Shark culling or “shark control” is the act of deliberately killing sharks, thus reducing their population sizes, and preventing shark attacks.
But is it necessary, and is it ever morally just to willfully kill an animal just for what it might do?
What Is The Purpose Of Shark Culling?
The purpose of shark culling is to kill sharks in order to decrease the shark population in an attempt to lower the amount of shark on human attacks.
How Many Sharks Are Culled A Year?
Humans kill an estimated 100 million sharks a year. They are killed to protect surfers, swimmers and other people engaging in ocean water activities. This number includes sharked culled in the name of protecting humans as well as sharks killed for their fins and cartilage.
Does Shark Culling Work?
Shark culling certainly kills plenty of sharks. But the question is, do shark culling programs help save human lives?
One such shark culling program, billed as a “shark control” program, in Hawaii which operated between 1959 and 1976 resulted in killing 4,668 sharks over an 18-year period. There was no difference in number of shark attacks on humans recorded in the Hawaiian islands during the time the program was active or immediately after the closing of the program.
Additionally, the methods used in shark culling also kill turtles, dolphin and other unintended marine life.
On the surface it makes sense that few sharks in the water would result in fewer bites on human. However, based on the data above, one can’t conclude that shark culling is effective.
In fact, removing the apex predator from the ocean can have negative effects on the marine habitat at large, not to mention the unintended killing of other marine species which are also critical to the health of the oceans.
How Common are Shark Attacks?
Before we take a closer look at shark culling, let’s address the prevalence of shark attacks.
Sharks are deadly. They are fierce creatures, and a lot of people have a genuine and debilitating fear of them. But contrary to what you might think, shark attacks are incredibly rare.
Every year, there are approximately 80 unprovoked shark attacks and between 5 and 10 deaths on average.
To put that into perspective, jellyfish kill 40 people a year and in the United States alone, over 400 people die from falling out of bed.
Maybe we should have a cull on mattress stores. There are certainly a disproportionate number of them out there.
Needless to say, shark attacks are rare. Films like Jaws have given everyone the false impression that sharks are out there waiting for humans to bob by so they can snap and feast. The average person believes that if there is a shark in the water nearby, it’s almost certainly going to attack them and kill them.
It’s just not true. Sure, sharks are dangerous and if they get you in their sights, they can destroy you in an instant. But most shark attacks are mistakes. They confuse humans for defenseless animals (which, arguably, we are in the eyes of a shark), and most of the time, they don’t really care what we’re doing.
After all, 80 is an incredibly low number when you consider how many people surf, swim, and ride jet skis and boats every single year.
Shark Culling Methods and Response
Shark culls are often triggered in response to shark attacks. It’s a knee-jerk reaction—people get bitten, people die, the government starts killing sharks.
Some of the methods used to kill sharks include:
Shark Nets – Do They Really Work?
On the surface, a “shark net” sounds like a pretty humane way to trap and release a shark, but shark nets are designed to kill.
They are literal nets that are designed to prevent sharks from getting near humans. The nets are submerged near high-population areas and are designed to trap, entangle, and kill the shark.
Basically, the sharks are unable to move and this is fatal for many species. It’s not a quick death and it’s not a pleasant one, either.
What’s more, shark nets aren’t even that effective. They are used throughout Western Australia where they are typically fixed at a depth of about 6 meters and run just under 200 meters long. The problem is that they float and don’t connect with the shoreline or the surface, so it’s possible for sharks to swim over and under them.
Baited Drumlines – How Do They Kill Sharks?
Drumlines are marine traps designed to capture sharks and many of them are used for shark culling. They use baited hooks to lure and trap the animals, not unlike fishing lines.
SMART Drumlines – Catch, Tag, Release, & Monitor
SMART drum lines will send a realtime alert that notifies authorities that a shark (or other large marine life) has taken the bait is and is hooked on the line attached to the SMART drum line.
Sharks captured using SMART drumlines are tagged and released into the wild where they can be studies further. Additionally, these sharks can be tracked via apps by surfers before entering the water.
As of May, 2021, the effectiveness of SMART drumlines were in question, adding more fuel to the controversial topic of shark culling.
Where is Shark Culling Practiced?
Most shark nets are deployed in Western Australia, where shark populations are vast and shark attacks are relatively common when compared to other areas.
Shark nets are also used in New South Wales, which includes major cities like Sydney and Canberra. Between 2017 and 2018, it was reported that 403 marine animals were killed by the use of shark nets. Of these animals, 7 were dolphins, 7 were green sea turtles, and 10 were grey nurse sharks, which are critically endangered. They did kill 14 great white sharks as well, but at what cost?
It has been said that these methods of shark control have trapped over 5,000 marine turtles, and killed hundreds of dolphins, whales, rays, and other marine animals.
What’s more, 65% of the shark attacks that occurred in New South Wales were at beaches that had nets installed.
Valerie Taylor – Sharks Conservationist
Valerie Taylor is a competitive spear fisher turned shark conservationist who is adamantly opposed to shark culling and the methods used.
Valerie joined Chris Hemsworth in the documentary Shark Beach on NatGeo to discuss her experiences diving with sharks, shark culling and the importance of sharks to the marine ecosystem. Here is a trailer of Shark Beach featuring Chris Hemsworth diving with sharks in Australia.
What do the Public Think About Culling Sharks?
Shark control is a controversial topic, as you would expect, and many experts argue that it’s just the government’s way of making it look like they are responding to shark attacks, even though those responses are expensive, inhumane, and only partially effective.
It has been argued that shark culling has a massively detrimental effect on the ecosystem. Not only do the methods trap and harm other marine animals, but by removing large numbers of major predators, they create a knock-on effect that impacts all marine life.
The stats are pretty clear. Not only are shark attacks still common at beaches that have shark nets installed, and not only do they lead to a slow and painful death for the shark, but they kill other marine life as well. Add to that the fact that shark nets can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars, and it’s easy to see why people are so critical of shark culling, particularly the aggressive programs used in New South Wales and Western Australia.