Sunday 04 October 2009

Shark nets do not discriminate

So far this year, three humpback whales have been freed from entanglement in shark nets in the inshore waters along Queensland's Gold Coast. And the annual whale migration is still far from over.

The first for the season was on 1 September, followed by another, badly entangled adult less than four weeks later.

The latest was a young six metre humpback, caught in a net off Kirra on 3 October.

A specially trained and equipped team from the Queensland Boating and Fisheries Patrol and Seaworld took almost three hours to release the animal. Another mature whale was observed nearby during the incident.

At least one of the nets that trapped a whale this season had acoustic 'pingers' attached - devices that emit a repetitive noise intended to alert whales and other non-target species to the presence of nets. Clearly, these do not always work. It is even possible that such devices might attract inquisitive cetaceans.

A number of other strategies have been adopted to try to reduce the number of whales and other marine creatures being caught in shark nets, including replacing some nets with drum-lines - large baited hooks suspended from floats and designed to target large sharks. Unfortunately, these too have been known to snare non-target species such as dolphins and turtles.

There have also been changes to net design, a network of volunteer look-out teams in high-rise buildings overlooking shark-netted beaches, and emergency response teams to deal promptly with entanglements. However, whales, dolphins, turtles, rays and other creatures continue to become trapped and many of these die as a result.

It is unlikely that we will ever devise a shark killing method that is 'safe' for all other marine life. But the issue is broader than that. Perhaps we, as a modern, well informed and environmentally aware society should reconsider our support for such a program - one that is designed to kill sharks simply because our chosen playground happens to overlap with their natural habitat.


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