Shark Numbers Are Dwindling Off Australia’s East Coast
A seeming spike in attacks doesn’t correlate with the shark population data.
“Catch numbers of large apex sharks (hammerheads, tigers and white sharks) declined by 74-92%, and the chance of catching no sharks at any given beach per year has increased by as much as seven-fold.” reads The Conversation article reporting the recent study.
In the last few weeks, Australia has experienced a preponderance of shark attacks. The summery months typically result in increased encounters – both shifting migration patterns and an increase ocean-goers – but nine attacks in the past three months is a statistic more concerning than normal.
This comes off the back of a number of years plagued with fatal attacks on the Mid-North Coast, and a flurry of attacks which booted the WSL out of town in the West earlier this year.
Alongside a seeming increase in encounters with surfers and swimmers, fisherman have also subjectively reported increased shark numbers. When coupled, reports and statements like these lead to articles claiming “plague proportions” and eventually a return of the inextinguishable culling debate.
This study, from the University of Queensland and Griffith University, focuses on the Queensland coast, but due to the migratory nature of sharks and similarities of shark deterrent strategies throughout Australia, it’s safe to extrapolate these findings to a wider issue.
Despite decades of culling, fishing, and incidental capture of sharks, data regarding their population is scarce. Prior to the 1960’s there’s nothing, and up until 2000 the data that was collected was patchy and inconclusive. This current study comprehensively assessed the number of sharks caught and tagged from 1960 until today.
“The data indicates that two hammerhead species – the scalloped and great hammerheads, both of which are listed as globally endangered – have declined by as much as 92% in Queensland over the past half century.” The Conversation article continued.
Great white sharks, despite frequently being involved in attacks, are also showing no signs population growth. A concern for conservationists as the white has been on the protected/endangered species list for over two decades.
“The idea that shark populations are reaching ‘plague‘ proportions in recent years may represent a classic case of shifting baseline syndrome.” The report continues. “Using shark numbers from recent history as a baseline may give a false perception that populations are ‘exploding‘, whereas records from fifty years ago indicate that present day numbers are a fraction of what they once were.”
Sharks play a vital role in our complex oceanic ecosystem, and while a cull or extinction may appear harmless to the layman, their non-existence would lead to more pressing issues than a minuscule chance of a shark attack. Nevertheless, as the waters warm, and the coasts rely on the tourism dollar, it’s only a matter of time before the cull proponents resurface ignorant of the data.
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