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.’