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October 16, 2021

Shark nets: Sea Shepherd accuses media of ‘fear mongering’

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Dolphins swimming close to the nets. Photo supplied.
Dolphins swimming close to the nets. Photo supplied.

By Mia Armitage

Knee-jerk reactions to shark bites thanks to fear mongering by the media have skewed shark mitigation debate, says Sea Shepherd Apex Harmony QLD co-ordinator Jonathan Clark.

Volunteers for the Apex Harmony shark protection campaign inspected shark nets in Ballina on Sunday for the fifth time, Mr Clark told The Echo.

The expedition was largely uneventful compared to a May 1 voyage, when government contractors aboard Wahoo steered their boat in close proximity to Apex Harmony divers at Lighthouse Beach (a video is available here).

Diver Andrew Nieuwenhof wrote a statement saying it was a ‘perilous encounter’ as he and his dive mate were ‘forced to descend quickly to the bottom of the ocean…. dispensing with the required safety and equalisation precautions’.

Mr Niewenhof said the pair could ‘hear and see the shadow’ of Wahoo directly above them, despite Sea Shepherd’s display of a dive flag aboard Grey Nurse in accordance with maritime safety.

A Wahoo crew member, presumably the captain, can be heard on a video recorded at the time telling the activists to ‘piss off’ and referring to his ‘right of way’ thanks to signals aboard his vessel indicating his crew were working.

But Mr Clark said his crew did not observe any contractor work at the net that day and a formal investigation is underway with NSW Transport (Marine).

‘I was interviewed by a Boating Safety Officer [on Monday] and gave him our videos from the incident,’ Mr Clark said.

He said a crew of four, including two divers, checked nets at four of the five beaches in the NSW North Coast Shark Meshing Trial (the net at Main Beach, Evans Head, was not inspected).

Visibility was poor and the crew did not find any entangled wildlife, he said.

‘It seems the contractor had already checked the nets that morning,’ Mr Clark told The Echo.

‘Two divers dived each net filming the condition of the net – Apex Harmony crews do not touch the nets.

‘We are only there to record and document.’

Dolphins and drumlines

Mr Clark said divers also checked drumlines used to bait sharks before they are tagged and released by government contractors.

‘Most… appeared to have been very recently baited,’ he said.

‘A large pod of dolphins was observed in the early afternoon in close proximity to the drumlines – the crew took some good images of the dolphins which have been shared with the Dolphin Research Project.’

Two bottlenose dolphins have died in north coast shark nets since the trial began in December, Department of Primary Industries’ by-catch reports up until April 7 showed.

The DPI’s May report was not available at time of press.

Ballina Greens MP Tamara Smith has previously said the dead dolphins were likely members of the Byron pod, known to scientists to have numbered around sixty.

Mr Clark says, ‘Government responses need to be informed by science.’

‘Sea Shepherd does not support the use of lethal methods of shark bite mitigation.

‘Instead, Sea Shepherd advocates the development, funding and use of non-lethal technologies such as barriers (where suitable), shark spotting with humans and drone technology, sonar technology such as Clever Buoy [and] personal deterrent technologies such as Shark Shield.’

‘Accurate and pertinent information through beach signage and other forms of public information” from the government is supported by Sea Shepherd in hopes of increased “personal responsibility”,’ Mr Clark said.

‘Sea Shepherd is hopeful that the current [national] senate enquiry into shark mitigation and deterrent measures will bring some sense to the debate and drive a government response that moves away from knee-jerk reactions brought on by fear-mongering of complicit parts of the print media groups.’

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  1. The media reflects a quite natural concern people have of being killed or seriously hurt by a shark and they are accused of fear mongering? And with whom who are they complicit? If you read the conservative press in the region they have covered both the pro- and anti-net views on the subject – including the concerns of conservationists, tourist operators and swimmers – just as the Echo has. The Government has naturally responded to these legitimate community concerns – it came down in favour of a trial of netting, which plainly Sea Shepherd does not agree with, but there is nothing knee-jerk about what has been a considered response that has long been used in QLD.

  2. Knee jerk reactions are one thing but the facts alone make sobering reading.

    The DPI tagging program began Sep 15……….there were 3 attacks last year 2016 ….

    Cooper Allan North Wall Sep26: moderate leg injury.
    Seneca Rus Sharpes Beach Oct12: Minor leg injury
    `Jade Fitzpatrick Broken Head Oct24: Moderate leg injury.

    3 white sharks tagged last week in the Ballina/Evans area with seasonal abundances of juvenile/sub-adult white sharks now becoming the new normal for this region. We’re now over 90 white sharks tagged with most tagged from this area. It’s becoming more and more apparent that the surfer/fisherman viewpoint of an increased abundance of white sharks is becoming supported by the evidence and that this is the primary reason for the increased attack/encounter rates.
    The ethical issue of a Commonwealth program to increase the number of white sharks into highly populated coastal areas with cultures and economies based on ocean use has hardly been reflected upon. But we are seeing the outcomes: an increased rate of lethal attacks and serious injuries.

    There’s also a fair argument that coastal populations of dolphins, being the only marine mammal in the area, are at far greater risk of predation from an increased number of white sharks than they are from 5 nets.

    • Thanks Steve, but there were actually 7 attacks in 2016. 20/4/16 at Byron Bay, 20/5/16 at North Wall, two on the 26/7/16 and the three you mentioned. The one at Byron resulted in a slight foot injury and the other three involved being knocked off boards.

      There were 10 attacks in 2015 and so the trial of the shark nets can hardly be called a knee-jerk reaction. The measure is in response to a sustained, unprecedented number of attacks in a two year period. The nets, along with other measures deployed from Newcastle to Wollongong, is responsible for keeping the attacks in that area to only 25 from 1995 to 2015.

  3. ‘Knee jerk reactions’ ? Some of the people attacked by sharks over the past few years no longer have knees left to jerk! Some of them are in fact dead!
    Show some compassion and understanding for those affected and for those who now no longer feel safe going into the sea past their ankles.


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