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Byron Shire
January 29, 2022

Shark nets threaten dolphins and whales

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Local dolphins will be at risk if shark nets are installed on north coast beaches, a local group has claimed. (supplied)
Local dolphins will be at risk if shark nets are installed on north coast beaches, a local group has claimed. Photo B Hawkins

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.’


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  1. The netting program would constitute a Key Threatening Process listed under both the NSW Threatened Species Conservation Act 1995 and NSW Fisheries Management Act 1994.


    It is a known fact that the current netting programs result in the by-catch of a wide variety of non-target marine species including listed endangered and vulnerable species such as turtles, whales and dugongs.

    The proposal is counter productive to conservation efforts and likely to cause more negative impacts to the marine ecosystem.

    The money would be better spent developing personalized deterrent devices. Such devices can be worn by beach users enjoying any beach or water body around the world. The nets are a feel good measure and are likely to have negative impacts on marine life. Lets not spend another 2.5 million dollars on something that should never be installed.

  2. Our NSW Govt, Mike Baird seems to think otherwise…. and we will challenge his cause…..wholeheartedly…
    I and others swimmers, surfers, fishermen or otherwise from our Coast ……we cannot have our waters being used as political tools to further the irrational concepts of this idea of Mike Baird and the LIBERAL Government…. who are attempting to bully those who know better…


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