shark_cull_rally, shark conservation, saving sharks, marine conservation, ocean activists(Blue Ocean – February 1, 2014 ) — Thousands of people took to beaches across Australia yesterday to protest against a controversial shark culling policy designed to prevent attacks. Carrying placards, foam sharks and chanting “stop the cull”, demonstrators gathered in Perth and Sydney to rally against the government’s decision to allow fishermen to catch and kill any large sharks they find.

The policy to kill sharks off popular west coast beaches was given the passed last month after six fatal attacks in the past two years. It is aimed at reducing the risks to water users and allows baited drum lines with hooks designed to capture large sharks to be set 0.62 miles offshore at busy Western Australian beaches for a trial period until April 30.

Any shark longer than 10 feet snagged by the lines and deemed to be a threat – including great white, bull and tiger sharks – will be destroyed, with the first casualty reported last week.

The protest came hours after an under-size 6.5 feet shark, believed to be a tiger shark, was pulled from a baited drum line off Leighton beach by Fisheries officers.The animal, the second to be killed under the program, was then dumped further offshore.

The move has angered conservationists and shark-lovers alike – 2,000 of which joined protests at Manly Beach in Sydney and a further 6,000 at Cottesloe Beach in Perth.

Sir Richard Branson agrees with the activists, saying the West Australian government’s shark culling policy will backfire, driving away tourism rather than boosting it.

The British billionaire entrepreneur made the comment on breakfast radio as the state’s Fisheries department was deploying baited drum lines off Perth beaches, including popular Cottesloe Beach, where a large rally against the program is planned for Saturday morning.

The WA government says a spike in often-fatal shark attacks has dented tourism and leisure-based businesses, with recreational diving operators reporting a greater than 90 per cent plunge in people learning to dive.

But Sir Richard, who fights China’s shark fin trade, says WA is getting a bad reputation internationally and tourists will be driven away.

“I’m sure one of the reasons he (Premier Colin Barnett) did it was because he was thinking it would encourage tourism. It’s going to do quite the reverse, I think,” Sir Richard told Fairfax radio on Friday.

“You’re advertising a problem that doesn’t exist in a major way and you’re deterring people from wanting to come to Perth and your beautiful countryside around it.

“All you’re going to achieve, I think, is to worry people unnecessarily.”

He said it was “very sad” such a bad example was being set to the rest of the world.

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

The shark culling program uses bait on drumlines a kilometre off shore, and is intended to catch sharks of a certain breed (including the endangered Great White) following recent fatal attacks on humans.Last week bait was placed in the seas south of Perth and one shark was caught and killed.

Now the process has begun off the city’s beaches, with local government fisheries staff setting the bait after commercial fishermen pulled out due to the anti-cull campaign.

Mr Barnett has defended the scheme in recent days saying: “We are, in reality, taking quite modest measures to protect a very small part of our coastline from very large sharks – and we have the reality of seven fatalities in three years.”

With no evidence that culls make people safer, the cull in Western Australia (WA) is receiving remarkable. As well as Sir Richard, high-profile figures such as comedian Ricky Gervais and diver Tom Daley have added their voices to the anti-cull campaign. More than 100 shark scientists signed an open letter stating their disapproval. One online petition opposing the cull has generated more than 80,000 signatures. Even local surfers whom the policy is designed to protect do not support it, and the family of a fatal shark bite victim does not either.

The campaign has been growing around the world, largely through social media. Many petitions are being signed including these two:……

Photo: EPA