Australia has had a very bad history of shark conservation and it doesn’t seem to be getting any better. In the 1960’s, Australia began it’s first drumline shark culling program in Queensland by installing the net barriers along popular beaches.
By 2014, there were a total of 460 drum lines and 30 shark nets deployed along the coast. Many of these drumlines and shark nets are situated within marine protected areas along Queensland coast, including the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park, Great Sandy Straits Marine Park, and Moreton Bay Marine Park.
Sharks, dolphins, crocodiles, and whales are among a variety of animals that are caught in the protective netting. The increase in animals caught has caused a lot of concern for conservationist prompting a call of action to remove the nets.
Figures from the Queensland Department of Agriculture and Fisheries show that there were 510 sharks captured by Queensland’s shark control program in 2017. Of those, 377 died, 113 were euthanized, and only 20 were released alive.
These nets are also resulting in deaths of several threatened species including 20 dead scalloped hammerhead and five dead great white sharks.
Sharks were not the only species being caught in the netting. In 2017, 132 “non-target” species were caught. Of those 132, 73 were released alive but 59 had died. These species included two bottlenosed dolphins, six common dolphins, one crocodile, six green turtles, eight humpback whales, 13 loggerhead turtles, and a variety of rays.
Many of these animals being caught are already endangered and are considered keystone species. If these species are removed completely, the ecosystem would drastically change or fall apart.
The addition of more netting is largely impacted by pop-culture and the media’s in-depth coverage of a shark attack focusing negative commentary towards the species of shark. The conversation being told on our screens is actually very different from the reality that is going on in the waters. Hundreds of millions of people go swimming around the world every day of the year and yet, sharks kill an average of 10 people per year. On the flip side, in Australia alone, almost 300 people drowned in 2017.
Research into the types of sharks in certain locations and positioning of nets has made the program more efficient and effective in recent year. The program directors have acknowledged that new technologies such as smart drum lines do exist but have not been deployed on a large scale.
Currently, Queensland is monitoring smart drumline trials in New South Wales. If the new technology is shown to work more effectively, they will be deployed on a larger scale.
The new smart drum line technology differs greatly from traditional drumline netting as they are designed to not kill the sharks. The technology comprises of an anchor and rope, two buoys, and a satellite-linked communications unit which is attached to a trace and baited hook. The lines are deployed beyond the surf zone, meant to intercept sharks prior to reaching swimmers. When a shark is hooked, the pressure on the line triggers the communication unit which alerts scientist that a animal is hooked and needs to be released.
It is obvious something needs to be done in regards to better protecting ocean life while keeping ocean-goers safe. The killing of keystone and endangered species is not the answer and something that can lead to complete devastation. As populations for keystones species continue to dwindle, there is the real potential of ecosystems falling apart.
Even if evidence shows that smart drumline technology is working, the culling of sharks caught needs to end.