They Kill Sharks, Don’t They?

The Western Australia shark culling initiative has begun, despite protests from both experts and environmentalists

Western Australia’s local government has put a much-debated shark-culling program into effect, and the first sharks have been caught, with at least one killed and a number of others released, though they’ve been left with severe damage from the hooks used to catch them. The cull has moved forward despite the urging of experts and environmentalists, who have noted that it risks further endangering already vulnerable shark populations in the area, and is very unlikely to have any real impact on attacks.

The ill-conceived program began when the Australian federal environment minister granted the Western Australian government an exemption from the legislation protecting sharks, following seven deaths from shark attacks over the past three years. As justification for the cull, the local government cited concerns over tourism, as well as pressure from local surfing organizations, which have expressed their support for the program.

The concern over tourism may be ill fated, however, as some organizations have called for a travel ban to the area as long as the shark-culling program is in effect. British billionaire and entrepreneur Sir Richard Branson is one of the cull’s most prominent critics, calling the program “very sad,” and warning local authorities that they only risk scaring away tourists, rather than encouraging them to travel to the region.

“Last year Australia was praised all over the world for creating the biggest marine reserves,” he said. “This year, the world is looking at Australia — and particularly Western Australia — and wondering what on earth is going on.”

In situations like this, it’s important to keep proportions in mind. While every human injury or death is deeply tragic, and we should take reasonable precautions to avoid or minimize both, many animals pose far greater threats to human lives than sharks, such as malarial mosquitoes. And humans ultimately pose a much greater threat to sharks than they do to us. This is an oft-cited fact, but Upworthy has created a striking visualization.

Gladly, most Australians are more sensible about shark protection than their government, as a recent poll showed that 82 percent of those surveyed are against the shark-culling program, and believe that you enter the ocean at your own risk. Or, as British comedian Ricky Gervais tweeted “Please protect your sharks. They were there first.” Let’s hope the voices of reasons — from experts, from celebrities, and from the Australian people themselves — force the Western Australian government to rethink this ill-conceived policy.