ABC TV 7.30 Report Video: Perfect Predators
Video link here: ABC 7.30 Report
Australian Broadcasting Corporation
Reporter: Nikki Wilson Smith
Shark hunts carried out in the wake of three deaths in Western Australia have caused anger among shark experts. They question the motives behind such hunts and ask whether it will have any affect on public safety.
LEIGH SALES, PRESENTER: West Australians are understandably rattled by three fatal shark attacks in seven weeks. After the latest death on Saturday, the State Government ordered the destruction of any shark in the area where that attack occurred. The plan has outraged shark experts: they say any move to kill great whites is about winning votes, not about public safety. From Perth, here’s Nikki Wilson-Smith.
NIKKI WILSON-SMITH, REPORTER: With its idyllic blue waters and beautiful beaches, it’s little wonder that Rottnest Island, 22 kilometres off the coast of Perth, is one of Western Australia’s most popular holiday spots. But that relaxed mood was shattered on Saturday, when a great white shark killed 32-year-old American diver George Thomas Wainwright.
JO BOOTH, TOURIST: That’s just too scary. We know they’re out there. We know this is the worst time of year. All I can say to everybody is just be really, really cautious.
NIKKI WILSON-SMITH: It’s the third fatal shark attack in Western Australia in the last seven weeks.
ABC NEWS, OCTOBER 11: Police divers found Mr Martin’s swimsuit on the ocean floor. Experts say tears in the fabric point to the 64-year-old being taken by a large white pointer.
ABC NEWS, SEPTEMBER 6: Carl Burden was body boarding at a popular beach in WA’s south west when he was attacked by a shark on Sunday.
NIKKI WILSON-SMITH: The public is alarmed about the prospect of a rogue shark. But scientists disagree.
CHRISTOPHER NEFF, UNIVERSITY OF SYDNEY: The only rogue sharks that exist exist on Hollywood sound stages.
NIKKI WILSON-SMITH: But the West Australian Government is taking drastic measures. For the first time it’s issued a catch-and-kill order on great white sharks.
COLIN BARNETT, WA PREMIER: Norman Moore, Fisheries Minister, issued the order to allow fisheries officers to try to catch and destroy that shark.
NORMAN MOORE, FISHERIES MINISTER: If a shark was swimming off Cottesloe Beach this morning and was a threat to human life, then I would say go and capture that shark.
NIKKI WILSON-SMITH: The government directive has outraged the scientific community. The great white shark is endangered and is protected worldwide. Authorities also admit they can’t be sure they’ll catch and kill the right shark.
CHRISTOPHER NEFF: I think it’s normal to be afraid of sharks. That’s why it’s such a test of governments and communities to respond when bad things happen.
NIKKI WILSON-SMITH: Christopher Neff is conducting the first study into the politics behind shark attacks – and he says Western Australia’s response is baffling.
CHRISTOPHER NEFF: There is a habit among politicians of making shark attacks a political exercise for showing that they’re taking action – and that’s often what we see. Shark hunts are an example of a political exercise, not a public safety exercise.
NIKKI WILSON-SMITH: And the experts say poor responses come from a history of misinformation: movies and books that promote the idea of a rogue shark on the hunt, thirsty for human blood.
CHRISTOPHER NEFF: The myths about sharks continue to be perpetuated because they sell. They make sense to people. It’s reasonable. Sharks bite us and so we say they’re attacking us and they might come back to attack us. But that’s not the evidence and it’s not true.
NIKKI WILSON-SMITH: The real factors behind shark attacks are far less worthy of a blockbuster movie script.
CHRISTOPHER NEFF: Sharks are usually boring. They ignore us most of the time. And while people may not pay attention to the statistics, you are more likely to be killed by a coconut than eaten by a shark.
NIKKI WILSON-SMITH: Baitfish, seals, bad weather and staying in the water for long periods of time all increase the risk.
CHRISTOPHER NEFF: Are we in wetsuits so we’re in the water for three or four hours instead of 30 or 40 minutes? And more people are going in the water, so we spend longer times in the water. More of us are going in the water. And, in this case, you can have more prey in the water – so it sort of creates a perfect storm that can lead to these really tragic incidents.
NIKKI WILSON-SMITH: That perfect storm occurred the day George Thomas Wainwright died, and even his family in Texas have spoken out on American television saying they don’t think any sharks should be killed.
WANDA BRANNON, SISTER: It won’t bring him back. Doing what he was doing, it’s a risk you take. It was just the wrong place at the wrong time.
NIKKI WILSON-SMITH: The Government admits that a long-term solution is needed. Shark nets and culling have been suggested. The official line is that all options are being considered. But it seems even swimmers on Rottnest Island understand that the ocean is the sharks’ territory.
CLIVE MOFFAT, TOURIST: I think we’ve just got to learn to adapt to these creatures. They belong here, so do we. They’re just part of our environment and we have to respect them.
NIKKI WILSON-SMITH: In the meantime, the search for the shark continues as West Australians return to the water. But the latest attack is still forefront in the minds of holiday-makers.
PAUL KESTEL: When we were around Armstrong Bay I paid my respects. It is a tragedy. But at the end of the day they’re out there, and it’s part of living on the ocean.
CHRISTOPHER NEFF: But the fact is that we’re in the way, not on the menu. And I know it’s difficult to sell that when sharks bite people. But that is the facts.