People hold placards and pose for photos during a protest against Western Australia's state government's shark killing policy on Manly beach in Sydney earlier this month. Pic: AP.

If people swim and surf in the ocean in places where giant bitey sharks live, every now and then someone is going to get bitten. It’s a horrible thing to happen, no doubt, but the answer is not to empty the ocean of sharks just so tourists don’t have to worry about Jaws.

Think about the latest fatal shark attack, which happened to a spear fisher off the coast of the York Peninsula in South Australia. It’s a tragic death, but the man was spearfishing, not walking to the post office or mowing his lawn. There are obvious risks involved in carrying out certain unnecessary recreational activities.

Perth protest against shark cull. Pic: Stu Rapley (Flickr CC)

Let’s look at who is against Western Australia’s shark cull.

South Africa, another place where sharks abound, has objected to Western Australia’s trapping and killing of sharks. A spokesperson for the South African government warned that killing sharks, a migratory animal, could have ecological ramifications in other areas of the world, including South Africa. The spokesperson also commented that there are other measures to protect bathers against shark bites.

From a statement from the South African government (via the Guardian):

South Africa, like many other countries, is investigating several measures in a bid to protect bathers and surfers. Shark exclusion nets have had success; however their application is limited to less energetic coastlines, such as sheltered bays. Electrical repellents in the form of the shark shield and now shark pod have been developed, and other agencies are working on developing a shark repellent cable. The application involves the creation of an electric field barrier around bathing areas.

Authorities and researchers from the US State of Hawaii have joined in the criticism of the cull. One researcher more or less likened W. Australia’s catch and kill policy to a placebo, in that it isn’t effective, but designed to make the public feel better.

And Hawaii knows what it’s talking about when it comes to shark attacks, with 13 attacks (2 fatal) in 2013 alone. Eight of those attacks took place off the coast of Maui and a cull there hasn’t even been considered.

From Perth Now:

That’s because more than 4500 sharks were killed from 1959-76 in a Hawaiian culling program that both the Hawaii Institute for Marine Biology and the state’s Department of Land and Natural Resources concluded was “ineffective” because shark attack numbers remained the same.

The mayor of Maui, Alan Arakawas, considers sharks to be a vital component in the local eco-system and not something to be hunted out of fear.

Another protest in NSW. Pic: M Hooper (Flickr CC)

And it’s not just the international community that has a problem with the policy. Some 6,000 protesters gathered in Perth, the capital of W. Australia, on February first in opposition to the cull. Naturally, activist groups like Sea Shepherd, the Australian Marine Conservation Society have also spoken out against it.

Check out this local blog for a reasoned argument against the cull based on science, environmental concerns and common sense.

Of course the real reason for the policy is money. Tourists are understandably a bit scared to go in the water right now and the government of WA wants to assure them that something is being done, whether it really works or not.