Blog: The Australian Shark Slaughter

Tiger Shark

On Australia Day (Jan 26, 2014), a beautiful 10-foot female Tiger shark was barbarically ensnared on a baited drum line for likely 12 hours before she was brought alongside a fishing boat, shot four times in the head and died. Her body was dragged to sea and dumped.

Do Premier Colin Barnett of Western Australia (WA) and federal Environment Minister Greg Hunt have any idea whatsoever that our oceans are dying, quickly? That’s the question that my Californian students asked me.

The WA government is attempting to tame the eastern Indian Ocean because some misguided bureaucrats believe that if they kill all the endangered Great White, threatened Tiger and Bull sharks that come near southwest WA, all beachgoers and surfers will be safe. Not only is the WA shark cull incorrect and squandering $20 million, but also the government has sanctioned ecocide.

The Indian Ocean is a wild ecosystem constrained only by biophysical laws. When there are too many predators like Great White, Tiger and Bull sharks and not enough prey, they starve to death. Conversely, when there are too few predator sharks, populations of prey become unfit, weak, and old and diseases become epidemics throughout our oceans, thereby collapsing fish populations and denying almost 2 billion people their only daily protein source.

Any human venturing into a wild ecosystem is at risk. Should all jaguars be massacred in the South American jungles because humans could be killed? Sadly, that’s a question we won’t address because loathsome poachers are driving these phenomenal predators to extinction within a decade or so.

Let me remind you that the ‘War Against Nature‘ has been raging for a decade, in which time between 73 and 100 million sharks each year have been mercilessly poached for their fins to supply an insatiable Asian appetite for sharkfin soup. Eleven thousand sharks are dying every hour, 24/7, 365; and that means nine out of 10 sharks are missing in our oceans, right now.

What kind of a world are Earthlings leaving for our children?

Until very recently, sharks have withstood the impressive test of 400 million years of rigorous evolution. Unless we grant amnesty to the sharks, they will be extinct by 2030. Extinction means forever.

My colleague, Jeff Hansen, Director of Sea Shepherd Australia, put it to me this way: “How can we condemn Japan for their indiscriminate killing of whales and dolphins, and do this to our precious protected marine life here in Australia? This baited drum line method is utterly cruel and inhumane, and these animals can take many hours to die.”

Moreover, baited drum lines attract more sharks because they are tremendous scavengers. Drum lines indiscriminately kill sea turtles and other masterpieces of sea life. 

The strength of an ecosystem depends upon the diversity of its species. The presence of Great White, Tiger and Bull sharks is an important indicator of the health of our ocean. By deliberately killing biodiversity, particularly sharks, we are killing ourselves; and it’s happening very quickly, globally.

There is no science to support the WA shark cull. It is wrong and killing the Indian Ocean is a crime against all nations.

I commend Sea Shepherd Australia for working with the Environmental Defense Office to initiate a legal action against the WA government. The fact that Greg Hunt, the federal Environment Minister, has granted WA an exception under the Environmental Protection & Biodiversity Convention Act to allow the protected Great White shark to be killed is egregious. But, then again, Hunt has authorized the ransacking of the dying Great Barrier Reef — the largest coral reef on the globe — in favor of development of the Galilee Coal Project, instead of protecting his portfolio, the environment.

My students and I wonder what the greatest scavenger in the sea, a two-ton Great White shark, encounters in the Indian Ocean as it travels from WA to eastern South Africa, a distance of over 6,600 miles?

“With global shark populations being wiped out to up to 90 percent, due to overfishing and the cruel shark fin trade, Australia has an obligation to do their absolute utmost to ensure the protection of vulnerable and near-threatened species like Great Whites and Tiger sharks. Future generations will look back at what the Barnett Government is doing with condemnation, like the way we Australians look back at whaling. Sharks maintain our precious marine ecosystems that we humans rely on for our survival. This is a key turning point in the history and survival of humanity and we must re-connect with nature and respect her or it will be our ultimate undoing,” said a passionate Hansen.

Please consider supporting the imperative conservation work of Sea Shepherd Australia — the Aussie sharks need us now!

Earth Dr Reese Halter is a broadcaster, biologist, educator and co-author of Life the Wonder of it All.