delivery of educational strategies could be supported by
the establishment of an educational officer for the state. He suggested that
this officer would 'help educate the public and open a very good communication
channel which is always there'.
Examples of where shark-related deaths have occurred in situations
considered to be dangerous were provided to demonstrate how further education
may assist. The Sunshine Coast Environment Council (SCEC) submitted:
The last shark fatality classified as unprovoked in
Queensland at a protected site was in 2006 where the victim was swimming in the
evening, in murky water, in an ocean channel during tidal change, in an area
near baited drum lines, and while local fishermen were cleaning caught fish and
dumping the entrails into the water. All of these listed environmental
conditions are known general indicators for shark attacks and as such,
regardless of the presence of drumlines, education about these risks could have
helped prevent this tragedy.
Other stakeholders noted the importance of education about potentially
dangerous conditions. Mr Brendan Donohoe, Northern Beaches Branch President,
Surfrider Foundation Australia, noted that:
Surfrider has had a policy for many years that, if there are
reported shark sightings, surfing at dawn and twilight is not the best. Surfing
near effluent outlets is no good. River mouths, where congregations of baitfish
occur and where there is loads of fishing taking place are all things to be
avoided. I think surfer education, beachgoer education and more money for
research and medical facilities at beaches are the way to go.
Mr Don Munro agreed that it is important to teach children to look for
signs that sharks may be present. Mr Munro stated:
You teach kids to swim and then you teach kids to understand
what is happening in the ocean, particularly when it comes to marine life. We
know simple little signs like bird thrashing, bait balls—they are very easy to
distinguish. There is not much more you can do other than what I have
just explained, but we drill that into the kids, and even our
five-year-olds will tell you, 'Look, Donny, there's baitfish there; I shouldn't
That is right. You do not.
Mr Munro added that he has suggested that a program to pass on this
knowledge to children should be introduced in schools. He added:
I know I would volunteer my time to do that, and there would
be others who would do so as well. It just has not got off the ground as such.
Dr Leah Gibbs and Dr Jan-Olaf Meynecke also expressed support for the
expansion of education strategies, particularly through schools and nippers
programs. Dr Meynecke advised that he has given talks on marine biology and
marine science to schools, although he added that these talks occurred
following invitations from individual schools, rather than as part of a
Education programs on how to respond to shark bites was also suggested.
Surfing Australia explained that it operates a program in New South Wales,
which it would like to expand to nationally, that seeks to educate and train
surfers to provide first aid. Mr Stark added that the program aims to get
surfers out of the water and providing first aid, and that how to respond to a
shark bite could be added to the program.
Increased signage at beaches so that beachgoers are exposed to reliable
information about the shark-related risks was also supported. Dr Sharon Burden
argued that appropriate signage is a straightforward and essential public
safety strategy. Dr Burden stated:
As a simple example, if you go into any workplace, you will
see warning signs where there are risks: 'watch your head', 'watch your step',
danger signs about electrical risks, and you will see signs on beaches. And yet
I have been down on Bunker Bay for the two days preceding today and there
is still no sign at any point there that would let any visitor know that there
has ever been an attack, that there is a risk and that there are high-risk
times of the year.
Dr Burden recounted a conversation with a local surfer at Bunker Bay who
told her that '[a]s a local I know that this spot is not a beach you would surf
at around August and September...because the whales come in too close to the
headland'. Dr Burden remarked:
Why isn't there a nice sign down the bottom done in nice
colours that talks about shark migration patterns and says that the whales will
be around at this time of year, when the salmon come into the bay, these are
things to look out for and, more importantly, if something does happen what you
do? What first aid could you apply to try to save that person's life if it did
occur? What are you going to do to make access? There could be a QR code that
takes them straight to all the apps. You could check your sign. There are
so many things that could be on that sign that would give me as an individual
Dr Burden further contrasted the lack of signs about sharks with the
approach taken to other risks elsewhere, such as the signs used in northern
Australia warning about crocodiles and stingers.
The SCEC also referred to the signs and education campaigns used to warn
about crocodiles. The SCEC, which referred to the 'Be Croc Wise' campaign,
argued that signage and a campaign based on the crocodile awareness efforts
would be 'relatively low-cost' and 'provide significant benefit'. The SCEC
cautioned that the program 'should be changed to reflect that, similarly to
crocodile prone areas, it isn't always appropriate to swim in "shark
habitats" under certain conditions'.
Mr Ian Wiese, who supports additional signage, cautioned that any signs
used need to provide information designed to help beachgoers understand the
different risks presented by sharks at particular locations at different times
of the year. Mr Wiese explained by referring to a sign put up a local council
that indicates past shark activity, with space for displaying the date of the
activities. Mr Wiese commented that the sign does not provide interpretative
information that beachgoers need to assess the risk of sharks. Mr Wiese
I just noticed that the sign is still there, this morning,
and there haven't been any sharks sighted there for several months. So it loses
What I was recommending was that there be more substantial signage installed
that explained that at this time of year there are salmon migrating, and sharks
follow them on a routine basis; they're being attracted in to the shore by
fishermen, and it's probably not wise to go swimming if you don't want to be
swimming with sharks.
However, other witnesses noted that the evidence suggests education
about risky conditions can go only so far in assisting public safety. Mr Heaton
Apart from the attack on Graig Ison at Evans Head at approx
6.10am on 1/8/15, all the attacks from September 2014 to October 2016 have
occurred in the middle of the morning or afternoon on a bright sunny day with
clear visibility in the ocean.
Are new technologies and other approaches
ready to replace lethal measures?
Having examined the evidence received about emerging technologies and
the evidence received about lethal measures, the key issues for consideration
are whether new and emerging technologies, either individually or when used as
a suite of measures, are sufficiently advanced, proven to be effective and can
be utilised at a reasonable cost.
There is already movement in this direction, such as the Western
Australian Government's shark management strategy that includes a trial rebate
of $200 for independently verified devices purchased by surfers and divers. The
strategy also provides funding for drones, receivers for tagged sharks and for
an additional beach enclosure.
Dr Bucher and Professor Harrison expressed support for 'observational
and warning strategies rather than shark removal options'; however, they
acknowledge that SMART drum lines are 'a more effective and far less
destructive method to remove dangerous sharks from beaches than nets'.
Accordingly, Dr Bucher and Professor Harrison argued that new nets and
traditional drum lines should not be permitted and existing equipment phased
Environmental groups urged the removal of shark nets and drum lines.
An example of this position was expressed by the AMCS. In addition to the
overall removal of shark nets and drum lines, the AMCS argued that the
following actions should be prioritised:
removing nets and drum lines 'during known wildlife migration
times and from known migration pathways';
removing nets and drum lines from 'high conservation value areas
such as the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park and from areas where high catches
have been recorded of dugong, turtles, dolphins, grey nurse sharks and other
threatened, endangers or protected species'; and
removing nets and drum lines in areas that 'have stinger nets in
place and that have never had a shark incident'.
The evidence given by Mr John Heaton, who supports lethal shark control
measures to support public safety, provides an example of the contrary
approach. Mr Heaton argued that the number of shark attacks warrant the
use of all available measures, including lethal measures. He stated:
As a surfer of over 50 years, I have never experienced the
number of shark attacks like we have had for the two years September 2014 to
October 2016. The "experts" cannot give a reason for the spike in
attacks and provide a figure for the number of Great Whites we currently have
migrating the east coast of Australia.
Therefore, until such time as the "experts" can
provide some answers,
I am prepared for the NSW Government to use all shark mitigating &
deterrent measures available to prevent/reduce the number of interactions
between humans and sharks.
Mr Don Munro argued that nets and drum lines should be replaced
following further research and development of alternative technologies and 'when
proven long‑term technologies have been successfully identified'. At
present, Mr Munro argued that the alternative shark mitigation and deterrent
technologies that are available 'should be in conjunction with but not in
place' of the existing lethal measures.
There are some clear limitations associated with new technologies.
For example, as noted in Chapter 6, at present personal electrical
deterrents are not suitable for children due to the electric shocks involved.
Other products appear to require further testing; Australian Aerial Patrol
argued that the criteria used to evaluate the performance of sonar devices and
beach enclosures 'are unknown'. Regardless, it argued that '[w]aiting for shark
bites to occur in areas that have trials versus no trials could take decades
and have a questionable ethical basis'.
Uncertainties about emerging technologies are sufficient for key
organisations to be wary of endorsing them. In relation to personal deterrents,
Mr Andrew Stark, Chief Executive Officer, Surfing Australia, commented that his
organisation would not want to endorse a product without being certain that the
product would provide compete protection. This position was summed up as
follows: 'If we were to recommend a product like that and say that we advise
that surfers should choose it...and then someone was killed by a shark with one
of those on, what position would that put Surfing Australia in?'.
The Australian Institute of Marine Science (AIMS) added that providing
large-scale protection against sharks is inherently challenging. It observed:
The scale of Australia's marine estate, the extent of the
migrations of many species known to interact with humans, the fact that most
shark attacks occur on surfers, spear-fishers and divers, commonly away from
patrolled swimming beaches (and often in remote locations) make 'large scale'
mitigation a daunting challenge.
Although AIMS considers that personal deterrent devices offer 'hope of
risk reduction', it is of the view that, at present, 'there is nothing on the
horizon that is considered an effective universal deterrent'.
Finally, concerns were expressed that, despite the government and public
interest in shark-related matters, the development of new technologies does not
receive adequate support. In correspondence to the committee, Mr Talmage was
sharply critical of the lack of support received to date from government
regarding the development of the technology. Mr Talmage commented that although
the 'expansion curve is steep', the Clever Buoy system is:
...progressing towards being the world's first fully
sustainable ocean wildlife monitoring system and is a great example of
innovative technology developed in Australia by Australians with no direct
Despite this progress, Mr Talmage wrote that the ongoing innovation of
Clever Buoy in Australia is, in his view, being constrained by 'inertia' within
government. Mr Talmage described his experience engaging with local, state
and Commonwealth governments as 'extremely slow and frustrating'. Mr Talmage
elaborated on his concerns as follows:
There appears to be no clear guidelines for engagement or
ownership from federal and state government to support and fund local
government initiatives for shark mitigation measures. We have engaged with many
local councils and local mayors around Australia, and consistently they want to
proceed but are constrained by lack of direction and funding support. The early
adopters market in Australia would seem to be too small to support the required
growth of a unique and viable technology like Clever Buoy. Momentum for
Clever Buoy in Australia has waned as a result of the bureaucratic process, and
[Shark Mitigation Systems] is now shifting focus on the global market,
specifically the US market, with substantial interest in the technology and the
incidence of shark interactions increasing around the globe.
A further aspect of the role of government in relation to emerging
technologies is the support they can provide for the development and commercialisation
of emerging technologies. Like the developer of Clever Buoy, the managing
director of Shark Shield expressed concern that governments are not
sufficiently interested in the development of new technologies. As noted in
Chapter 6, during his evidence to the committee in April 2017, Mr Lyon
announced a new product that, unlike personal deterrents, is designed to
provide long-range protection. During a subsequent appearance before the
committee, Mr Lyon advised an order had been placed by a police force; however,
'no queries from local councils or state or federal governments' had been
received. Mr Lyon stated:
We are relatively amazed, given the lives lost and the
community economic damage from shark attacks, as to why there has been no
interest to date in commissioning a pilot or a test program for Ocean Guardian,
given that it is based on science and proven shark-deterrent technology that
has been in the market for 20 years. We have over 60 years of knowledge of
shark sensory systems and 20 years of building deterrent products. We are
wondering what more evidence is required.
Mr Lyon continued:
At this time we are building the Ocean Guardian product to
target the luxury yacht and commercial market, but at this point in time we are
not progressing with solutions for beach barrier community protection to
replace shark nets as, clearly, there appears to be no commercial interest in a
solution to protect beaches and the environment. The federal government talks
about innovation, and yet the world's leading technology company in shark
mitigation—the Tesla of our space—has received no interest in a commercial
implementation from any Australian government body.
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