A study conducted by the University of Sydney in the immediate aftermath of two fatal shark attacks in Western Australia this month, has revealed that the vast majority of locals do not want to see sharks hunted down and destroyed after such incidents.
The west coast of Australia has experienced the highest rate of shark-bite deaths in the world over the last six years, but 75% of people in the area don’t support a lethal response to such attacks. Further more, over half of those polled in the area thought that the primary purpose of killing a shark after an incident was to calm the public (and potential tourists), rather than to protect people.
The poll was conducted over a week, starting on 8 June, just two days after a British grandmother was killed by a great white shark while scuba diving 1km off the Mindarie marina in Perth’s northern suburbs, and five days after a surfer died as a result of injuries sustained in another great white attack at Falcon Bay, near Mandurah.
In accordance to current Western Australian government policy, baited hooked drumlines were set in the wake of both attacks, to try and catch animals deemed a ‘serious threat’ to community safety, and a 4.2m great white shark was caught and killed close to the area where surfer Ben Gerring was attacked. Controversially, no attempt was made to analyse the contents of the dead shark’s stomach, or to measure its bite.
Of the 600 Perth residents consulted, just 5% supported ‘hunting’ sharks involved in fatal attacks, and only six per cent agreed with the policy of setting baited drum lines. Another 11% condoned the use of shark nets, which is often considered a lethal policy because sharks (and other animals) have a tendency to get caught in these nets, with many dying as a result.
A quarter of the people who supported non-lethal policies said that more research should be conducted into human-shark interactions, while another 25% supported investment in non-lethal technologies, such as electronic shark shields. A further 14 supported a public education campaign, and 8% said humans were playing in the sharks’ environment while aware of the risks, and the animals should just be left alone altogether.
Of those questioned, 59% said no one was to blame for the attacks. Most people (52%) were of the opinion that the bites were accidental, while only 22% believed sharks intentionally bit humans. Predictably, though, the two recent tragedies sparked renewed calls for the resumption of a controversial shark cull program, which was abandoned after a damning assessment by the Environmental Protection Authority.
Dr Chris Neff, the researcher who conducted the study, told Guardian Australia that the poll revealed such knee-jerk reactions, often given oxygen by media headlines, are not actually supported by the majority of the ocean-loving Western Australian public.
‘The fact is that while [people calling for shark hunts and culls] are the loudest, they are not the majority,’ he observed. ‘There’s not an agenda in this research. If supporters for the policy were the silent majority, then we would want to find them.’
This latest poll reflects the results of a similar survey, also commissioned by Neff, conducted in the New South Wales coastal town of Ballina, which suffered a spate of shark attacks last year. That poll, undertaken in January, found that 83% of people supported non-lethal responses to shark attacks and only 4% thought the shark should be hunted.