What’s The Catch?

Two recent entanglements of whale calves in the shark nets on Sunshine Coast’s popular tourist beaches have resulted in an outcry from Sunshine Coast residents and tourists to the region.

ABC Radio morning news reports “this is not what we want our tourists to see”.  A whale watching boat was witness to the calf struggling in the nets at Mooloolaba beach as the mother was distressed nearby and never left her baby.  Witnesses on the boat and on the beach were crying as they watched with feelings of helplessness and frustration.

The very next day, at 4pm, the same scene spread across the social media platforms as people rushed to try and help another calf trapped in the nets.  This time it was in Noosa, another tourist hotspot. Witnesses waited and watched for help that never came. As night fell, we knew that any help would have to wait till morning.  For 16 hours, the calf struggled and mum stressed. Breathing was far more frequent than it should have been and the calf could not feed during this time. Help arrived in the morning to cut the calf free.

These traumatic incidents may have left these calves with wounds, nets and buoys to carry around and mental anguish. They certainly would no longer be in perfect health and there is no evidence that they have survived the ordeals.

The shark nets act as a fishing device, catching and killing any animal over 500mm. They were installed to decrease the number of sharks in the water. As with all fishing nets, that is their purpose. Unfortunately, while catching sharks, they also catch whales, dolphins, dugongs, turtles, rays and other marine creatures. In fact, 94% of animals caught in the shark nets do not belong to the group of target sharks and are not deemed a threat to human life. In fact up till 2017 the numbers of dead animals recorded were over 5000 turtles (including endangered loggerhead turtles and critically endangered hawksbill and leatherback turtles), 700 dugongs, 1014 dolphins, 120 whales and 442 manta rays. (Qld Dept of Agriculture and Fisheries, SCEC, 2017).

How can we be knowingly killing our endangered species that we are working so hard to protect?  

The scary thing is that while these animals are struggling and dying in the nets, they are attracting sharks to the area to investigate and feed on them and upwards of 40% of target shark species are caught going back out to sea. This is because the nets are not barriers. They span 150 metres and have gaps at the top and bottom. Sharks can easily swim over, under or around the nets. 

Human lives matter. They matter enough to have an efficient way of protecting them that doesn’t decimate our wildlife.

Last September a fatal shark incident occurred on one of the most protected beaches. This beach has a shark net and 8 baited drumlines. Interestingly, the only two countries in the world which use shark nets have the highest number of shark interactions per capita.

There has also been human fatalities attributed to the nets and drumlines (one being an 11 year old boy) and many “close calls” where swimmers and surfers have been caught.   

So, what can we do to protect humans and the animals of the oceans?

Educate: Media rollouts, beach signage and school programmes of the Shark Smart steps, some of which are:

  • Don’t swim at dusk or dawn when sharks are on the move
  • Don’t swim if there are baitfish around or diving birds
  • Don’t swim in murky water or near river mouths

Watch “Shark Net Film ”on Youtube and “Envoy Shark Cull” which will be released on Stan this month.

Deter: Use shark deterrents like sharkbanz, Ocean Guardian or Freedom7 (In Western Australia, the government offers a rebate on approved personal shark deterrents). South Africa is trialing a barrier which looks like kelp and keeps the sharks out, but other animals swim through it. Cottesloe Beach in Western Australia uses a barrier solid enclosure which effectively protects bathers.

Detect: Drones, tagging and land surveillance are all methods which can be used 

If we can fly to the moon, surely we can find a way to protect our beaches that doesn’t mean killing everything else?

Article written by Karen Anderson in collaboration with my Carolyn Anderson.

Photos are courtesy of Holly Richmond who is in the Shark Net film.

Karen Anderson

NAUI Instructor #11106



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