OPINION: Talking about the 'c' word with sharks
IS THE solution to the North Coast's shark problem staring us right in the face, but not being discussed because of the outrage it will cause in our community?
I'm talking about the "c" word.
Not long after the most recent shark attack at Sharpes Beach at Skennars Head, I was at the lookout at Ballina watching whales cruise by and dolphins play in the waves.
I got talking to a long-term resident, a surfer and grandfather of three.
"I'd love to teach the kids to surf on my mal, but there's no bloody way I'm going to take on the responsibility of taking them out there," he said, nodding towards the smaller-than-usual cluster of surfers at North Wall.
"It's never been like this. We've never had so many sharks here.
"So why aren't we culling them?
"We could get rid of the sharks that are causing the problems.
"I know it's not popular ... this community will probably never agree to it. But everyone I talk to - and these aren't the type of people who'll stand up and shout it from the rooftops - thinks we should be culling. Surely it's the only answer."
Is he right?
Previous calls for a shark cull have been shot down by conservation groups and politicians.
As recently as last month, New South Wales Premier Mike Baird ruled it out. The idea has not even been discussed, and it doesn't look like something the government will even remotely consider in the future.
Personally, I am against a cull.
White sharks are creatures of the ocean, a protected species, and I think they should continue to be left in peace.
Destroying a certain number of sharks is no guarantee there won't be further attacks.
I'm an ocean-user and a strong subscriber to the belief that we know the risks when we undertake these activities. We face dangers (not just sharks) every time we head into the water.
It's our personal choice to continue to surf and swim.
But it's undeniable there has been a spate of shark attacks in this region and emotions are running high. People are scared and overreacting. They want answers, they want a solution and, more than anything else, they don't want to see another person being attacked on our beaches.
Calls for a cull are getting louder.
Other "solutions" being put forward, such as shark nets, don't have widespread support from the community.
So is it time to bite the bullet and start having a serious discussion about culling?
I'd prefer to see a census done on the white shark population.
We've heard so many anecdotal reports from fishermen and surfers that there are more sharks than ever in our waters, but where's the scientific proof?
Surely this kind of research would give us valuable insights and will be useful for decision making into the future.