A response from Julie Anderson regarding the Western Australian proposal to destroy sharks that are found swimming too close to beaches:
It is hard to believe with all we know about sharks, including their dwindling numbers, their critical role in our oceans, and the small risk they actually pose to humans in the grand scheme of things, that the archaic concept of killing these animals solely or our “protection” still exists. And that a country like Australia, whose citizens are known for their enlightened, balanced view of nature. would declare war on sharks – giving the approval to kill any sharks swim near beaches in Western Australia. Even the protected and endangered white shark. All this in a medieval response to five deaths due to shark bites in the past year. At a cost of far more than the $6.35 million that the Australian government is investing in the program. It is absolutely shameful.
Make no mistake. Our hearts go out to the victims’ families. But while these six tragic deaths evoke our primal fears, fueled by media hype, we, as a globally impacted community, still need perspective.
Before overreacting, consider the risk. In the last 215 years in Australia, only 18 shark-related fatalities have occurred. That’s an average of one death every 12 years. In the US, where you are 5 times more likely to be bitten, your odds of drowning are 1 in 3.5 million. Your odds of dying from a shark bite are less than 1 in 264 million. And, in 2008, in Australia, one person died from a shark bite, 315 died from drowning and 694 died in car accidents.
Before killing sharks, the Australian government must also consider their status. Premier Colin Barett is exhibiting bad judgment. Sharks are in danger of extinction; up to 73 million are killed each year. Regionally, over 90% of shark populations– including whites – have been destroyed. White sharks are protected nationally and internationally – and the US is even considering adding them to their endangered species act. Australia is lucky to even have sharks in its waters.
And the world cannot afford to lose sharks. The frightening reality is, like them or not, we need sharks on this planet. As apex predators, they keep our oceans’ healthy. Sharks are a critical component in an ecosystem that controls our planet’s temperature and weather, provides 1/3 of the world with food, and generates more oxygen than all the rainforests combined. Recent studies indicate that regional elimination of sharks caused disastrous effects including the collapse of fisheries and the death of coral reefs. Kill the sharks and Australia’s healthy, beautiful coast will join the countless other ocean dead zones.
Throughout the world, people get into the water, realizing it is us sharing their watery domain, accepting the extremely slim chance of even encountering a shark - much less being bitten. It simply doesn’t merit unnecessarily killing a threatened, critical species.
Continues Andersen, “Not only is the culling absolutely ridiculous, the practice reinforces our misguided and irrational fears of sharks, providing a very real example that our concerns are valid. This in turn fuels one of the biggest issue faced in shark conservation: the public’s apathy or even loathing towards sharks. The media-created and culling reinforced image of sharks makes it difficult for many people to understand why sharks are worth saving – let alone take measures to do so.”
Fortunately, there are many other options to the archaic practice of killing sharks with nets and drumlines, many of which have been implemented successfully in other locations. Other methods of harmless deterrents such as electrical current, alloys, and chemicals are also being developed. States Andersen, “If we can put a man on the moon, we certainly can determine a method to ensure sharks and humans can peacefully coexist in the shark’s domain. Programs like the Shark Spotters in South Africa prove that there are viable alternatives to shark nets and also, that education and awareness go far. “
This issue is not new to Shark Angels, who has been fighting for the end to shark nets and other culling programs for decades. Our “remove the nets” (www.removethenets.com) campaign has been placing pressure on the government of South Africa for over four years rallying the support of thousands.
It could be said there was a time and place for shark culls and nets. Years ago, the public knew little about sharks and the fear of attack was running high – and shark populations were far healthier than they are today. We could tolerate wreaking havoc on our world’s most important ecosystem. The public wanted and needed “protection” and shark culls, drumlins and nets served their purpose.
Since then, while shark fishing has skyrocketed eliminating a large percentage of shark populations, the public has been exposed to much information about the environment and biodiversity conservation as well as the sharks’ true behaviors towards humans. And many have gone far in proving there are other harmless shark deterrents. Shark conservation and the need to protect them is an established fact, as is the fact these animals are significantly misunderstood, with the actual risk of an incident being infinitesimal.
The days of killing animals out of fear are over. And one only need to look at Yellowstone Park, in the U.S., as a prime example as to the far-reaching impacts of these short-sighted acts. Australia - a country whose environmental policies, fueled by booming eco-tourism, should be setting precedence for the world. At a time when we are racing through our natural resources at unsustainable rates, destroying wild animals simply because we can, or because of irrational fears fueled by a lack of knowledge, is no longer acceptable.
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