(WHALES/SHARKS) Adding insult to injury, authorities in Western Australia contemplated using dead whales to catch and kill great white sharks under their controversial shark culling policy.
If the plan had been carried out, Western Australia would have essentially used a protected species to kill another protected species. While such a plan should not be a surprise to anyone who has kept up with Prime Minister Tony Abbott’s environmental policy, it does raise eyebrows considering Australia brought Japan to court over its whaling operation. Read below to find out more about this whale of a plan. — Global Animal
The Guardian, Oliver Milman
The Western Australian government considered using dead whales to lure great white sharks to their death under its controversial cull policy, internal documents have shown.
Correspondence between WA’s Department of Fisheries and Department of Premier and Cabinet, released under freedom of information, shows government officials desperately attempting to negate hurdles to implementing the shark scheme.
In one email, the Fisheries Department proposed using a dead whale to attract great white sharks, allowing a roving hit squad to move in and kill the shark.
Although both great white sharks and whales are protected species under WA and federal law, the email suggests dragging “any dead whale carcass out to sea. Moor it and use it to attract white sharks. If the WA government was of a mind to use a dead whale for any purpose I would advise the WA government write to the Commonwealth minister for environment … to legally enable it to occur.”
The correspondence, which took place in November and December last year, shows officials desperately attempting to overcome perceived hurdles to the shark cull policy.
Under the eventual plan, which has run as a trial since January and ends on Wednesday, 72 hooks baited with fish, attached to drumlines, were placed 1km out to sea from some of Perth and southwest WA’s most popular beaches. Sharks measuring over 3m caught by the hooks have been shot by contractors. The policy, which has enraged conservationists, has so far resulted in more than 100 sharks being caught, mostly tiger sharks.
The FOI documents show that the WA government allowed just six business days for a month-long review into the policy before it was announced on 10 December.
The documents show officials believed the cull was “incompatible” with an ongoing shark management project which tags and tracks sharks.
“In the rush to announce and implement this new policy, minimum standards of data and biological sample collection in this program will be compromised,” a Fisheries Department email read.
A private assessment of a previous plan to temporarily deploy baited drumlines when a shark was spotted – the “imminent threat policy” – found that the strategy will “in most, if not all cases, result in failure”.
“The policy assumes that the actions are to prevent an imminent threat of attack,” the assessment states. “This cannot be proven in any case. There is abundant evidence to prove that not all sharks, even those known to be dangerous, are not about to attack just because they are in the immediate area/vicinity where people are present. This again makes the policy subject to criticism.”
In response to this, an official said by email that any prolonged deployment of drumlines, as under WA’s subsequent strategy, would see the government “cop some criticism”.
The shark plan was introduced following the death of surfer Chris Boyd, who was attacked by a shark in November. WA has experienced seven fatal shark attacks in three years. The federal government initially waived through the trial under provisions safeguarding national safety, despite great whites and mako sharks being protected species.
The WA government has subsequently submitted a plan to extend the shark cull for a further three years. The federal government will now assess the plan, as will WA’s Environment Protection Authority.
Environmentalists claim the strategy has been cruel, counterproductive and even dangerous to humans, given that it draws sharks close to the beach in order to eat the baited meat.
Alexia Wellbelove, senior program manager at Humane Society International, which obtained the documents, said she was almost speechless at the idea of using dead whales to catch sharks.
“I am staggered that the government would suggest killing a protected species using another protected species,” she told Guardian Australia. “It’s unbelievable. It shows a serious misunderstanding as to why these animals are protected in the first place.
“This is a policy put together on the run, with no conservation or science behind it. It’s highly irresponsible. If you want to kill protected animals, you really need a scientific reason why.
“We will be telling the federal government that this isn’t a scientifically-based program and it will have a significant impact upon the marine environment. It needs to be fully assessed and then it needs to be rejected.”
A WA government spokesman was contacted over the documents, but had not responded at the time of publication.