Have you seen the majestic whales moving up the coast, and getting caught in shark nets, recently? It is the annual whale migration and marine scientists and campaigners, and local surf shops come together this morning to spell the words ‘NETS OUT NOW’ on the beach at Burleigh Heads on the Gold Coast.
Over the last month there have been multiple whale entanglements in the shark nets off Gold Coast beaches. This includes the freeing of a baby humpback whale at the end of May by local diver, Django Hopkins, AKA Tinny Man after authorities failed to respond quickly enough. He faced possible combined fines of over $90,000 for his actions. This has been followed by another three whales being caught in nets over three days as reported on 22 June.
Since 2001, 54 humpback whales have been caught in Gold Coast nets. Shark nets are also placed along the Sunshine coast, north of Brisbane.
Following this series of whale entanglements in shark nets off the tourism hotspot, the Australian Marine Conservation Society (AMCS) and Humane Society International (HSI) are appealing to the Queensland government to remove the shark control nets and end shark culling.
‘Humpback whale migrations happen like clockwork up and down the east coast of Australia every year. We know that whale entanglements are stressful for these majestic giants, and can be fatal unless they are quickly freed.Yet the nets still remain in place,’ said AMCS scientist Dr Leonardo Guida.
‘Even if whales are successfully released, we can’t be sure of their fate because of the stress they experience. Whales must be allowed to freely migrate through Queensland waters.’
Government fails to follow own report
Last year Surf Life Saving Queensland’s (SLSQ) Fifth Annual Coast Safe Report 2019 identified drone surveillance and SMART drumlines as suitable alternatives for nets at southern Queensland beaches.
In March, the Queensland government’s Scientific Working Group for shark control recommended the shark nets should be removed during whale migration. But the nets remain in place and four whales have been entangled already this season, including a mother and its calf.
‘The Queensland government should act on the recommendations of its scientific working group immediately before any more whales are trapped,’ said HSI marine biologist Lawrence Chlebeck.
‘Human safety is paramount and there are a number of more effective, non-lethal alternative shark mitigation strategies available instead of shark nets. Nets are ineffective at keeping bathers safe but are really good at catching and drowning iconic and harmless wildlife like turtles, dolphins and endangered hammerhead sharks.
‘Drones, non-lethal SMART drumlines and better education could instead be employed to protect swimmers. Drones have the added benefit of helping lifesavers prevent drownings, of which 21 were fatal last year on Queensland beaches. These measures are readily available and do not take a toll on marine wildlife.’