Western Australian authorities are moving to ban shark tourism, including shark cage diving. Fisheries Minister Norman Moore has announced that the state’s government is drafting legislation that will rule out tourism ventures that attract sharks amid concerns that it puts more people at risk.
This decision follows Moore ordering the Department of Fisheries to investigate cage diving. This came after preliminary inquiries from charter operators wanting to start offering the thrilling activity. The probe found that Western Australia didn’t have any areas where sharks were known to gather – unlike South Australia, where cage diving with great whites is allowed. There was also evidence found that indicates shark tourism potentially changes the behaviour of sharks, making the risks outweigh any tourism or economic benefits.
Moore says the government isn’t ready to take this risk after four people were killed by sharks since last September in its own waters. The lack of shark congregations in Western Australia may mean operators want to maximise baiting and berleying to attract sharks in an attempt to meet tourist expectations. This could have unwanted consequences.
According to research from the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO), Moore says, shark cage diving areas in South Australia have found that sharks changed their distribution to align with active berleying areas. There wasn’t any determination from the research about the longer-term effects on their behaviour or outside the area, but Moore says he doesn’t want to take the risk until more is known. With four deaths from shark attacks since last September in Western Australia, the government isn’t willing to allow ventures that could raise more public fears than there are already, he added.
This announcement comes as the Department of Fisheries starts a consultation with local councils to include shark warnings on permanent coastal safety signs. Mike Burgess, the manager of Shark Response Unit, says studies indicate two distinct populations of great white sharks in Australia – one in the south and west and another in the east. Through prior tagging research, white sharks are known to take on long-distance migrations from South Australia to Western Australia and as far north as Exmouth.
Burgess added that It’s possible that fluctuating shark abundance in Western Australia waters depends on environmental cues that drive the patterns back and forth. There aren’t any easy solutions or answers as to why sharks bite – nor are there any explanations as to the unprecedented cluster of fatal attacks. The unit is also analysing environmental data to find out if there are particular environmental reasons for the incidents.
Meanwhile, the four shark-related deaths since last September aren’t the only incidents involving the animals. Just a few weeks ago a man was lucky to escape a shark attack while he was surfing. He was paddling with friends at Mullaloo Beach in Perth when he felt a big thump on the back half of his sea kayak. He was thrown into the water and then saw the tail of a shark when he turned around. Then the shark took a bit out of the surf-ski, and a fellow paddler went past the shark to pick the man up.
It’s believed that the shark was a 3-metre great white, and this was the second shark attack in the same day. In the West Coast Dive Park, a 5-metre shark lunged at a commercial fisherman pulling crab pots. The shark was trying to get a bite of whatever was in the pots.
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