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The great shark debate: to cull or not to cull?

The great shark debate continues in Australia as summer approaches. Shark bites on bathers and surfers are a particularly sensitive reality. These are personal and community-wide tragedies that implore us to find adequate solutions. The goal of everyone is to improve shark bite prevention and risk reduction while finding solutions that reflect the values of the public. Shark culling and shark hunts, as an acceptable government response to beach safety, have been up for consideration. The Western Australia Government’s decision to spend $2 million dollars “to track, catch and, if necessary, destroy” sharks in preemptive shark hunts that would cull sharks from local waters has come under scrutiny. The Herald Sun reported on a new poll on the West Australian website that found that 82% of respondents opposed the new plan and only 13% supported it. It may be that support for culling and shark hunts in Australia is waning. For more than 30 years, there has been a trend toward greater balance between wildlife, marine life and national values. If a brown snake is in your backyard in New South Wales today, the law states that you must call someone to remove it, rather than killing it. Much the same was true for crocodiles, first protected in Western Australia in 1969 and then in the Northern Territory in 1971. And stinger-suits are often mandatory on swims out on the Great Barrier Reef. The public is informed of the dangers and manages this delicate balance with sophistication. Yet there is one additional piece to note in the current shark debate. When the question of whether to cull great white sharks is asked, it is important to recognise that shark culling is currently taking place today along the east coast of Australia. This spring marks 75 years since the New South Wales Government first began funding shark nets along Australian beaches. In Queensland, a shark control program (including nets) began in 1962. But...
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