Recent shark attacks and the rekindled debate around actively thinning out their numbers has re-captured the publics attention and prompted scientists to look further into the effectiveness of shark culls.
September saw five tiger sharks and one blacktip shark caught on drum lines and subsequently killed by Fisheries Queensland in response to two shark bites – one on a 12 year-old girl and the other on a 33 year-old woman– that occurred within 24 hours of each other.
Queensland Premier, Annastacia Palaszczuk, defended the cull saying it was a necessary step to fend-off criticism of doing nothing.
"Can you imagine the public outcry if anything else happened up there in that particular region during school holidays if the Department of Fisheries took no action?" Ms Palaszczuk said in response to public outcry over the shark kills in September.
In the same area, a 33 year-old man, Daniel Christidis, died from injuries after a shark attack him in November. The attack happened after culling drumlines (baited hooks) had been removed.
Queensland's Minister for Fisheries, Mark Furner, said by removing sharks the area was made safer.
“The publicity around our actions has certainly made everyone more conscious of their own well-being in those waters,” said Mr Furner.
Associate professor in fisheries and marine biology at Southern Cross University, Daniel Bucher, claims culling sharks in one are does not make it any safer for swimmers.
“There will always be a risk of sharks," he said. "The only way that culling works… is if they don’t move around much. If you culled in one area, very quickly the numbers would even up again.”
Mr Buchers said shark nets and drumlines are two types of culling methods that haven't been proven to be effective measures of keeping sharks away from the shore-line.
“They’re designed to intercept and they don’t really do that,” he said.
In the space of two months in early 2018, in a trial of shark nets on the New South Wales North Coast near the town of Ballina, only one target shark was caught. 55 other species were trapped and killed.
The shark nets were removed on the NSW North coast after two seasonal trials were proved ineffective, but nets between Wollongong and Newcastle have remained in place with some nets in NSW having been in place since the 1930s.
In a statement, advocacy group Sea Shepherd’s NSW coordinator, Allyson Jennings, said shark nets "are nothing but passive fishing devices which kill marine life."
“Data supports how ineffective these nets really are and they have never been able to demonstrate effectiveness in terms of ocean user safety,” she says.
Mr Bucher said nets are outdated, ineffective, and proven to do more harm than good.
“They are about 150 metres long and they generally position them about 500 metres off shore right in front of a surf lifesaving club," he said.
“There’s this idea that the sharks swimming by see all these people on the beach and makes a b-line straight for them, so [the nets] were designed with a kind of fear mentality, and with very little information on what sharks actually do when they come near beaches.”
Latest reports on the Sydney meshing programs show that the nets between Wollongong and Newcastle captured 403 animals – only 34 were targeted sharks, the remaining 369 were non-targeted species. Only 45 per cent were released alive.
Not Ethically Justifiable
Professor of Animal Welfare at the University of Queensland, Clive Philips, suggest shark culls are more of a political move to make the public feel safer in the water.
“I see them as more being put in place to assuage the public concerns rather than being actually effective in stopping shark attacks on humans,” Mr Philips told NITV News.
“My understanding is that the shark nets don’t necessarily keep all the sharks out, and that there is a significant amount of other animals caught in the net which may die are very cruel prolonged death and I think that’s unacceptable.
“I don’t think they’re ethically justifiable… they appear to be there primarily so the public believe something is being done.”
Mr Philips believes more education is required to better understand the behaviour of sharks, including avoiding swimming at sunrise and sunset, periods of the day proven to be peak hunting times fro sharks.
"If there is a history of sharks in the area and sharks being aggressive to humans, don't go in the water and avoid times of year where they are likely to be particularly active (November-January due to breeding season)," Mr Philips said.
Cultural connection to sharks
Many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples have a much more complex relationship to the sharks.
Artist, choreographer, singer and manager of Meuram Murray Island Dance Group , Obery Sambo, struggles to hold back tears when he learns of the tiger sharks that were culled in the Whitsunday Island's Cid Harbour.
A Meuram man from Murray Island in the Torres Strait Islands, Mr Sambo said the tiger shark is an important figure in his peoples culture and everyday life.
“They are ancestral, they are my fathers, they are my grandfathers that have passed on, they are my great grandfathers, they are my ancestors," Mr Sambo says. “They are me. I am them. We are connected.
“Before I go out diving, before I go out fishing I say a prayer… I’m so thankful for everything that is in the sea. Because of that I am here.”