How to talk about shark nets
Often a simple way to start a conversation about shark nets is to check people’s understanding with various scenarios beginning with the question “did you know”. Here are some examples to help you spread the word about the damage shark nets are causing to our ocean and the false sense of security they provide beachgoers:
Did you know…
1. …that enclosed shark barriers and shark nets or meshing are different things?
Shark enclosures provide a barrier between swimming areas and the open ocean, stopping large animals from getting to swimmers. They go from the sea bed to the sea surface. They are mostly used in calm bays.
Shark nets/mesh nets are fishing devices that hover in mid-water, covering a very short distance of 150m in NSW and between 124-186m in QLD. They are only 6m deep, set in 12m deep water, and are designed to capture and kill marine life. They are used in open water. Sharks can swim around under/over these devices.
2. …that shark nets were installed during the 1930s to “rid the ocean of sharks”?
Their design pre-dates the concept of endangered or protected species, during a time when no marine animal had any protection and before we realised how migratory large sharks are. Today we understand much more about the different species of marine animals, have a greater understanding of marine ecosystems, and know that any shark of concern travels large distances each day and is likely here today, gone tomorrow. We also now know that to rid the ocean of sharks would cause the collapse of the marine ecosystem and lead to the end of industries such as fishing and ocean tourism. Life on earth depends on a healthy ocean. A third of all shark species are now considered endangered, including the sharks that the shark nets are designed to kill.
3. …that there are modern solutions to swimmer/bather safety?
Modern shark spotting drones are already deployed in many NSW beaches and some QLD beaches. They alert lifeguards of shark whereabouts, identify species, whilst also helping to spot swimmers caught in rip tides. Listening buoys detect tagged sharks or shark sized objects in the area and signal alarms to lifeguards. Modern medicine and modern training of lifeguards provide the highest chance of safety for swimmers. There are other modern solutions such as aerial patrols, different types of shark barriers, apps monitoring tagged sharks and wearable shark deterrents, to name a few.
4. …that Shark nets attract predatory sharks to beaches?
When you think of an animal caught in a net splashing about and bleeding, what do you think might be attracted to the area? Predatory sharks, of course. Evidence from freedom of information requests from NSW and QLD governments show many animals have bite sized imprints and injuries, or even giant chunks missing, proving that many animals caught in the nets are attracting predatory sharks for a free meal. Sharks have highly developed senses.
5. …that nearly all animals caught in the nets are non-target species?
92% of animals caught in the nets are non-target animals, such as dolphins, turtles, rays, seals, penguins, birds and harmless species of sharks. Would you go on a rollercoaster ride if there was a 92% chance of things going wrong? Almost half the animals caught will die in the nets too, since the government only sends boats at least every 72 hours to check on the nets, and most animals will have drowned by then. Many animals entangled in the nets are predated on; they essentially become bait for other animals.
6. …that nets provide swimmers with a false sense of security
A key reason the government keeps installing shark nets is that they fear a public backlash if they were to remove the nets. Most people in the community think that the shark nets keep them safe – but research supports that it’s the lifeguards and other modern approaches that are really keeping people safe.
It’s up to all of us to continue educating people and help challenge the misconceptions about the shark nets used by the governments of NSW and QLD.
Shark nets indiscriminately kill marine animals and provide beachgoers with a false sense of security.
Shark nets and drumlines: do they really keep us safe? Watch on Facebook or on SharkChampions website by Humane Society International and Australian Marine Conservation Society.