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Big Shark Cull

Monday, 24 February, 2014

According to the Huffington Post, “a controversial shark culling program is tearing Australia apart”. Elsewhere, the UK’s Daily Mail speaks of a “license to kill” bestowed upon contracted fisherman, while other foreign publications have dubbed the policy “Western Australia’s War on sharks.”

These are all part of the global response—which ranges from neutral to outrage—to a new policy by the Western Australian state government to capture sharks of three meters length or more using baited hooks, placed in popular areas along the coast. Any Tiger shark, Bull shark or Great White three meters or longer caught on the hooks is to be “humanely killed” (spot the euphemism). It comes after seven deaths in WA in the past three years due to shark attacks.

The trial began on Australia Day weekend with reports reaching as far as Fox News that a large shark caught in a hook off southern WA was killed. Footage later showed the shark being reeled onto the side of a boat, and shot four times in the head.

In the week leading up to the trial’s implementation, which is set to end in May, the WA government managed to secure an exemption from federal environmental laws, allowing it to go ahead with the “shark mitigation program”. The Great White Shark—believed to be the perpetrator of most fatal attacks—is an endangered species protected under the Wildlife Conservation Act, with estimates ranging from 3,000 to 3,500 left. Federal Environments Minister, Greg Hunt granted the exemption, saying that the recent spike in attacks was “way above [the] historical norm”.

Protesters rallied at Perth’s major beaches argue that the baited hooks are an indiscriminate and inhumane method of slaughtering an already endangered species, as well as posing a risk to other wildlife. Paradoxically, they may even put beachgoers at greater risk by attracting more sharks to the coastline. Nevertheless, the state government has remained steadfast in its plan despite domestic and international outcry.

WA Premier Colin Barnett maintains that the bottom line is his “overriding responsibility to protect the people of Western Australia”. He also has a responsibility to protect the state’s $8.5 billion tourism industry, and often touts the line that recreational diving instructors have seen an above 90% drop in business in recent years.

With larger protests planned and the torrent of international criticism gearing up, it appears that this issue is only just starting to bite the hook.