Changing Planet

Western Australia’s Controversial Shark Cull Claims First Casualty

File photo of a tiger shark on the Great Barrier Reef off Australia. Photograph by Aurora Photos, Alamy

A controversial shark cull claimed its first casualty this weekend in Western Australia, when a commercial fisherman shot and killed a tiger shark off of Old Dunsborough (map) in the southwest region of Western Australia.

In a move late last year that has since sparked protests, Western Australia premier Colin Bennett announced a shark cull to control populations of great white sharks off of popular beaches in the region.

This was in response to the fatal attack on surfer Chris Boyd last November.

The cull—which will run from January to April of this year—includes deploying as many as 72 baited lines attached to drums and anchored to the seafloor to catch sharks over 9.8 feet (3 meters) long. Sharks smaller than 9.8 feet (3 meters) will be released.

The lines will be anchored 0.6 miles (a kilometer) from shore in a number of heavily trafficked areas.

A spokesman for the Western Australia government confirmed that the first fatality was a 9.8-foot (3-meter) long tiger shark, according to news reports. The fisher—contracted with the government to monitor the baited lines—shot the animal in the head and took the body out to sea.

Reactions to the start of the shark cull on social media range from anger to sadness.

Heart = broken MT @WhySharksMatter First #shark killed by the cull… shot 4 times in the head and dumped offshore…

— Friends of Hector (@HectorBlueShark) January 27, 2014


Government’s Shark Cull delivers first cruel & barbaric fatality @perthnow @WAtoday @thewest_com_au #noWAsharkcull

— pgnprincess (@amandalisa_45) January 27, 2014


Researchers have also expressed concern about the strategy of culling sharks to control populations.

More than 100 shark scientists, including me, oppose the cull in Western Australia :

— David Shiffman (@WhySharksMatter) January 27, 2014


Past Attempts

Shark culls performed in Hawaii in the 1950s showed “no measurable effect on the rate of shark attacks on people,” said Chris Lowe, professor of marine biology at California State University, Long Beach, who analyzed the data taken during those culls.

“The bottom line is that the practice didn’t seem to work, at least not in the state of Hawaii.”

“You would have to really knock down shark populations considerably before you could influence the rate of shark attacks,” he explained. (See “Maui Death Raises Questions About Spike in Hawaiian Shark Attacks.”)

There are so many unknowns when it comes to shark populations, Lowe said. “We have no idea how many sharks are out there, and we don’t know how many we have to kill to reduce the instances of shark attacks.”

“The fact that you can start a culling program with so much unknown is worrisome and disheartening,” said Amanada Keledjian, a marine scientist with Oceana.

Unforeseen Consequences?

Both Lowe and Keledjian worry over the unforeseen and unintended consequences of removing large predators like sharks from the environment.

Keledjian noted there was no way of knowing what other animals like dolphins would end up dead—either caught in a shark barrier or hooked on a baited line.

Lowe added that telling the public an area has been culled could result in people thinking all is well and that they can engage in risky behavior when they go back into the ocean. (See also “How Should We Respond When Humans and Sharks Collide?”)

“People start going further offshore, they might start going to more remote places,” he said. “They start doing things we tell people they shouldn’t do.”

Keledjian and Lowe stress that it’s important that people know the ocean can be dangerous. “It’s a wild place, it’s not Disneyland,” said Lowe.

Follow Jane J. Lee on Twitter.

Jane J. Lee is a news writer and editor at National Geographic.
  • simon webb

    Humans wanting to occupy an environment they don’t belong in? Wow, never heard that before.



    And planned species depletion

    To think that some alien imposter can impose his will upon the shark kingdom and begin such a detestible horrible thing…that the larger sharks taken away mean the smaller ones are more susceptible to other predatations.

  • Doreen

    It saddens me. The ocean isn’t humans territory. We also get a risk going into the jungle! Humans should be ashamed to take over of all places! Around 100 Mill. sharks get killed every year and the number of attacks we can count with our fingers.

  • Cat

    Disnelyand? Learn to spell!

  • Dwayne LaGrou

    I do not agree with a “Cull” or whatever you want to call it, But if it happens then why not put the meat to good use. There are a number of stores that sell shark steaks, And they are not cheap either. So to take them out to sea and make this a double hit by wasting the animal is just wrong, Wrong, WRONG !!!

  • Dorita Peer

    While I appreciate that people like to swim and surf, it seems self-indulgent and fatuous to keep insisting that this is our world, for us only, and that other beings should be sacrificed for our pleasures. It is heart-breaking that a big-brained animal like the human cannot come up with a wiser solution than this, given the time and effort that has been dedicated to learning that sharks have a vital role in the ocean system. All this wanton destruction of other beings is going to come back and bite us in the ass in a big way.

  • Teri

    Twenty global groups call for halt to shark killing in Western Australia. See ocean groups’ message here: End the Shark Cull! Take action here:

  • Tasha

    WTF Australia?!?!!! You are usually a country who protects it’s wildlife not MURDER them!!! I am half Australian and am absolutely appalled by this. This is no different than murder…you are going into the sharks HOME (the ocean) and killing innocent animals for NOTHING. People know what the risks are when they choose to swim/surf in the ocean. Just like where I live now near Yellowstone, we know what the risks are when we go out hiking/camping in the middle of no where and encounter grizzly bears or black bears or mountain lions. UGH!!! I am so disappointed in my nation right now. This must be STOPPED!!!

  • catherina post

    What about sharing, this universe has a place for all living humans & animals, We all know about the dangers on land and sea so watch out, no need for killing!!!!!!!!

  • Anon

    The premier is Colin Barnett by the way not Bennett. Solid research there.

  • Anthony Foster

    I personally do not see anything wrong with killing these sharks as long as it is quick and painless. A good article though.

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