A picture of a shark at Broken Head, taken by professional drone pilot Saul Goodwin last year. Photo: saul@psphoto.com.au
A picture of a shark at Broken Head, taken by professional drone pilot Saul Goodwin last year. Photo: saul@psphoto.com.au Contributed

No ‘silver bullet’ for region’s shark issue says researcher

THE State Government's own research shows aerial shark patrols only work 15% of the time, or about one day a week.

The Department of Fisheries study revealed fixed wing aircraft and helicopters had just a 12-15% success rate, with variable weather and water conditions compromising spotters' ability to see a shark from the skies.

More transparency 

The research has prompted a Sydney University shark attack policy researcher to call for more transparency about what works - and what doesn't - when it comes to preventing shark attacks.

"I think there needs to be more information given to the public about the limited effectiveness of aerial patrols," Dr Christopher Neff said.

"If everything's perfect you absolutely can see a shark. The tricky thing is they don't tell you (the chances) on a given day."

Dr Neff is calling on people to lower their expectations of what the New South Wales Government can achieve - at least in the short term - with their $16 million shark strategy.

No silver bullet

While he cautiously welcomed the strategy's emphasis on "innovation" he said it was a long term and experimental package and there was no "silver bullet".

"If this was the bush, we wouldn't be relying on the government to protect us from brown snakes ... we'd be saying it's a dangerous environment and you've got to be careful," he said.

"The ocean is not a pool - it can't be domesticated."

Ballina survey

Dr Neff has surveyed 500 people in the Ballina state electorate and said the data indicated most people understood the limits of the government's power to prevent shark "accidents".

Almost a third of people gave a "one out of 10" score in their confidence in the government's ability to stop attacks, and 60% gave scores under five.

Dr Neff has toured shark attack hotspots including Reunion Island and South Africa to research public responses to shark attacks, and said the effectiveness of "lethal" measures, including shark nets and culling, was "overstated".

"Having gone around the world and looked at these measures, the data is very sceptical," he said.

"Culling does not work.

"I'm looking out for surfers, but I'm not going to give surfers solutions that don't work."

Patience needed

On the other hand, he said systematically tagging and researching sharks was likely to be part of the solution - but patience was needed.

"Tagging sharks so you can figure out their behaviour, so you can alert surfers to a change in migration patterns, absolutely does work and will reduce risk over the long term," he said.

He said a lot of money had been thrown at the shark problem across Australia in recent years - an estimated $82 million.

"It's going to take some time to see what works and to what degree, and under what conditions it works," he said. "You can't shark proof Australia."

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