700 marine animals killed in Queensland in 2023

Government data, compiled by conservation groups advocating against Queensland’s shark culling program, reveals that more than 700 marine animals, including nine dolphins, were killed by shark nets and drum lines off the state’s coast in the previous year.

The shark control program, in place since the 1960s, utilizes nets and drum lines with baited fishing hooks to catch and eliminate “target” shark species like white sharks and tiger sharks, purportedly to mitigate the risk of shark bites in coastal waters. Critics argue that these measures lack clear scientific evidence of reducing shark attacks.

According to the Humane Society International and the Australian Marine Conservation Society, their analysis of 2023 government data indicates that 722 marine animals perished after being ensnared in nets or hooked on drum lines. Among the “non-target” animals caught were 614, including 11 humpback whales, two dugongs, 12 dolphins, and 38 turtles. Over 400 of these, including nine dolphins and five turtles, did not survive. Approximately 30% of the “non-target” animals caught were released alive.

Since 2014, the toll includes 15 “critically endangered” grey nurse sharks, 92 dolphins, two whales, and 273 rays. Conservationists argue that these indiscriminate casualties highlight the shortcomings of shark control measures, emphasizing the need for more modern, effective, and humane methods to protect beachgoers from shark attacks. Trials of alternative methods, such as using drone technology to monitor beaches, are underway in the state.

Marine biologist Lawrence Chlebeck from the Humane Society International emphasized that the data demonstrates that “nets and drum lines don’t discriminate.” He pointed out that the recently circulated footage of a tiger shark being euthanized might have occurred up to 322 times in 2023, once for every target shark caught in southeast Queensland.

Dr. Leonardo Guida, a shark scientist at the Australian Marine Conservation Society, criticized the use of lethal measures as outdated, advocating for the adoption of more modern safety standards.

The Queensland Department of Agriculture and Fisheries defended the shark control program, stating that protecting human life is its top priority and highlighting measures in place to limit impacts on non-target species. However, conservationists argue for a reevaluation of the program, emphasizing the importance of balancing safety measures with the preservation of marine biodiversity.

Despite the Queensland Department of Agriculture and Fisheries asserting that the shark control program prioritizes human life and implements measures to minimize impacts on non-target species, conservationists and experts argue for a reassessment of the program’s effectiveness and ethical implications. The indiscriminate killing of marine animals, including endangered species and dolphins, has sparked renewed debate about the necessity and sustainability of traditional shark control methods.

Lawrence Chlebeck, the marine biologist from the Humane Society International, emphasized the lack of discrimination by nets and drum lines, highlighting the brutal consequences for a wide range of marine life. The recent footage of euthanizing a tiger shark, which may have occurred numerous times in 2023, underscores the urgent need for reconsideration.

Dr. Leonardo Guida from the Australian Marine Conservation Society called attention to the outdated nature of lethal measures, urging the adoption of more modern safety standards. As awareness grows about the ecological impact and ethical concerns associated with shark culling, there is a call for exploring alternative, non-lethal methods for shark control.

Experts argue that there are more effective and humane approaches to protect beachgoers from shark incidents. Modern technologies, such as drones for beach monitoring, are being tested as potential alternatives. These methods aim to enhance safety while minimizing harm to marine ecosystems and non-target species.

The Queensland government’s commitment to the protection of human life is acknowledged, but there is a pressing need to balance these safety measures with environmental conservation. The use of electronic warning devices to deter whales and dolphins, along with the exploration of alternative baits and configurations to reduce bycatch, indicates a recognition of the issue. However, ongoing assessments and adjustments to the program are crucial to ensure a more sustainable and environmentally responsible approach to shark management.

As the public becomes more informed and concerned about the environmental impact of shark control measures, there is a growing demand for a shift toward evidence-based, non-lethal strategies. Conservation groups and experts advocate for an open dialogue and collaboration to develop a more holistic and effective approach that prioritizes both human safety and marine biodiversity. The ongoing trials of alternative methods represent a step in the right direction, emphasizing the importance of adapting strategies to align with contemporary ecological and ethical standards.

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