Killing Sharks to Protect People
After sharks have killed 6 people off Perth since 2010, the WA government responded with a cull program designed to kill any great white, tiger or bull shark larger than 3 meters. Using over 1000 baited drum lines placed along the coast, sharks will be caught, documented then killed to reduce the threat for more shark attacks on humans. As you can imagine, the public backlash has been swift and loud against the Colin Barnett’s government plan to protect the tourism industry in SW Australia.
Six people killed in 3 years, 10 people killed by sharks since 2010… That is a lot of deaths for a country that cherishes their beaches and ocean recreation. But like in the Hawaiian Islands, sharks killing humans is a normal part of life (Hawaii does not publish the stories of tourists eaten by sharks but there were two fatalities in 2013). And after consideration, Hawaii decided not to cull sharks because scientists said that there are tens of thousands of big tigers and bulls and no culling effort would reduce the population. That is not the case in Western Australia.
And after spending several months filming in WA, I can tell you that the Aussie approach to anything is just let humans fix it no matter what the cost. Whether it is a new mine, new LNG plant, too many sharks, excessive drinking, whatever the issue, The Western Australian government believes it can “fit it” and make WA a better place for people. I am not sure this is the same idea of the Anthropocene as espoused by TNC’s Chief Scientist Pater Kareiva. You can read the TNC stance on Conservation there.
As Peter said in one of his talks – if an environmentalist gave the Martin Luther King speech “I Had a Dream” then it would be titled “I had a nightmare”. Don’t get me wrong, I do not think the Perth Shark Cull is a good thing. But I am not sure what the impact will be of killing a could 100 big sharks over a few years. And nor do I believe that they will just do this every year for the next 100 years. But I do believe that if you polled every Perth business that relied on beach goes, surfers, divers and fishermen then they would say this is a good think quietly… No people, no money.
As we are learning protecting critters at the expense of jobs will continue to be a losing battle. Wild nature, wild critters and wild places are highly valued by us all until they stand in the way of our kid’s college fund, mortgage payments or health care benefits. As the earth slowly consumes more and more resources, we will see more sharks killed, ecosystems degraded and destroyed. There has to be balance between people and nature with more placed on people than nature right now. I agree we must manage the wealth extraction from the planet by us humans, that we need to carefully proceed with lots of checks and balances as to how much, how fast we extract. But we are going keep extracting. If you are not sure – just visit the Chesapeake Bay, San Francisco Bay, Colorado River Delta, The Pilbara in Western Australia. We are extracting at a faster and faster pace. And part of the work of Marine Ventures is to document and tell the stories of this wealth extraction and those who are trying to slow it down, restore what we destroyed, find a better balance. I am hopeful we will do better in the future. But I must say my fellow planetary citizens are not very good role models.