WASHINGTON, January 28, 2014— The controversial Australian shark cull began with the killing of a large female tiger shark off the coast of Perth Sunday. The contentious government policy is dividing Australians and angering conservationists around the world.
In response to several shark attacks and seven shark-related deaths in the past three years in Western Australia (WA), federal environment minister Greg Hunt granted the state an exemption under Australia’s Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act. The exemption allows the WA government to hunt and kill great white, bull and tiger sharks.
Great white sharks are protected by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) and designated as “vulnerable” under the International Union for the Conservation of Nature’s Red List of Threatened Species.
The government program places hooked lines attached to floating drums to cull the sharks, and employs local commercial fishermen to capture and kill sharks larger than three meters (10 feet).
The program, which set out its first hooked lines Saturday, has met with opposition and protest from Australians and conservation groups around the world. Many feel that the sharks should continue to be protected by Australian law.
A commercial fisherman contracted by the WA killed the first shark—a 3-meter female bull shark—Sunday with four shots to the head. The carcass was dragged out to sea and discarded.
“I was satisfied that I managed to get the rounds in the right place and we dispatched it as quickly as we possibly could,” the fisherman, who asked not to be identified, said to a local radio show Monday.
Many disagree that this method is humane as described by the government and fishermen. Several conservation groups have pledged to remove bait from drum lines and do whatever they can to prevent the cull.
A spokesperson from People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) condemned the cull, stating that there is no scientific evidence to show that the killing will actually prevent or reduce shark attacks.
“More than 100 species of sharks are known to inhabit Western Australia waters, and they play an essential role in our oceans,” said PETA in a statement.
Others say that the cull will just give swimmers a false sense of security and encourage risky behavior.
Some conservation groups, like the Australian Marine Conservation Society, however, stated advocates should not resort to illegal means and oppose the removal of bait from drum lines.
The WA government has announced that police have been alerted of the removal of bait and those who are caught could be fined up to $50,000 and sentenced to 12 months in jail.
Australians are not as divided on the issue as some would believe, as it appears that the killing of the first shark has turned public opinion against the cull. In a newly released poll Tuesday, 82 percent of respondents said they do not think that the sharks should be killed and that people should swim in the ocean at their own risk.
Western Australia premier Colin Barnett, heckled about the shark cull at en event Sunday, said protesters were entitled to free speech, but the cull protected lives.
“I get no pleasure from seeing sharks killed, but I have an overriding responsibility to protect the people of Western Australia, and that’s what I’m doing,” said Mr. Barnett at a press conference.
However, the same poll Tuesday found that 78 percent of respondents already feel safe from the risk of shark attack when swimming in the ocean, with only nine percent saying they had cut back “a little” on their ocean swimming and five percent said they cut back “a lot.” Only 15 percent were in favor of hunting and killing the sharks.
Several celebrities are also lending their voice to protest against the shark cull. Sir Richard Branson tweeted that shark culling “should be condemned across the world,” and comedian Ricky Gervais asked the Australian Government to protect the sharks, tweeting “they were there first.”
“I respect and acknowledge and people have different points of view and there are protesters, but my responsibility as Premier is the safety of beachgoers,” Mr. Barnett said.