This past weekend, the shark cull officially began in Western Australia as the first shark was killed. The scientific evidence is clear that culls do not lessen people’s risk of shark attacks, and more than 100 scientific experts from around the world have signed an open letter opposing this cull. While the only sure way to reduce the risk of a shark bite by 100% is to stay out of the water, there are many strategies that actually can reduce someone’s risk significantly without harming populations of threatened animals.
1) Aerial patrols. Planes or helicopters flying above the beach can help identify when potentially dangerous sharks are present. The Australian Aerial Patrol has done this for decades. Though the spotting rate is relatively low and the patrols are expensive, new technologies like drones can help reduce the cost of these patrols.
2) Shark Spotters. A network of trained staff scan he water regularly and alert lifeguards if a potentially dangerous shark is in the area. This has been successful in South Africa, but is limited by clear water and suitable terrain (i.e. high ground near the water).
3) Close the beaches. If patrols or spotters or any other system identifies that potentially dangerous sharks are nearby, close the beaches to swimming and surfing, or at least warn people so that they can make an informed choice.
4) Designated swimming areas. By enclosing certain small areas, authorities can keep sharks out. Please note that this is different from “shark nets”, which are designed to kill sharks, not exclude them from a small area.
5) Move sharks out of the area and release them. In Recife, Brazil, researchers catch sharks near beaches and tow them out to sea, where they are released. This strategy reduced shark bites by 97% without killing threatened species of sharks.
6) Increased scientific study. Research of habitat use and migration patterns of these species can help reveal times and places when swimmers are more or less likely to encounter sharks.
7) Educate people. While there is no way to eliminate risk, people will be safer if they know which behaviors are riskier than others. A public education campaign (including but not limited to talking with locals and signs with information for tourists) would help with this. Public education is by far the most effective way to make people safer.
The government of Western Australia has been made aware of these non-lethal strategies that are more effective at reducing risk, but for now chooses not to embrace them.