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In October of 2011, following a series of attacks on divers and swimmers, the government gave the go-ahead for any Great White sharks off the coast of Western Australia to be killed if they pose a threat to human life, that is, if they are seen. They now 'actively hunt' at the sight of a Great White, but in the process, have caught and killed several tiger sharks.
Madison Stewart moments after filming a dead tiger shark south of Perth.
Photo: Sammie Thake
Acting on behalf of Sea Shepherd and Animal Amnistey, I was flow to Western Australia to document the victims of the shark cull. In one of the most difficult projects of my carrer so far, I found myself in cold water before the sun had come up. The population of Western australia, even some of the closest friends of the shark bite victims, are mostly, anti cull. The respect for sharks and retalliation towards the governemnts decisions are inspiring. This cull is no different to the system in place in East Australia, the lack of nets being the exception. But in a split second people became organised, now having several boats in the water each day to follow fisheries, observe and document them. Amazing indiduals are risking heavy fines and loosing their boats to get in the water and help sharks. This is injustice at its best, one of the worst moves from the many our government has made towards our oceans, but it is now the foundation of sevral people joined together finding themselfes more fired up than ever, this is truly the cull that changed Australia.
Protest vis projection: Amzing stratergies, even dont on parliment house: Byr Red Broom
The bright bouys signifying drumlines off the coast, look os out of place, and wrong to the loacls.
Visbale in the background, is the white underbelly of a large tiger sharks, dead on a drumline.
A series of attacks lead to widespread fear in Western Australia, it was a rare occurance to have so many attacks in a short span of time, and people began to push for action. It is said a whale carcass had washed up on a beach nearby the attacks, explaining the influx in Great Whites at the time, the next attack occurred during a repetitive attack on a seal, and surfers were in the water at the time. When the one attack occurred at abrolas island, there was three live export ships that had cleaned out their carcasses the previous day- this involved dumping dead sheep and cattle overboard with their blood. A practice well know to attract sharks- Great Whites and other species have been documented following these ships. Shark attacks dont happen at random, factors exist.
There have been 12 recorded shark fatalities in western Australia in the last 100 years. The white shark is listed as vulnerable and PROTECTED under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999, Appendix II of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Fauna and Flora (CITES) and also on Appendices I and II of the Convention on Migratory Species (CMS). But in Australia, under our government, these laws mean nothing. A $6.85 million plan to see lifesavers kitted out with more PWCs, more choppers and a tag and release function, so sharks posing a potential threat can be tracked, caught and destroyed has been established, to date… they have not yet caught one Great White shark.
Around the 25th of January 2014, 15 drum lines were placed South of Western Australia, the first tiger shark caught was 3.4 meters. This tiger was shot in the head four times before it died, this occurred on Australia day. A week later, more drum lines were put in place off Perth metropolitan area- they were in place for three weeks before they caught their first shark that was target size. To this day- they have captured over 100 sharks: mostley tigers, they are targeting Great Whites, bull sharks and tigers. The last 'thought to be shark attack' from a Tiger in the areas the drumlines are placed, was over 80 years ago.
Great Whites have been spotted in the vicinity of swimmers by fisheries on more than one ocassion. On none of these ocassion has there been an attack, in one case fisheries immediately set five drum lines at random to catch the shark- the closest one was less than 100 meters offshore here people were swimming at the time. On all occasions, the Great Whites swam past the drum lines. Great whites can be predictable, they hunt at certain times, for certain animals, a certain way. It could be misconception, it could be our form in the water which is awkward and typical of injured marine life, either way, if we choose to go into the oceans where they hunt, is something only we can take the blame for.
The government says this program has been a success because no attacks have occurred in its time of operation, there have been no Great White attacks in WA in these particular months of the year in history. I spent a total of four minutes filming dead sharks in the water before the fisherman showed up- it was the longest 4 minutes of my underwater career so far. An animal with no concept of being prey, was lifeless, hanging from a hook labeled ‘Property of Western Australian government’. I watched a man hired by fisheries and paid close to seven thousand dollars a day put a bullet in the head of two tiger sharks and check the drum lines. He’s tools consisted of a flex saw duck taped to a broom handle and a 22 rifle. The cull is chumming sharks closer to the beaches when their dead bodies are dumped offshore and fresh bait is put on hooks.
The released sharks, have had their heads hacked open, or are greatly injured and tired, some being on the hooks over night. If a shark is over three meters and alive it will be killed, if under three meters it will be released, and in most cases the sharks sink to the bottom and drown form exhaustion or are still in a tonic state. I witnessed this in mid march when fisheries put two power heads into a tiger shark over the course of more than three minutes, then when hauling the sharks onto their boat, it was still alive, distressing, activating its fins in an attempt to break free.
If sharks were the blood thirst killers they are made out to be- it would be impossible to swim at the beach, because they are always there and they would have no trouble in hunting you if they really wanted to. We do not run the oceans, we as a species do not even understand the oceans, yet we think we can manipulate them for our comfort. I run every week next to dogs that bark at me, there is always a change they could bite me, does it then become my right to kill them for my protection? Or should I not run? For some reason, people who claim their life is surfing, do not want to surf in a real ocean, they want to surf in one fished clean. It is not a lifestyle for them, or a passion, it is now a pay check, and sharks interfere with that. There is no reason we cannot take measures to prevent attacks, teach about sharks long with beach safely in school, shark spotter programs, stop live export, those drum lines are not here to protect us, they are a political stunt, they are temporary, they are a gut reaction, they will save no one.
We cannot pretend sharks are harmless, because they are not, nor can we pretend that riding them from our ocean will have no effect on its balance, or potential attacks. nature does not make animals like this for no reason. In Australia, about 2 to 4 deaths occur every year from snakebites, sharks kill an average of one personal in Australia each year. Snakes are fully protected. Animals define us in Australia, they are responsible for shaping our existence in the natural world. This is not the way to stop shark attacks, and at the end of the day, there is no way, there is only a risk associated with living in such a wild and wonderful country. An ocean without its monsters, a surf without its risks and a country without its character defining creatures, is a heart with no beat.
The drumlines are curently out of the water and are set to be back in the water come Novermber 2014.
Alive Destroyed 20
Alive not sure outcome 1
Alive released 81
Alive self-released 1
Dead Alive sunk 1
Alive Destroyed 20
Alive released 25
Alive self-released 1
Obstruction IS justice
The day we pushed the boundries
On march 20th, the daily operation of observation and documenting turned into a confrontation on the water. Fisheries took a large dead female tiger shark off a hook and went to dump her caucus at sea (the usual practice), however we caught the shark before it fell to the depths, and held it next to one of the two boats in the water to document it, after less than 5 minutes we let the shark go and it sank to the ocean floor. While the shark was next to our boat fisheries turned around and charged us, we were on a small rib with an idle engine and with two divers in the water (myself included) and they came within meters of us.
They were yelling at us to ‘release the shark’ and telling us we were ‘interfering with their fishing operations’. When this was over and we got back to shore, fisheries officers were waiting for us, they attempted to seize our memory cards and obtain and destroy all our footage. They wanted to charge us with ‘possession of a protected species’, yes, the protected species they were reffering was the dead shark their operation had killed.
They didn’t leave with my footage, my memory cards were long gone by them, safe with the relevant people. So they told me if I was to release ant of my footage form that day (all the footage in the film), I would be going to court for ‘obstruction of justice’. Tiger sharks, they would get me into all sorts of trouble underwater when i was young, runing my cameras, or just being too excited to check my air supplies underwater, now they are getting me in trouble with the law. The yelling from fisheries is something I will never forget, not so much the content, by the power of all of us working as a team to document this shark, and in the process completly ignore the giant vellel baring down on us. I will never forget the eye of that tiger shark, or Blair saying "I can't belive this is how i have to get close to a beautiful tiger shark". I remeber filming the drop, and watching the shark sink, it all happened so fast, yet so smoothly, with no planning, and no idea what we were doing, it ended up producing some of the most confruniting and exposing footage ive ever gotten to work with. I do not lie when I say sharks mean everythign to me, protecting them in my eyes is a matter of family honor, and I would rather go to court with fisheries, that keep that footage to myself. This is the day one of the hundrend of tiger sharks hooked, got a real goodbye.
Sturcture of the drum lines