More whales are likely to get entangled every year unless the “sheer insanity” of shark nets are removed from Queensland waters, scientists say.
Rescue teams freed an adult humpback from shark nets on Tuesday morning, taking the tally to at least seven whales caught in Queensland nets in less than three months – six of which occurred off the Gold Coast.
The Queensland Department of Agriculture and Fisheries said the latest whale to be caught in the nets had been “in poor health”, but “not badly tangled”.
“The Queensland Boating and Fisheries Patrol’s Marine Animal Release Team was quickly on scene and it appears the whale was in poor health and had drifted on to Shark Control Program netting, but was not badly tangled,” a spokesperson said.
“Sea World also assisted in today’s response.”
Experts have warned the Gold Coast will continue to be a hotspot for the distressing and potentially fatal entanglements.
Dr Leonardo Guida, a shark specialist at the Australian Marine Conservation Society, is among the scientists who routinely call for shark nets to be removed every time the annual ritual of whale entanglements occur.
He was momentarily speechless on Tuesday morning.
“This is sheer insanity,” Guida said.
“This just should not happen. Shark nets serve no benefit whatsoever for people or wildlife. The only thing they are really good at is drowning an animal that hits that net.”
In 2019 a tribunal – held over the implementation of shark traps in the Great Barrier Reef marine park – found that “the lethal component of [Queensland’s] shark control program did not reduce the risk of unprovoked shark interactions”.
In 2020 the state’s shark control program scientific working group recommended the removal of the nets during the whale migration season, as is done in New South Wales.
The Queensland government is trialling drones and other more modern shark safety measures, but continues to back the use of nets.
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The acting fisheries minister, Scott Stewart, on Tuesday said: “Protection of human life will always come first under the Palaszczuk government.”
“We continue to invest in innovation in the shark control program, but we will make no changes unless we are convinced they can be safe and appropriate in Queensland conditions,” Stewart said.
Guida backed those trials but called on modern equipment to 60-year-old approach to shark safety.
“Those nets need to come out now,” he said.
The Department of Agriculture and Fisheries said two whales have drowned in shark nets and 57 have been released, with entanglements being “relatively rare”.
Many other non-targeted species such as turtles and dolphins get entangled in the nets.
South of the Tweed, shark nets are removed for the four-month annual humpback migration running through to September.
But a growing number of politicians in NSW are joining the chorus of scientists and environmentalists calling for nets to be replaced with more effective and non-lethal shark protections.
Dr Christopher Pepin-Neff, a political scientist with the University of Sydney, said earlier this week that: “the fact is the nets don’t work”.
“It’s a lie that’s told to the public to help ensure politicians are re-elected,” he said.
Guida said the least Queensland authorities could do was to follow NSW in removing nets during whale migration. He said with humpback populations continuing to recover towards pre-whaling numbers, simple logic dictated entanglements were likely to increase, especially off the Gold Coast.
“What’s particularly unique about that area is that it’s like a sheltered little cove,” Guida said. “The whales use it to rest, recover and to play.”
This article by Joe Hinchliffe was first published by The Guardian on 23 August 2022. Lead Image: Experts say the Gold Coast will remain a hotspot for whale entanglements while nets remain in place (file image). Photograph: Mike Bowers/The Guardian.
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