Why Does Queensland Continue to Use Shark Nets that Catch Whales, Not Sharks?
“This is the fourth whale entanglement in just as many weeks, and we’re only a quarter through the whale season. The nets have to come out now,” said Dr. Leonardo Guida, a shark specialist at the Australian Marine Conservation Society. “Queensland beach safety standards are 60-years-old-plus. We wouldn’t accept safety standards that are more than 60 years old in our homes, workplaces, or our schools. So why should the beach be any different? They’re completely ineffective; as far as sharks are concerned, they can swim under and around them with no problem. They’re of no benefit to humans or wildlife.”
Just recently, two more humpback whales suffered entanglement at Kirra beach on the Gold Coast and Marcoola beach on the Sunshine Coast, where the whales’ migration path is intersected by shark nets.
They were rescued by teams from the Queensland Boating and Fisheries Patrol and Sea World, who were able to free the whales after several hours.
Dr. Guida and his colleagues at the Australian Marine Conservation Society believe that lethal shark control measures in Queensland should end. Shark nets are particularly inefficient; worse, these nets pose hazards to other marine life like whales and dolphins.
According to the findings of a 2019 tribunal that was held over the adoption of shark traps in the Great Barrier Reef marine park, the “lethal component of [Queensland’s] shark control program did not reduce the risk of unprovoked shark interactions.”
The following year, the removal of shark nets during whale migration season was recommended by the Queensland Shark Control Program Scientific Working Group. It is among the SharkSmart strategies that New South Wales implements, which include drone surveillance, shark tagging, and coastal surveillance of tagged sharks through various listening stations.
However, Queensland’s refusal to adopt advanced technologies just like in other states is causing frustration to shark conservationists and animal welfare groups.
Based on the statement of a spokesperson for Queensland’s Department of Agriculture and Fisheres, they do not intend to make any changes to their shark management program unless effective alternatives have been proven.
Further, the spokesperson argued, “the risk of whales becoming entangled in shark nets during the annual whale migration season historically is low. Although an estimated 40,000 whales migrate along Queensland’s coastline each year, on average, only six whale entanglements are reported. Since 2013, there have been 57 entanglements with 55 whales released alive.”
Every year, humpback whales in Australian waters migrate north from June to August to spend the summer in Antarctic waters where they find mates and binge on krill. From September to November, they travel back toward the Southern Ocean, led by young male humpbacks, with pregnant cows and mothers with their babies swimming at the rear.
And it’s true, the humpback whale population has bounced back, with their species no longer considered endangered. But does that mean it’s just all right if we lose a few whales to shark nets occasionally?
Moreover, experts affirm Dr. Guida’s statement that entanglement causes physiological trauma to whales and even to other marine animals. In fact, the major cause of human-related mortality among whale species is entanglement, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Fisherries.