• Envoy Film

Are shark culling drumlines worth the risk?


Drumline washed up on Peregian Beach QLD with dead tiger shark attached, 17 Jan 2022. Credit: Murray Sheppard
Drumline washed up on Peregian Beach QLD with dead tiger shark attached, January 2022. Credit: Murray Sheppard

Queensland recently saw a spate of shark culling equipment come loose and wash into surf zones. So this poses a big question for the Queensland (QLD) Government—Is this equipment still worth the risk?

Designed in 1962 as a way to catch and kill sharks to protect people, drumlines have proven over the decades not to work. Shark bite incidents are no lower at beaches with drumlines than at other beaches, and fatalities are only lower due to improving medical standards and not the drumlines. The science is so clear that this became legal precedent recently in the Administrative Appeals Tribunal. In a 2019 legal case against the Department of Agriculture and Fisheries (QLD), the Judge found:

"The lethal component of the SCP [Shark Control Program] does not reduce the risk of unprovoked shark interactions. The scientific evidence before us is overwhelming in this regard."

Not only this but there is mounting evidence that stressed, dying or dead sharks (or other animals) caught on dry lines attract larger predators for an easy meal. There are over 1000 documented cases of predation where an animal hooked or entangled in a shark net has been partially consumed. So now you have a shark in an aroused feeding state, right near swimmers and surfers.

Animal predated upon while caught in shark control equipment NSW. Image obtained under Government Information (Public Access) Act 2009 - Ref: GIPA 20-1157

So with drumlines providing no safety at best, and potentially raising the risk to swimmers at worst, let's look at the downsides.

Equipment is often dislodged during storms, which is why it is meant to be retrieved before severe weather to avoid situations like this. However, this does not always occur. For example, in May 2022 QLD government removed the shark nets due to bad weather, but drumlines remained in place despite the high possibility of dislodgement.

When drumlines come loose, they pose a huge risk to swimmers and surfers. Drumlines coming loose has happened three times recently that we are aware of:

  • 17 January 2022 - Culling drumline washes ashore at Peregian Beach QLD with tiger shark hooked (dead)

  • 11 April 2022 - Culling drumline washes ashore at Woorim Beach QLD with no animal attached

  • 19 April 2022 - Culling drumline washes into surf break at Sunrise Beach QLD with unidentified shark hooked (alive)

Did the dislodgement of the three drumlines occur during rough swell when they should have been removed, or are dislodgements occurring during calm conditions?

In a news release dated 9 May 2022, QLD Shark Control Program Operations Coordinator Sam Fary, admits that dislodged shark nets and shark culling drumlines are dangerous:

"...loose shark control equipment can be a danger to swimmers and boats"

Ghost equipment, especially shark nets and culling drumlines, can float for tens or even hundreds of years and kill wildlife through that entire lifespan. Some wash up as these three did; others do not.

Drumline washed up on Woorim Beach QLD, 11 April 2022. Video supplied: P. Garbett, President of Dolphin Research Australia

People are not safe from ghost gear either; a dislodged drumline sitting in the surf zone killed a 9-year-old boy in 1992, entangling and drowning him.

From shore, the bright yellow drumline buoys (when in place) give a sense of safety to some. However, once washed up, you can see just how outdated, ineffective, and dangerous these devices are. Given the 'less sharks equals less shark bites' logic is disproven, what are these drumlines good for?

Comically, the drumlines are marked with a warning to stay 20 metres away from them (the exclusion zone). That's really hard to do when it's washed into the local surf break, potentially even with a shark still hooked, like at Surfside Beach recently. The exclusion zone mentioned above was implemented in 2019 coincidentally during our film production. According to the QLD government, the exclusion zone was in response to the 1992 drowning (yes, that's a 27-year turnaround).

Woorim Beach, where one of these recent incidents occurred, has a huge array of 18 drumlines, yet the most recent shark bite occurred there in 2019 (during the production of our film). So one drumline doesn't protect you, nor does 18.

It is time for the Queensland government to reassess their use of shark culling methodologies in general and drumlines specifically.

It is clear the risk (significant) outweighs the rewards (none), and the logical solution here is to abandon the use of this archaic equipment.

Drumlines were designed in 1962. Surely, by 2022, we can do better.

More information

Solutions: What could and should we be doing?, Envoy: Shark Cull 2021

The debate over drumlines has been reignited, 7NEWS Sunshine Coast, Woorim Beach QLD, 19 January 2022:

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