Featured Image Credit: www.echo.net.au
By Kira Krall
Last week, a mother humpback whale in Australian waters assisted a response team in freeing her calf from a shark net. She lifted the calf as far as she could out of the water so that responders could cut the net and free the baby humpback. Freeing an animal as massive as a humpback from marine debris is normally an hours-long process. With the mother humpback’s help, responders were able to free the calf in only 30 minutes.
What’s also interesting is that the mother didn’t try to scare away or chase responders. Typically a calf is more subject to predation when they’re in distress, so mothers are more aggressive toward anything that may be a threat. She recognized that the responders and their boats weren’t dangerous and therefore helped them free her calf from the shark net.
The team uses small boats and specialized equipment to free the whale without injuring it.
Shark nets are exactly what they sound like. They’re floating nets designed to catch and kill sharks that end up near popular swimming areas. Australia is famous for them. Three species of shark are classified as the “dangerous” populations and are targeted by the shark nets: tiger, bull, and great whites.
Shark nets operate by making sharks immobile and as a result, causes them to suffocate. Air-breathing bycatch species like sea turtles and whales drown if they’re caught below the surface.
Shark nets are more effective at catching endangered and vulnerable species like our baby humpback whale than they are at preventing shark attacks. Other bycatch species include dugongs, fur-seals, and three species of sea turtle. Shark net bycatch also includes two species of endangered sharks.
Unfortunately, this whale was caught far enough below the water line that it couldn’t surface to breathe. This is just one example of many different kinds of bycatch,
Even catching and killing the targeted species presents a major problem. Great white, tiger shark, and bull shark populations are all under threat of becoming endangered. Sharks are vital to the health of our oceans and this intentional culling of individuals is preventing their recovery from other threats like the shark finning industry. The slaughter of sharks just for their fins is responsible for 100 million shark deaths per year.
In addition to bycatch, there is no scientific evidence that un-netted beaches are at an increased risk for shark attacks. About 24 of the 38 shark attacks that occurred in New South Wales were at netted beaches.
So while the safety of beach goers is in mind, shark nets are ultimately ineffective and are detrimental to all sorts of marine life.