Department of Fisheries, Western Australia
Monday 26 November 2012
Shark hazard mitigation strategies aimed at improving safety
Department of Fisheries operational guidelines that give effect to the WA Government’s ‘imminent threat’ policy to deal with significant shark hazards are now in place.
Director General Stuart Smith said the guidelines (pdf) provided a framework for assessing the threat posed by a shark and, if required, acting to take a shark.
“These guidelines are not about culling sharks; they have been developed to assist the decision-making process to protect public safety in State waters,” Mr Smith said.
“The guidelines recognise that every situation is different, requiring decision-makers to exercise their judgment based on the available information, which in some cases may be limited.
“When determining if a shark is an imminent threat, a variety of factors will be considered, such as the number of confirmed sightings, the level of hazard and risk, and if the threat can be reduced by taking other action such as closing beaches.
“Surf Life Saving WA’s (SLSWA’s) helicopter or other available resources may also be deployed to warn water users.”
Mr Smith said, where reasonable efforts could not negate the imminent threat, the guidelines outlined the assessments that would need to be made in deploying catch gear.
SHARK HAZARD LEGISLATION
Mr Smith said the guidelines form part of a comprehensive package of shark hazard mitigation measures introduced by the Government.
“Legislation is now in place to ban targeted or dedicated shark tourism ventures, including cage diving operations, based on the attraction of sharks,” the Director General said.
“Work is also underway in the department to implement new regulations to further protect people, by banning the use of offal and blood to fish for sharks near popular beaches.
“The Shark Response Unit is fully operational, our research projects are well advanced, with some completed and our Community Engagement program is about to be rolled out.
“These measures complement other activities being led by SLSWA and the Department of Commerce.”
SHARK RESEARCH PROJECTS TO IMPROVE UNDERSTANDING
Department of Fisheries’ researchers have reviewed all recorded white shark attacks in WA in the past 20 years and compared them with local conditions at the time to identify any common patterns.
Executive Director Research, Dr Rick Fletcher said the White Shark Correlation Study was one of several research projects undertaken, through special Government funding.
“The evidence suggests the risk of attack by white sharks remains very small and that it has only increased slowly over the past two decades but with an unprecedented number of attacks occurring during the 12 months from September 2011,” Dr Fletcher said.
“This study indicates the relative risk of a white shark attack appears to be higher for activities undertaken further offshore, particularly in cooler waters (< 20 degrees Celsius).
“Activities undertaken in shallow water close to the mainland, and especially when the water is relatively warm (> 22 degrees Celsius), appear to have the lowest relative risk. There will, however, always be some risk of shark attack when undertaking activities in open water.
“The study assessed a range of factors, which members of the public need to take account of, including the finding that there is no pattern of weather conditions coinciding with higher levels of attack.
“The incidence of attacks is not limited to calm, overcast days.”
Dr Fletcher said the department’s Shark Monitoring Network project had been boosted by the tagging of six more white sharks since September.
“Two of the white sharks were tagged near Albany,” he said.
“The others were fitted with tags in Cockburn Sound around spawning snapper schools, where larger bronze whaler and tiger sharks were also tagged for the project.
“The research program also plays a key role in providing community alerts about the presence of tagged sharks, near satellite-linked monitors along the Perth coast.
“It enabled a series of detections along Perth’s northern beaches in October to be investigated, which revealed that unusual concentrations of schooling fish had attracted the sharks and the near to real time alerts allowed for pre-emptive safety responses.”
COMMUNITY SUPPORT PLAYS A VITAL ROLE IN SHARK SAFETY
Executive Director, Stuart Smith said it was important the community continued to report shark sightings to the Water Police on 9442 8600.
“Measures are in place to help reduce the risk of shark interactions, but people need to keep their own safety in mind and help others in the community,” he said.
“With one call to the Water Police, people can alert authorities and the community.”
Members of the public can see Department of Fisheries’ shark sighting reports/detection alerts first on;
- SLSWA’s Twitter service at http://twitter.com/SLSWA, or
- via the department’s shark information pages at www.fish.wa.gov.au/shark.
Source: Department of Fisheries, Western Australia