WA shark drumline trial canned after only two white pointers caught over two years
A trial of non-lethal drum lines off WA's south-west coast will come to an end after catching just two white sharks in two years, with the state's chief scientist saying it did not reduce the risk of attack.
After a spate of shark attacks in WA's South West, contractors rolled out 10 drum lines along an 11.5-kilometre stretch of beach in 2019 with the aim of catching, tagging, and moving white pointers offshore.
The program, using SMART (shark management alert in real time) drumline technology, aimed to see if the animals would return to populated beaches.
Of the 311 captures over two years, only two white sharks were caught, along with 266 other types of sharks, and 43 other "non-target" marine animals.
WA chief scientist Professor Peter Klinken said his independent review found SMART drumline technology was not effective in catching white sharks and “provided no demonstrable value in reducing the potential risk posed by white sharks in the South West”.
In a report on the trial released this morning, it was revealed the two white sharks captured in the trial did remain offshore immediately after being relocated.
“But based on the low white shark catch at Gracetown during this trial, it is, however, not possible to statistically demonstrate the effectiveness of SMART drumlines as a shark mitigation measure in these Western Australian conditions,” the report stated.
Government defends extended trial
Fisheries Minister Don Punch defended the two-year trial this morning, saying it served its purpose in generating data to assess the effectiveness of smart drumlines.
But he said drumlines were "a very inefficient way of capturing and tagging white sharks".
"Only two white sharks have been captured over the course of the trial. From that point of view it had limited success in assessing the behaviour of sharks when they are moved from their location and taken out to sea,” he said.
“So on the basis on that evidence … the government will not be continuing with the shark drumline approach to shark mitigation."
Instead, the government will pour $7.8 million into other shark mitigation measures including rebates for shark deterrents and upgrades to the shark monitoring network, which allows sharks to be tagged and monitored in real-time.
"The state government's tagging program has seen 51 white sharks captured since 2019, compared with only two captured during the SMART drumline trial," he said.
The SMART drumline trial will end on May 20.
Surfers express concern
But surfers have expressed concern about the removal of drumlines.
Cowaramup Bay Board Riders Association president Jane Seman said she was disappointed that surfers in the area had not been consulted.
“We haven’t had any attacks since the smart drumlines have been there and that is consistent with other drumline examples around the world," she said.
“I don’t know the best solution. But removing the drumlines does make us feel a lot more vulnerable.”
Ms Seman said personal shark deterrents were too expensive for families with multiple surfers.
She supported moves to upgrade the shark monitoring network, which warns surfers of the presence of tagged sharks through the Shark Smart app, but said it had limitations.
“Surfers and divers can’t check an app while they’re in the water, and they might be in the water for three hours," she said.
Australian Marine Conservation Society shark campaigner Leonardo Guida said he was pleased the government had taken an evidence-based approach focused on tagging and monitoring.
He said tagging programs were a better way of researching shark behaviour to reduce the risk of shark attack.
"The benefit of these tagging programs is seeing where they move, why they move, and how often they move, and we can then make the most informed decisions for ourselves on how to use the water," Dr Guida said.
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