The shark attack myth: Why are we culling sharks to extinction?


It is difficult to comprehend with all we understand about sharks, including their declining numbers, the integral part they play in the ecosystem and the minimal threat they pose to humans, the barbaric and archaic concept of killing off these majestic animals is taking place.


By Olivia Shiels


ImageA protester writes a clear message

Source: Sydney Morning Herald


Australia, the world is watching as we have let yet another senseless policy pass through our government. Shark culling is Western Australia’s answer to the recent shark attacks that have taken place across the state.

For reasons defying logic, Environmental Minister Greg Hunt approved Western Australian Premier Colin Barnett’s request for a shark cull, exempting it from the national environmental laws in the “interest of protecting public safety”.

Despite numerous protests across the nation, including a turn out of over 4000 people at Perth’s Cottlesloe Beach, home of the states’ Premier, the witch hunt for sharks has gone ahead. This includes targeting the Great white, a species listed under the International Union for the Conservation of Nature Red List of threatened species and protected under Australian law.

The first kill took place on Australia Day, when a female tiger shark was pulled from a drum line off the coast of Dunsborough, then shot in the head and discarded at sea.

Sharks vital for marine health

The environmental impact of shark culling could be devastating. Overfishing and culling has resulted in the number of sharks dropping by 90 percent in the last 30 years. As an apex predator, sharks are vital for keeping ecological environments in balance. When the number of large sharks drops, rays and fish species dramatically increase.

These species then feed on smaller, commercially valuable fish, resulting in a huge economic and ecological impact.

In a country like Australia, where we are lucky enough to live side by side with a plethora of unique animals and benefit from this through our thriving eco-tourism, it is shameful we have turned our backs on sharks.

Aside from costing the Australian Government $6.35 million, research has shown the shark cull to be an ineffective method of reducing shark attacks.

The Australian Marine Conservation Society (AMCS) is strongly against the decision made by the Government. AMCS Fisheries Campaigner Pamela Allen said there is no evidence to suggest shark culling will reduce shark bites.

Ms Allen told, “We call on the WA Government to repeal these measures and start listening to the experts”.

Drumline program unsuccessful

Drumlines have been set at several metropolitan beach sites as well as popular surf sites across Western Australia.

According to the fisheries department of Western Australia, 66 sharks have been caught in total since the culling began in January, 63 of which were tiger sharks, two were mako and one black tip shark.

Earlier this year, the lines failed to catch a four meter shark spotted 100 meters off North Leighton Beach near Fremantle.

The Opposition Leader Mark McGowan told ABC news online the failure to catch the shark demonstrates the waste of resources for the State Government’s “catch and kill” policy.

McGowan suggested a more effective means was through education, tagging and informing the public on any dangers.

There is little evidence to prove the success of the drum lining method and sharks cannot be restricted from access to swimming areas.



WA Premier Colin Barnett with a hook used on drum lines

Source: Perth Now

Shark cull debate worldwide

The shark cull debate has been raised in other countries with high shark populations such as Cape Town in South Africa and Hawaii in the United States.

A shark cull that took place in Hawaii over 15 years resulted in no significant reduction in shark bites.

In South Africa, a shark cull was considered after a spate of fatal attacks off the coast of Cape Town. However, after debating the issue they instead created a “Shark Spotter” program. The program involved public education and awareness, research into sharks and first-aid trained spotters on the beaches.

The Shark Spotters website states their objective is to “make a meaningful contribution to white shark conservation, contribute to the community’s well-being and set a precedent in how people and sharks can co-exist”.

The South African Government have expressed concerns about the “catch and kill” policy in Western Australia, warning that the cull could have a negative impact on migration of shark species, particularly the Great White which has been known to swim between Australia and South Africa.

The shark attack myth

Prior to the publication of “Shark Attack” in 1958 by Sydney shark researcher Dr. Victor Coppleson, shark bites were described as “shark accidents”. Just like a drowning or a boating accident, a “shark accident” was a tragic beach related event that occurred without warning.

The simple change in language altered how the public thought about sharks and gave way to fear and misunderstanding.  The blockbuster film Jaws further propelled this terror and supported Coppleson’s “rogue shark” theory.

Coppleson had set out to disprove the theory of American researchers that sharks do not bite north of the Caribbean. He published this book with the unique theory that sharks hunt humans.

Today Coppleson’s theory is largely thought to be untrue amongst shark experts. They believe it is more likely that shark attacks occur because of mistaken identity, when the animal confuses humans with prey.

Sharing their space

The ocean is not a hotel swimming pool and most Australian’s understand that when they chose to swim in the ocean they share the space with sea life, including sharks.

Most accept that the chance of crossing paths with a shark when they enter the water is minimal. Furthermore, the risk of being bitten does not warrant killing an endangered species. It is estimated over 80 per cent of Australians are not in favor of the shark culling. So why is this policy still occurring?

There is far greater risk of being killed in a car accident, drowning or even a falling coconut than a shark attack.

The increase in shark attacks off the coast of Western Australia is likely due to a combination of growing human population and a boom in humpback whale and seal numbers attracting sharks to the area.

Endangered populations

While a great white is yet to be killed in the shark cull, they remain a target for the Government’s policy. It is estimated only 1,000 to 2,000 great whites live in the waters off Western Australia.

The drum lines coincide with migration paths of many sharks, including the great white.  Killing just a small number of these endangered species could have a drastic impact on their future.

Education and awareness key to reducing attacks

Shark attacks are terrible, freak accidents but shark culling is not the answer.

More education on how to reduce the risks of encountering a shark will help humans live harmoniously along side with these frequently misunderstood animals.

To see the endangered great white shark slaughtered is an extreme and unnecessary reaction of the Government driven by fear.

Australia, we can do better than this.



How does drumlining work?

Drumlining is a technique employed by the Western Australian Government to control the shark population.

By Olivia Shiels


In January this year the Western Australian Government commenced a shark culling program in response to seven fatal shark attacks in the state over the last three years.

The plan involves setting baited hooks known as “drum lines” about one kilometre off shore in various locations around Perth and the South-West.

The project is targeting great white, tiger and bull sharks over three meters in length. Targeted sharks found on the hooks are shot and disposed of by contracted fisherman.

While this method is simple in theory, practically there are many complications to overcome. The current figures suggest the program has not been successful in reaching their targets.

Of the 66 sharks caught on the hooks so far, 49 were below the three-meter requirement.


Sharks drown on hooks


By the time sharks are found on the hooks they have often succumbed to their injuries or are so badly wounded they die soon after being released.

Sharks need to swim in order to breathe, so once they are hooked they will often drown due to a lack of oxygen.

Moreover, while the “kill zones” are patrolled 24 hours a day, the sharks may struggle on the hooks for over 12 hours before being found by a contractor. 

The hooks used on the drum lines are intended to cause serious damage to any creature that is caught.

Sea Shepherd Australia reported to Perth Now of the gruesome and inhumane suffering of sharks that become hooked on the drum lines. “We have seen lots of sharks with hooks in their heads being cut out and thrown back into the ocean- they are not going to survive or are wounded to the point where they cannot eat”.


95% of sharks caught have been tiger sharks

63 of the 66 sharks that have been caught so far have been tiger sharks. Tiger sharks are rarely known to attack and it show little aggression towards humans.

No great white’s have been caught, despite being the target species responsible for the most attacks on humans.


What are the alternatives?

Alternatives to shark culling are in place around the world and are constantly developing. Shark “spotters” patrol beaches in Cape Town, South Africa to prevent sharks swimming close to shore. The program has so far been successful in reducing the rate of attacks.

In Brazil, sharks spotted close to popular swimming beaches are captured, tagged and released eight kilometers off shore.

This program has reduced shark incidents in Brazil by 97 per cent, without killing any animals in the process.

In contrast, a culling program in Hawaii that saw over 4,500 sharks killed between 1959 and 1976 resulted in no significant decrease in shark bites, strongly suggesting the culling method is ineffective.


Tagging program helps reveal important information about sharks

The Department of Fisheries in Western Australia currently have a tagging program in place that collects vital information about shark migration patterns that can assist in predicting their movements along the coast.

This information can in turn help protect beach goers. However, the culling program means tagged sharks are being captured and killed and therefore this valuable information is lost.

Scientific information about the movements of the endangered great white shark has been gathered via the acoustic transmitters applied in the tagging program.

Research has revealed great whites have been known to travel between South Africa and Australia.

Important knowledge on where great whites nurse and feed can also be gained through the tracking devices.


The future of drum lining

Western Australia’s Environmental Protection Authority will assess the Government’s request to extend the shark culling program for three years

The EPA will assess the government’s proposal to extend the drum lining program until April 2017, after which the program will be reviewed.

The Federal Government will also be involved in assessing the extension of the program, after initially choosing not to analyze the environmental impact of the culling on endangered species.

The extension would see a 22-week program take place over three years.

The EPA will publish their recommendations in regards to the future of the program later this year.



Cup and Away

By Olivia Shiels

James McKays’ UpperCup is sleek, sustainable and homegrown in Melbourne. The simple reusable cup has the potential to redefine how we drink coffee and embodies his dream of a completely sustainable, “no-waste” café culture. I spoke to James about how he brought his ideas to life and the new phenomenon of crowd funding.

UpperCup reusable coffee cup

UpperCup reusable coffee cup

“You try not to think about failing, but you need to be aware of it.” James McKay, founder of UpperCup explains, seated in a bustling converted warehouse café in Fitzroy, Melbourne. “As humans we tend to focus on the negative by default. But there are still some positive things you can take away from when things don’t go right. Nothing is worth doing if it’s easy.” It is this positive, hit the ground running attitude that has undoubtedly contributed to the success of UpperCup. “You have to do something you love. You have to get up every morning, twenty-four hours a day and know why you’re doing it. What’s you purpose?”

Dressed in a sharp jacket and black jeans, you would be wrong to assume McKay is a born and bred city slicker. However, his early years were spent in regional Victoria, where he gained his first experiences in the hospitality industry working in café’s along the coast and in Geelong before making the move to Melbourne.  Being involved in the coffee community gave McKay the industry connections that helped him get UpperCup off the ground, “I always had conversations with my boss about products, for five or six years I’d been incubating ideas. I had a huge interest in design and always knew I wanted to do my own thing.” It was this combined interest that resulted in creation of UpperCup,  “The idea for the cup came about three years ago. I’d seen warehouses full of paper cups. It didn’t make sense, using a product for twenty minutes and then throwing it away. The discarding, the waste, I thought it was crazy. That’s where the seed was planted.”

The first year of the planning process for UpperCup was spent developing design concepts and working on the brand McKay wanted to create. The following year, he began looking for an appropriate industrial designers who could refine the concepts and turn them into a reality. This involved producing technical drawings and establishing what was going to be viable in terms of manufacturing processes. The search for the ideal collaborator led McKay to Charlwood Design, an innovative and sustainable product design company based in Melbourne. Charlwood had the first 3D printer in Australia, a tool that enabled them to create the first prototypes, however the process was tedious and time consuming. Once the 3D print was made, McKay outsourced a company to produce a silicone cast, then make an acrylic mould replica by hand. It is this determination to construct an outstanding product that set UpperCup apart from its rivals. “My personal experiences and others experiences with existing products were that they were let down by not using the correct or the best materials available. From the start I set out to create the best product we could make.” The UpperCup philosophy naturally developed. “It resonated with people and they picked up on it straight away. Focusing on our values has helped build a sense of community.”

Creating an environmentally friendly, sustainable product was a factor that was at the forefront of McKay’s mind.  He focused heavily on “promoting a culture of reusability, sustainability, things that are high quality and made to last.” The designers decided to use patented copolyester for the cup after an extensive search. The polyester was such a high grade it required European steel that was three times more expensive than average steel to mould the plastic. After realizing the cost involved in using such expensive materials, McKay turned to crowd funding to facilitate his project. Most importantly he “didn’t want to give up ownership of the business” and understood it was vital to raise the money to ensure he remained in drivers seat. He used the Melbourne based online crowd funding group, ‘Pozible” as a platform to raise the much needed funds to get UpperCup on the shelves.

In order to promote the Pozible project, McKay initially employed the traditional means of advertising by personally dropping off promotional flyers into cafes and stores across Melbourne. “After four or five days, I realized it wasn’t worth it. I wasn’t reaching as many people as I needed to. I canned the whole plan and spent the next four weeks focusing on promoting the product online.” Social media and social networking sites provided him with the scope he needed to reach enormous online communities effectively and efficiently. He believes it largely contributed to the rapid awareness of UpperCup, “All of a sudden it just exploded and took off from there. That never would have happened without social media.” The decision to crowd fund proved to be worthwhile as McKay reached the target of $65,000 for the final production phase. While McKay is the first to admit the road to making UpperCup a reality was long and at times difficult, the success of the product has made it all worth while. Last year, UpperCup was presented with awards for Product Design and Best Start Up at the Melbourne Design Awards, a huge milestone for the company.

So where to from here? For now, McKay is happy just to see his product out there, being used by everyday people. “As long as the business continues to have a positive impact on people, that’s the main thing.” There are some creative developments in the pipeline too. “The product will keep evolving”, he explains. “We’re working on a couple of limited release seasonal colours.” And there is always room to grow. McKay plans on taking Upper Cup to international trade shows later this year throughout Asia and the Untied States. He is intent on pushing the Melbourne coffee scene forward towards a greener future and takes inspiration from the café scene in Portland and L.A, where a movement is taking place to put an end to using disposable take-away cups in café’s. Patrons have the option of supplying their own cup, having their coffee in house or buying a reusable cup at the café. McKay believes this is the next step for Melbourne, with evidence of the ‘green’ café scene already beginning to bloom. “Silo by Joost” emerged in 2012 in Melbourne’s CBD and was declared a “zero-waste” café, just one example of what he describes as the next “logical step forward for everyone,” McKay pauses for a moment and smiles, “It just takes someone to start it.”


James’ Top 3 Melbourne café’s:

–        Dukes Coffee Roasters (247 Flinders Ln, Melbourne 3000)

–        Seven Seeds (106-114 Berkeley St, Carlton 3053)

–        Proud Mary (172 Oxford St, Collingwood VIC 3066)


Please visit UpperCup for more information on their products.