FITZROY, Victoria -- The Western Australian (WA) Government has unfortunately given a green light to hunt for a shark that killed a man in the waters off of Rottnest Island on October 22, 2011. The 32-year-old American man was diving and spear fishing, when it is believed a three-meter great white shark attacked him. In response to this third fatal shark attack in WA during the last two months, WA Premier Colin Barnett ordered that the shark responsible for the man's death be caught and killed. He has also not ruled out installing shark nets as a safety precaution.
Our hearts sincerely go out to the families who have suffered recent losses following these tragic, fatal attacks. But in all of these cases, the victims had a deep love, respect, and understanding for the oceans and were aware of the risks involved. The family members of each victim have asked for the sharks not to be killed, as their loved ones would not have wanted such revenge. One victim in particular was a surfer and a passionate Sea Shepherd supporter.
Sea Shepherd is opposed to the killing of all sharks for any reason. Over the last 30 years, the populations of some shark species have declined by as much as an astonishing 98%. Sharks have been swimming in our oceans for over 400 million years and they play a vital role in the health of our oceans.
WA Premier Colin Barnett and Fisheries Minister Norman Moore have given their approval to track down and kill a protected shark species, which shows that they are clearly out of touch with the importance of the role that sharks play in keeping our oceans healthy.
In the 215 years that shark statistics have been recorded in WA, there have only been 119 reported shark attacks, of which 18 have been fatal. On average, there is one shark attack per year in Australia compared to 315 drownings or 694 people killed on Australian roads (2008). So what do we do, do we ban swimming? Do we ban driving a car? No, and we shouldn't hunt down a protected species either, which has been swimming in our oceans for millions of years as the top apex predator. The great white shark is listed as Vulnerable to Extinction on the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List.
The WA Premier Colin Barnett stated that his government would investigate installing nets in response to attacks happening at an "unprecedented" frequency. Sea Shepherd is also strongly opposed to shark nets. Shark nets are indiscriminate killers, killing marine life such as seals, turtles, stingrays, dolphins, and even whales in addition to sharks. According to CRC Reef Research, since the introduction of the shark control program in the Great Barrier Reef region in northern Australia from the late 1960's to the mid 1990's, 2,140 turtles, 552 dugongs, and 216 dolphins have been found trapped in the nets. And it is estimated that as little as 7% of dugongs and 10% of dolphins were eventually released alive. Shark nets are simply a false security blanket for the public. The majority of sharks that are caught in the nets are on the beachside on their way back out to sea. They simply don't work. They should be banned and removed immediately from all coastlines.
A recent article on the local WA website Perth Now stated Dunsborough's Brett Merifield, claimed much of Australia's "South-West surfing community backed the push for culling sharks that posed a risk close to beaches." I have personally spoken to a number of surfers from this surfing community who have told me that Mr. Merifield's claim does by no mean represents the wishes and attitudes of all the surfers in the South-West.
In recent years, sharks have become threatened by overfishing and shark finning, reduced food supplies, negative media attention, capture for the aquarium trade, shark nets, and marine pollution. Films like Jaws and the posture of the media in general have a lot to answer for in regards to the demise of worldwide shark populations. Every time a shark comes near a coastline the media quickly labels it as a "monster" or "terror." The reality is that the majority of sharks are very shy creatures that take a long time to reach maturity and only have few pups during their lifetime, which is why their numbers cannot sustain the massive onslaught.
Sharks are considered the doctors of the oceans, keeping our oceans healthy. Every oceanic species under them has evolved in regards to their shape, speed, and color thanks to them as the top predator of the oceans.
Our oceans give us up to 80% of our oxygen; they are the life support system for all life on planet earth. Sharks play a vital role in the health of our oceans and if they are removed there will be disastrous effects on marine ecosystems. The oceanic ecosystem is made up of very intricate food chains. Sharks are at the top of these food chains and are considered by scientists to be the 'keystone' species, meaning that removing them causes the whole structure to collapse. For this reason, the prospect of a food chain minus its apex predator may mean the end of the line for many more species.
Will the real monster please stand up?
On average, only one person a year is attacked by a shark compared to almost 100 million sharks killed by humans every year worldwide. So who then is really the monster here? I think we should be pointing the finger at ourselves.
The global environmental mess we find ourselves in comes from a complete lack of respect and disconnect from nature. We have made too many decisions, for far too long on which species, animal, habitat or ecosystem will live or die, having disastrous repercussions on our children and grandchildren.
We must reconnect with nature and the life support systems of our oceans. To hunt down and kill a protected shark species would be a further severing of our ties with nature and continuation of the demise of our own species.
Shark populations are in deep trouble worldwide as a result of human behavior, and they desperately need all the help they can get from us. We need sharks living in the oceans to maintain a balance, but they don't need us. We must give them the protection and respect they deserve.
Sea Shepherd is calling on the WA Government to reconsider their position and remove their order to hunt down and kill this great white shark, or any shark for that matter, and to put away the idea of the indiscriminate killing nets of death known as shark nets.
We are also calling on all our supporters around the world to defend sharks and put them up on the pedestal that they deserve. The time is now.
Please convey your feelings against a shark cull or shark nets by sending a personal message to the WA Government including Colin Barnett, Norman Moore, and William Marmion telling them you oppose such careless regard towards sharks.
Colin Barnett, WA Premier: email@example.com
Norman Moore, WA Fisheries Minister: firstname.lastname@example.org
William Marmion, WA Minister for the Environment: email@example.com
 Australian Shark Attack File (http://www.zoo.nsw.gov.au/content/view.asp?id=126)
Jeff Hansen is the Australian Director of the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society
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