Since past Hawaiian and Australian shark attacks first brought the matter under scrutiny, shark culling (killing sharks to protect beaches) has sparked a wide array of responses. Some see these programs as beneficial and claim this reduces human fatalities. Some argue that culling destroys innocent sharks, taints the ocean red, and does nothing to truly protect swimmers (Hazin and Afonso). Still others remain ignorant on the whole situation. Shark culling is detrimental to endangered shark species and relatively useless in decreasing attacks on humans, as seen through its history, the devastation it causes, and its failure to accomplish anything.
I remember when I first became interested in sharks. I had gone to an aquarium and watched Jaws shortly after, swiftly becoming enthralled with such fascinating animals. Like much of humanity and past historical figures, these beautiful creatures are often misunderstood and typecast as monstrous killers of the deep (Edmonds). I devoted myself to learning all I could about sharks, devouring any and all information that crossed my path. During this time, I quickly became astonished at the general public’s ignorance and apathy towards the well being of these sea animals.
Shark culling first started as a response by the government to the growing number of attacks on humans, especially off the West Australian coast. Now commonly known as the West Australia shark cull, the system was implemented in 2014, to the outrage of many conservationists. They argued its ineffectiveness and brutality in one of the largest protests West Australia had ever seen. As ocean activist Sharnie Connell states in her article “Statement in Response to Ballina Shark Incidents,” there is “very little chance of finding the shark responsible. The ocean is their home and when we enter it, we do so at our own risk.” In fact, the history of shark culling reveals that after a cull, shark levels remained relatively the same in the area (Hazin and Afonso).
Shark culling was also implemented in Hawaii throughout the latter half of the 20th century. While shark attacks remain a sensitive subject for most people, only 3 or 4 attacks occur per year, compared to an annual 40 drownings (“Tiger Shark…”). When considering the plethora of people who swim in the waters of the Aloha State, shark attacks hardly seem worthy of such drastic preventative measures. After a series of attacks in the 90’s, culling was once again brought to the table. A team of scientists successfully petitioned the government to instead spend the money on shark research, rather than culling nets. They found that tiger sharks are a migratory species, thus rendering any chance of catching the culprits comparatively miniscule (Holland et al.).
Shark culling also wrecks terrible devastation on marine life. Wherever a culling has taken place, the surrounding sharks have paid a toll. During the West Australia cull of 2014, over 66 sharks were caught within three weeks of the start of the program; 75% of those sharks were smaller than the three-meter size target. A “social media storm” ensued when it became known that none of the 66 sharks were white sharks or tiger sharks, the kinds considered responsible for recent attacks (Law). These unfortunate occurrences put the use of shark nets and drum lines (baited barrels designed to catch large sharks) in a rather negative light for the general public (Trouwborst).
Not only has culling hurt sharks, it affects other sea creatures that were intended no harm. Dolphins, sea turtles, and stingrays have all been found (many times dead) on drum lines meant for the “man-eating” sharks. This is known as “bycatch,” when animals other than the target fish are caught in the crossfire. Most of these animals are considered protected, threatened, or endangered in Australia, making it easier to understand the fierce opposition to culling (Connell). Bycatch is oftentimes the cause of severe public backlash against the institution of culling.
Although some view the culls as a benefit to society, the fact remains that killing sharks accomplishes nothing. Humans already kill over 100 million sharks each year for fishing, finning, and sundry. Why add to that drastic number? Studies have shown that the number of fluctuating beachgoers has no effect on the level of sharks in an area (“Tiger Shark…”). In short, sharks aren’t drawn to beaches simply because there are more people there. The few benefits of culling (which can be achieved through less violent forms) are greatly outweighed by the cons.
If culling is so detrimental to marine life and human protection is a viable need, are there any agreeable compromises to be found? Though not as widely advertised, there are multitudes of non-fatal shark preventing agents, including aerial patrols and shark tagging. The key is to monitor the shark’s activity, not immediately destroy it without cause (Hazin and Afonso). Aerial patrols allow pilots to inform swimmers of nearby sharks, and take appropriate action. Tagging, meanwhile, comes with the double benefit of alerting beach goers and providing valuable research data.
Indeed, some declare that people are too wrapped up in animals and should focus their efforts on more important things. While it is important to have a priority list in life, sharks remain an important part of the ocean’s ecosystem. Every food chain needs a predator to keep the populations under control. Shark attacks often don’t even happen out of aggression, but instead out of curiosity. Sharks lack sensitive digits like fingers and can only explore something by biting it (Law). Furthermore, sharks take longer to mature and rarely mate in captivity, allowing for decreasing reproduction rates (Edmonds). The lives of sharks shouldn’t be more important than humans, but likewise humans shouldn’t let fear drive them to slaughter.
Opinions will remain varied on shark culling, whether someone believes it protects human lives, or needlessly destroys marine ones. Hawaiian and Australian attacks will guarantee the media’s attention on the topic all throughout the rest of its grimy annuals. Likewise, conservationists will continue to raise awareness to halt these marine killing activities. As seen through its history, the devastation it causes, and its failure to accomplish anything, shark culling is harmful to marine life and incompetent for saving humans. With better options available, culling only adds shark blood to an already crimson ocean.
Connell, Sharnie. “Statement in Response to Ballina Shark Incidents.” No NSW Shark Cull. No NSW Shark Cull, 07 July 2015. Web. 14 Feb. 2016.
Edmonds, Molly. “Shark Facts vs. Shark Myths.” WorldWildlife.org. World Wildlife Fund, 2014. Web. 18 Feb. 2016.
Hazin, F.H.V., and A.S. Afonso. “Response: A Conservation Approach to Prevention of Shark Attacks off Recife, Brazil.” Animal Conservation. Wiley Online Library, 30 July 2014. Web. 12 Feb. 2016.
Holland, K.N., B.M. Wetherbee, C.G. Lowe, and C.G. Meyer. “Movements of Tiger Sharks (Galeocerdo Cuvier) in Coastal Hawaiian Waters.” Marine Biology. Springer-Verlag, Sept. 1999. Web. 19 Feb. 2016.
Law, Peter. “66 Sharks-But Zero Great Whites-Caught On Drum Lines In 3 Weeks.” Perth Now. Perth Now, 18 Feb. 2014. Web. 21 Feb. 2016.
“Tiger Shark Research Program.” University of Hawaii Shark Research. Hawaii Institute of Marine Biology, n.d. Web. 19 Feb. 2016.
Trouwborst, Arie. “Aussie Jaws and International Laws: The Australian Shark Cull and the Convention on Migratory Species.” Cornell International Law Journal 2 (2014): n. pag. Cornell International Law Journal Online, 2014. Web. 14 Feb. 2016.