White Sharks Global Conference Convenes At Port Lincoln
More than 150 Australian and international shark experts are in Port Lincoln for the first White Sharks Global conference to be held in 10 years.
The event is timely, with Eyre Peninsula's community still reeling from a fatal shark attack on a 55-year-old surfer at Streaky Bay two weeks ago.
It was the region's second death of a surfer involving a great white shark this year.
Conference committee chairperson and Flinders University professor Charlie Huveneers said the event was an opportunity to find improved solutions for ocean users coexisting with great whites.
"There's a lot we need to get better at understanding," Professor Huveneers said.
"Population size and recovery is something we're still unsure of.
"We suspect a recovery has occurred after twenty years of protection, but we still don't actually know how much they recovered."
Port Lincoln is the only place in Australia that offers cage-diving tourism, which takes place at the nearby Neptune Islands.
Professor Huveneers stressed engaging with the apex predator's environment for the sake of tourism was an issue that would be discussed at the conference.
"We need to make sure it's being done sustainably and in a way that minimises any impact on white sharks and reduces any potential behavioural change," he said.
Sharks thriving off Massachusetts
Overseas at Cape Cod in Massachusetts, United States, a new great white shark population had emerged following conservation methods for seals and sharks in the past fifty years.
Atlantic White Shark Conservancy researcher Megan Winton said thriving shark numbers in her area — where a fatal shark attack occurred last year — posed challenges regarding water safety.
"We're seeing more and more interactions between sharks and humans. We're trying to figure out how to manage those interactions," she said.
Ms Winton said the conference would discuss all potential measures to increase human safety on coastlines that were home to white sharks, including culling.
"There are repellents and deterrents, but none of them are 100 per cent effective," she said.
Tasmanian Greens Senator Peter Whish-Wilson presented a paper to the conference on Monday, focusing on helping scientists better communicate shark studies to politicians.
While Mr Whish-Wilson acknowledged recent "traumatic incidents" in SA would "inevitably" provoke aggressive reactions, he said there was no scientific evidence that proved culling sharks was an effective preventive measure.
"How many do you need to cull to actually reduce the risk?" he said.
"If there are thousands of sharks off of our coastline…you might kill a couple hundred, but you still have a lot of them out there."
The Greens senator called on SA Premier Peter Malinauskas to respond to recent events with a science-based approach.
He said shark deterrent devices like shark shields, which were subsidised by the WA government for $200, had been shown to reduce the chance of an interaction with a great white by two-thirds.
"Nothing is foolproof, but that's very significant," he said.
Mr Whish-Wilson said the SA government should follow other states that used acoustic receivers in the ocean that detected tagged sharks and triggered onshore alarms.
"I think South Australia could actually take a much more proactive approach," he said.
The rules don't apply
While Ms Winton said many shark species preferred to hunt at dusk and dawn, she said she had witnessed attacks by great whites on seals during sunny, clear days.
"The rules don't really apply to white sharks that way, which I know is probably not that comforting," she said.
The shark researcher said ocean goers should leave the water if they saw seals or feeding activity.
"You don't want to be swimming with shark foods," she said.
"They are, by and large, very selective, cautious predators.
"But anytime you've got big predators overlapping in areas that people like to use, sometimes there are going to be mistakes."
//Amelia Costigan, Emma Pedler, Adam Sheldon
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