Shark inquiry quizzes WA councils

Shark inquiry quizzes WA councils

A SENATE inquiry has asked the City of Joondalup to share its “great message” with other local governments about the success of its integrated, local measures to tackle fears of shark attack.

“There are clearly lessons and opportunities from your example for other councils right along the WA coastline,” Senator Sue Lines told Joondalup Mayor Troy Pickard at the Senate Shark Mitigation and Deterrent Measures Inquiry hearing in Perth last month.

In the western suburbs, a City Beach trial of sonar-based shark detection devices is expected to end soon and Cottesloe Council will this year investigate which of several sea pool proposals to potentially include in its $26 million foreshore revitalisation plan.

The Senate inquiry is investigating protection and the effectiveness of deterrents, shark population research, education about shark bites and the effect of attacks on tourism nationally.

Mr Pickard said he became concerned and held a shark summit when acoustic detection beacons were triggered “dozens” of times by two sharks returning to northern beaches during a week in 2012.

“We formed a view that it would be best to have the largest possible beach enclosure for our coastline, which was at a cost of $910,000,” Mr Pickard said.

Senators challenged the verification of the effectiveness of the subsequently-built 430m by 270m Eco Shark Barrier at Sorrento Beach, but Mr Pickard said 72 more carbays were needed for enclosure users, swimmers stayed from early morning to late at night and visitor numbers to the area had increased.

He said the Mullaloo Surf Life Saving Club BeachLAB initiative added a “second interesting pillar” to local shark attack prevention.

The club installed acoustic warning beacons close to shore that send alerts to Surf Life Saving WA, swimmers and shore-based alarms when triggered by a tagged shark.

The previous state government partially funded the Sorrento barrier, the City Beach trial and several swimming enclosures in the South-West.

Fisheries Minister Dave Kelly said his priority was finishing a shark mitigation strategy and the Government was committed to using “a variety of new and existing measures”, but Budget allocations were not complete.

Opinion: Cottesloe resident and former Trigg Island SLSC vice-president and chairman Ross Taylor

THE shocking loss of a teenage girl whilst surfing near Esperance recently has once against terrified many people in WA about the dangers of sharks.

Yet a calm and considered look at the facts behind the increase in shark-related deaths shows just how safe it is to be in the water during summer when the vast majority of us go to the beach.

In the past 15 years, along the entire Perth metropolitan coastline, we have seen only one fatal shark attack during summer (December to March inclusive) when 98 per cent of our beach-going population swims.

As a former senior surf lifesaver at Trigg Beach, I like my now ageing colleagues, know about the presence of grey nurse, tiger and hammerhead sharks off our coast; they have always been there.

Fortunately, these sharks are not ‘man-eaters’ and the incident of a shark attack by one of these species is extremely rare; a ‘shark mistake’ rather than a ‘shark attack’.

What we do have in WA however, is a real and increasing problem with great white sharks during autumn and spring as the whales migrate.

Failure to focus on the specific problem however, leads to unnecessary anxiety in our community and a huge waste of money and resources by our state government.

The previous state government led by Premier Colin Barnett caught 68 local sharks using drum-lines off Perth beaches for no other purpose than to be seen to be taking action and to allay the unnecessary community fears.

It was a waste of money, as there was no serious threat to swimmers during summer off Perth beaches.

So what can be done about the Great White danger?

Firstly, the new minister Dave Kelly should continue to talk to the people affected by these sharks; not the general community.

Surf board riding associations are a good start, as it is these people who are in the water off-season.

The options could include:

Option 1: Cull the number of Great Whites. There are too many of them.

Option 2: Do nothing other than continue to warn surfers that they face a greater (albeit very small) risk when surfing in autumn and spring, and to introduce technology to try and keep surfers safe during the cooler months.

In the meantime I, along with a few brave souls, continue to enjoy my daily swim in summer from Cottesloe to North Cottesloe in total relative safety, and as we enjoy our post-swim coffee, we hope that our now has a minister who can articulate the real shark issue facing our State, and not lose focus of the facts in order to win over public opinion or to allay misguided fear.

But don’t hold your breath.