‘Guilty until proven innocent’ not the right approach for large sharks

The Conservation Council of WA has today welcomed extra funding from the State Government for more research into sharks and greater patrolling of beaches, but has warned that a ‘guilty until proven innocent’ approach of killing big sharks just for swimming near a beach will not protect swimmers.

“In Western Australia we have always shared our ocean with large sharks, yet we know very little about them,” said CCWA Marine Coordinator Tim Nicol, “So we welcome increased spending on research to better understand these animals. Understanding is the key to a healthy and safe relationship with sharks.”

“However, we are concerned that plans to kill sharks that approach beaches applies a ‘guilty until proven innocent’ approach to sharks and is a knee-jerk reaction to public concern that will harm the environment without protecting swimmers.”

“No shark that has been spotted by authorities has ever been implicated in a later attack, so how would killing those sharks help?

“We are also concerned that this policy perpetuates the fear that all large sharks are potential killers, when in fact we do not know this.  If we want to reduce fear of swimming at our beaches then we need to engage in research and education, not in killing with no purpose.

“For example we need to explain the times of year that are most dangerous because of oceanic events that attract large sharks to feed near shore, for example when snapper are spawning in Cockburn Sound and explain that patrolled beaches are safe.”

“We urge the Government not to use the new kill powers for sharks.”

The Government’s announcement comes amid a continuing global crisis facing sharks. Illegal and unregulated fishing driven by the demand for shark fin soup in Asia has reduced shark populations by 90%.

“Whilst the past year might have seen more large sharks off WA’s coast, the reality is that sharks are being wiped out of our oceans,” said Mr Nicol, “Our ocean ecosystems have evolved for millions of years alongside sharks and their presence is essential to the health and balance of our seas and fisheries.

“There is no evidence to determine if populations of large sharks are recovering in Western Australia or if there have just been more visiting the West Coast than in previous years.”

For further comment:

Tim Nicol – 0422 235 774

John McCarten – 0403 900 193