A dolphin research group based in Byron shire believes shark nets proposed by the Baird government are a threat to dolphins and whales.
Dolphin Research Australia Inc executive officer Dr Liz Hawkins said the proposed trial of nets on the north coast raised serious concerns for the welfare of marine animals.
‘Shark mesh nets are currently used in Queensland, and on 51 beaches between Newcastle and Wollongong in the NSW Shark Meshing Program,’ Dr Hawkins said.
‘They are used to target shark species considered potentially dangerous to bathers and surfers but are not selective, and ~80 per cent of the catch consists of non-target marine species including whales, dolphins, turtles and rays.’
‘We’re very lucky in this area to have a year-round, resident bottlenose dolphin population, along with a number of visiting and migratory whale and dolphin species.’
‘We know there is a community of at least 60 bottlenose dolphins, whose core habitat is the area around the Richmond River mouth and Lighthouse Beach at Ballina. If nets are introduced there, it will pose a significant threat to the local dolphin population, primarily through entanglement.’
Dr Hawkins said Lighthouse Beach was a particularly important area for local bottlenose dolphin mothers and their calves to feed, rest and socialise, and they were likely to be the most heavily impacted.
‘Although dolphins have an incredible echolocation system and may be able to detect the nets, that doesn’t mean they won’t become entangled,’ she said.
‘Pingers and acoustic alarms have been trialled on shark nets in some areas but haven’t proven effective as a deterrant for whales or dolphins.’
‘Installation of shark mesh nets will also pose a considerable threat to at least nine other species of whales and dolphins that are either temporarily resident or migratory along the North Coast.
‘These include endangered southern right whales, vulnerable Australian humpback dolphins, common dolphins, humpback whales and Bryde’s whales. These species are considered at high risk of becoming entangled and drowning in any shark mesh nets installed at north coast beaches.
‘There is really nowhere along the north coast that shark nets could be installed where the risk of whale and dolphin entanglement would be low. There’s also a high likelihood that entanglement will result in the mortality of many individuals from these ecologically and culturally-significant species.’