Story Eve Jeffery & Leah Garnet-Carroll
A worldwide spotlight is on Western Australia as the shark cull continues to leave the ocean floor strewn with the bodies of dead and dying fish.
Byron Bay’s ‘Sharkgirl’, Madison Stewart, has been swimming with and studying these much-maligned creatures since she was 12 years old. Now 20, Madi has dived all around the world photographing and filming them in the hope of showing that they are not as the terrifying as the response the iconic two-note bass ostinato JAWS scenario evokes in us.
‘I have spent my lifetime in the water with sharks, and tiger sharks more than any other. They are the most docile macro-predators I’ve encountered underwater. I once spent over an hour in the water with a five-metre female tiger shark when I was only fifteen years old.’
Madi is fast becoming a recognised figure in shark conservation and was recently commissioned by Sea Shepherd to travel to WA to film the devastation on our western seaboard
‘The Western Australia fisheries implemented a shark cull because of a few attacks that occurred over a short time, she said. ‘They have placed baited drum lines just offshore of Perth and around the Dunsborough area and caught more than one hundred sharks. Most of those are tiger sharks.’
Madi said she has filmed both live and dead specimens on the hook from between two and four metres. ‘They are targeting great whites but all they have caught are tigers because they are a scavengers.
‘It’s really graphic. We have seen sharks with hooks sticking out the side of their head then they have been released alive by fisheries and there is a trail of blood. The negligence from that government is astounding.’
Madi says that from the video and images and the real-life observations it is apparent that the fishermen hired for this job and fisheries themselves have no prior training in handling sharks, once having to shoot a tiger four times in the head before it died.
‘They are using flex saws duct-taped to broom handles. If this were any other animal, these men would be in jail.
‘Sharks were not accurately depicted in JAWS – that’s not what they are in real life. People may think that because an attack happen it means there was a shark there on that day. This is not true; we are in the presence of sharks every day – they smell us and swim with us.
‘Because someone is attacked doesn’t mean there was one shark around that day. Culling is a way of killing a small few, and attracting even more with the smell of those dead few who are being dumped just offshore.’
Madi believes that we cannot ignore that sharks are a part of our life. ‘As long as we are going into the oceans, we cannot ignore the fact that the gap between understanding and fear of them is so very vast, and no matter how many we kill, it will not stop attacks. It will only further that gap.’
Madi says the carnage needs to stop and the only way that can happen is if people are educated about behaving around sharks when we are in their territory.
‘The biggest misconception on the planet is that sharks are these mindless blood thirsty killers. Attacks do happen but there is always a reason for them.’
To find out more about Madi and her work visit her YouTube channel.
~ Photos Madison Stewart, Jodi Hayes, Rohan Sibon, Andy Corbe and Sammie Thake