You’re 100 times more likely to die from drowning than a shark bite

The NSW and Queensland governments should phase out shark nets and immediately replace lethal drum lines with more sophisticated gear to limit unnecessary harm to marine wildlife, a Senate inquiry has concluded.

The final report on shark mitigation and deterrent measures, released on Tuesday, noted the frequency of shark bites on humans was “infinitesimal” even as the number of beach visits continue to climb.

Among the recommendations was increased funding for shark research to establish population trends and on the emerging technologies that may deter attacks.

The report also recommended that environment and energy minister Josh Frydenberg should refrain from permitting lethal shark controls until after a scheduled review of the biodiversity conservation act due in 2019.

It noted fatalities from sharks in totalled 47 during the past 50 years – or fewer than one a year. People were almost 100 times more likely to die from drowning than from a shark bite.

“[The] hodge-podge of policies around the country is guided by politics, rather than by evidence and consultation,” said Peter Whish-Wilson, the Greens Oceans spokesman who chaired the inquiry.

“[Technology] is rapidly developing in terms of personal and whole-of-beach scale deterrence devices, and along with drones and phone apps this allows us to set a timeline for the full withdrawal of shark nets around the country,” he said.

Fairfax Media sought comment from Mr Frydenberg.

A spokeswoman for Niall Blair, NSW’s Minister for Primary Industries, said the state now deployed only SMART drum lines, with range from Ballina in the north to Narrawallee on the south coast.

“To date we are actively tracking 245 great white, 10 tiger and 42 bull sharks,” she said.

“SMART drum lines are complementing our meshing programs,” she said. “However, we will continue to compare the results of both technologies to make sure we can make decisions about the best protections.”

Mark Furner, Queensland’s new fisheries minister, said the Palaszczuk government remained “steadfast in its support for the Queensland Shark Control Program as it has undoubtedly saved lives”.

“That is why it is so highly valued and why it will continue,” Mr Furner said. “While we continue to monitor emerging technology, the safety of swimmers is paramount.”

Lisa Mondy: a shark bite survivor who argues against shark nets and says the chances of an attack on humans remain minimal. Photo: Max Mason-Hubers

Step forward

Lisa Mondy, who was bitten by a shark seven years ago near Port Stephens, supported the recommendations calling for the removal of nets but queried the efficacy of SMART drum lines.

These devices more precisely lure target sharks – such as great whites, bulls and tigers – and allow the animals to be tagged and released. .

“It’s a step towards something better but I think there’s going to be better ways,” Ms Mondy said.

“As much as killing or moving sharks seems like it could be helping, there’s not really any evidence to say that it is,” she said, adding that people “making informed choices about when we’re going into the water and where is a much better way of managing to keep safe from sharks”.

David Woods, a former Ballina fisherman, predicted more fatal shark bites in the future and “it will be more dangerous to swim in the ocean than drive a car on the road” if white sharks were not taken off the endangered species list.

“Instead of seeing one every 12 months or six months you’re seeing one every second day,” Woods said.

Dissenting views

Coalition senators provided additional comments to the report, saying public safety in the water was “paramount”.

They “largely support[ed] the use of non-lethal and deterrent measures where such measures are proven to be as effective as existing measures”.

They also strongly rejected the Greens’ view that nets and drum lines didn’t make beaches safe. They noted there had been only one death during the past half-century at the 85-odd protected beaches in NSW and Queensland.

Labor senators, meanwhile, backed most of the report’s 20 recommendations while noting it was “unfeasible to place a blanket restriction” on the federal environment minister for the next two yearsmore. Still, they dubbed the proposal of the former Liberal government in Western for a shark cull as “absurd”.

The Greens, though, were disappointed that the report failed to call for an immediate removal of all shark nets while noted the “political difficultly” of such a step.

The report also highlighted the role of the media. Coverage of deaths from shark attacks “greatly exceeds” that given to most other cause of fatalities or injury, it says.

“[Sensationalised] media reporting is problematic for supporting responsible and respectful public debate on shark issues and for the public perception of beach safety generally,” the report says.

Media coverage was one factor in the decision in October 2016 by the then Baird government to backflip on its policy and introduce nets for northern NSW beaches after a spate of shark bites. The nets cover just 600 metres of about 32 kilometres of beaches and resulted in more than 250 animals being caught.

A great white shark: Senate report looks into the myths around shark bites. Photo: Paul Johnston

Leading shark myths

The report addressed popular misconceptions about sharks, including:

– Shark numbers have soared

There is no evidence to support the idea the shark population is dramatically rising despite two decades of protection. Experts say this misconception could have developed from more people in the water resulting in a greater number of sightings. It could also be due to changes in the distribution of prey leading to a higher number of sharks approaching the coast.

– Sharks target humans as prey

Experts say that sharks don’t target humans as prey and encounters that occur are usually due to the shark mistaking a person for their natural targets. Sharks are curious animals that are known to investigate anything they come across.

– Killing ‘rogue’ sharks is the solution

Sharks do not hunt humans and they haven’t developed a taste for human flesh. Experts say sharks are continually roaming over long distances and most are not permanent residents at one location. Several shark encounters in one area cannot be attributed to one shark.

– More sharks equate to more attacks

Just because there are sharks in the ocean does not mean there will be attacks. Large numbers of sharks are constantly travelling through our waters along the coastlines and this activity commonly occurs without incident.

– Shark nets don’t let the sharks close to shore

Nets are not shark-proof and they do not act as barriers separating humans and sharks. They only have limited coverage as they are 150 to 186 metres wide and six metres deep. Experts say nets are not designed to create an enclosed area but are used as a passive fishing device to catch and kill sharks .

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