Even though shark encounters are rare, here are some common sense tips to help reduce the risk of one happening.
Seven fatal shark attacks in the three years to the end of 2013 in Western Australia have cast a long shadow over our world famous beaches and left some of us feeling anxious about venturing into the water.
The State Government has listened to these concerns and is taking strong, practical steps to improve shark safety at our beautiful beaches and preserve our love affair with the ocean.
These measures will not only give you some confidence to enjoy our remarkable coastline but they will also deepen our understanding of shark behaviour and hopefully provide us all with tools to avoid future attacks.
The Government has launched three major new strategies, deploying baited drum lines at popular beaches, patrolling and monitoring these drum lines and a rapid response strategy.
These new measures will work in tandem with the ongoing research, monitoring, beach surveillance and the funding of shark deterrent systems to improve our understanding of sharks and keep you safer in the water.
Shark Response Strategy
Additional shark hazard mitigation measures have been put in place for specific areas to help improve public safety and assist with coordinating responses to a shark sighting or attack.
In January 2014, two Marine Monitored Areas (MMAs) were created to offer additional shark hazard mitigation measures. In the metropolitan region the MMA includes the area from Quinns Rock Beach to Warnbro Beach and extends from the beach to 1km offshore. In the South West, the MMA covers Forrest Beach to Prevelly, and also extends 1km offshore.
Within an MMA, drum lines can be deployed approximately 1km off beaches and popular surfing spots and a rapid response can be activated in the event of a large shark sighting or attack.
Beaches within the MMAs are patrolled by vessels commissioned to deploy and bait drum lines, monitor the drum lines daily, remove sharks and other bycatch and activate rapid responses.
Outside the MMAs all responses to sharks will be managed under existing arrangements, including the information being posted publicly, and/or beach closures at patrolled beaches. The Department of Fisheries imminent threat policy can also be activated when a shark is considered to be a threat to beach goers.
A comprehensive review completed at the end of the 2014 drum line program found it had significantly less environmental impact than other shark control programs around the world. The review also recommended the drum line program continue for three years (15 Nov - 30 April).
A drum line is a fishing apparatus that consists of a baited hook suspended from buoys, anchored to the ocean floor. Hook size and design have been chosen to target large sharks and to minimise bycatch.
With assistance from Surf Life Saving WA, drum line locations in the metropolitan area were chosen based on beach popularity, a history of recorded shark sightings and patrol coverage by paid and volunteer lifesavers.
Within the Metropolitan MMA, baited drum lines are deployed approximately 1 km offshore at Mullaloo, Trigg, Scarborough, Floreat, City, North Cottesloe, Cottesloe, Leighton and Port Beaches.
Up to 36 drum lines will be deployed in the Metro MMA at any one time until 30 April 2014, and are patrolled between 6am and 6pm daily.
During January and early February 2014, drum lines were deployed in the South West approximately 1 km offshore at Old Dunsborough, Castle Rock, Meelup and Bunker Bay. These beaches had increased shark hazard mitigation measures until mid-February 2014, after which the equipment was transferred to between Yallingup and Lefthanders, with a greater emphasis on surfing locations. These will remain in place until 30 April 2014.
Up to 36 drum lines will be deployed and patrolled at any one time in the South West MMA.
Interference with drum lines
The Department of Transport has gazetted exclusion zones, prohibiting swimming and all vessel traffic within 50m of each drum line. Deliberate and/or repeated breaches of the 50m exclusion zone will incur a modified penalty of $200.
The Department of Fisheries also has the power to act in response to interference with commercial fishing activities. The maximum penalty for this action under the Fish Resources Management Act 1994 is a $10,000 fine for individuals and $20,000 for corporations. In addition, the court can order compensation. Interference with fish or fishing gear may also incur a $25,000 fine and 12 months imprisonment for individuals and $50,000 for corporations.
WA Police can also take action in the event of any criminal activity including damage. Please report any drum line interference to 1800 040 334.
Rapid Response Strategy
Within a MMA, rapid response guidelines will be implemented in the event of a shark attack or confirmed shark sighting of a target species, 3m or greater, considered to be posing a threat to public safety.
Activation criteria for a rapid response includes:
- The shark sighting report must be made within 1 hour of the sighting, and vessels must be able to respond within a further hour of the report.
- The sighting must be credible and verified.
- The location is clearly identified and within the MMA.
- The shark is 3m or greater.
- Where possible the shark can be identified as one of the three target species.
- Public safety is considered a concern, for example the shark remains in the vicinity, and beach goers are in the area.
In the event of a sighting, capture gear will be deployed and monitored for up to one hour. If there are no further sightings and the shark isn’t caught, lines will be removed. In the event the beach can’t be cleared by the relevant authorities a vessel will still attend and place capture gear approximately 1 km offshore.
If a shark attack has occurred, the response is managed as part of the overall incident. Lines will be set over a wider area, for a longer period of time, up to a maximum of one week, and will be closely monitored between 6am and 6pm for the duration of the deployment.
White (Carcharodon carcharias), Bull (Carcharhinus leucas) and Tiger (Galeocerdo cuvier) sharks with a total length of 3m or greater, caught in an MMA will be humanely dispatched.
All sharks under 3m, and non-target species over 3m, in a healthy condition, will be released.
The State Government has received relevant exemptions to humanely dispatch sharks which meet the guidelines. Exemptions include:
- Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999
- Fish Resources Management Act 1994
- Western Australia's Wildlife Conservation Act 1950
Those sharks that are destroyed will be tagged with an identifying numbered tag and taken a distance offshore, within State waters. The tags will assist in identifying the carcasses should they wash up on shore.
Response Outside The Marine Monitored Areas
Operational guidelines to deal with shark hazards outside the MMAs are also in place to provide a framework for assessing a threat posed by a shark and taking a shark if it is considered to be an imminent threat.
The guidelines require that a number of factors be considered, including things such as the number of confirmed sightings, the level of hazard and risk, and whether the threat can be reduced by taking other actions such as closing beaches or making people aware of the risk.
To manage a shark that is considered a threat under the guidelines, all reasonable efforts are undertaken to advise water users of the situation, close any adjacent beaches to the public and to issue a media release warning of the threat.
While due consideration is given to all things that can be done to reduce the risk, there will be occasions where an imminent threat cannot be negated through community warnings, and beach or coastline closures, and it may be necessary to take the shark.
When this is decided, an order may be given to take the shark under the direction of the Director General of the Department of Fisheries and set shark capture gear.
If a shark attack has occurred, an order can also be given for shark capture gear to be set.