First Catch And Kill Order, In The Name of Public Safety

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  • Author: Katrina Manning
  • Press: Shark Magazine
  • Date: Wednesday, 16 January 2013

The first order to catch and kill a shark in Western Australia has come after the release of new guidelines in November by the Fisheries Department. The Fisheries department shark response unit declared there was an imminent threat to beach goers and the order was issued to capture dangerous great white sharks.

Fisheries officers are keeping an eye on the waters off Dunsborough, where there have been numerous shark sightings. There have been many repeated reports of sightings in the past week of great white sharks from 6 to 12 feet long.

The latest sighting in the region was reported by South-West Westpac Rescue Helicopter on Friday at noon, who sighted an unidentified 6-foot shark tracking west 32 feet off Point Piquet near Dunsborough. The day before there had been a report of sighting of a 6 to 9-foot Great White shark at Kingston Reef Rottness. On Tuesday a 9 to 12-foot great white shark was sighted at 3.45 pm within 49 feet of Eagle Bay's shore.

But so far there has been no capture of great white sharks. Initially, lines with large hooks were first anchored in the water on Sunday to capture sharks that had been seen off Dunsborough beaches. It resulted in the capture of a 6-foot tiger shark but it was released again as it wasn't considered to be a "high hazard" shark. After other sightings, lines continued to be set during the week. Another 5-foot plus tiger shark was caught and released as well.

Fisheries officers remained in the waters off Dunsborough for the rest of the week to monitor shark activity, regularly assess the situation and deploy lines when necessary.

The "catch and kill" policy only targets great white sharks, which have been identified as the biggest threat to humans. The previous definition of "imminent risk" has been revised so that now a shark can be deemed an imminent risk without a shark attack occurring beforehand. According to the Fisheries Department, it's all about protecting public safety and not about culling sharks.

Sharks will eat anything that swims, if they are hungry. Some scientists wonder if certain sharks have started developing a taste for humans. This may explain that while shark numbers decrease in certain areas, the number of attacks on humans remain the same or appear to rise. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has conveyed that sharks may mistake humans for large sea lions or other sea creatures. Sharks normally attack if they are provoked or touched in any way. Otherwise, if it is their feeding time, they may bite and retreat in an attempt to figure out whether or not the human is food.

Under the guidelines, the Department is permitted to set lines to catch and kill great white sharks that come within a little over a mile of the shore. A number of factors will be taken into account before making a decision to act, including whether or not measures to keep people out of the water are likely to remove the risk. The final say to issue a catch and kill order will be in the hands of the director general, who was the one to issue the recent order.

This new shark policy comes out of an appraisal of the increased risk of shark attacks. The past year saw the deaths of five swimmers by sharks as well as a number of non-fatal shark attacks off Western Australian waters. At the time of releasing the guidelines, the department also revealed the results of a study that showed that the risk of being attacked by a shark has doubled, having climbed to one in a million. Dr Rick Fletcher, who headed the study, said that while the risk was still very low, it was still increasing.

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