SNAGGED: A hammerhead and tuna caught in shark nets off Noosa.
SNAGGED: A hammerhead and tuna caught in shark nets off Noosa. Contributed

Surfer creates more shark myths, says marine ecologist

A RESPECTED marine ecologist has slammed senior surf journalist Nick Carroll's attempt to dispel myths surrounding shark nets in his piece for Coastal Watch, Beyond The Panic, The Facts About Shark nets.

"Unfortunately Mr Carroll's article created more myths than he 'debunked'," Dr Daniel Bucher said in a statement to The Northern Star.

The Southern Cross University lecturer took aim at a number of Mr Carroll's claims, which were published in last Saturday's Weekend Star.

Dr Bucher began with Mr Carroll's claim that shark nets aren't "quite as lethal as it's been made out to be".

He accused the Sydney-based reporter of citing incorrect State Government data in his article, which stated: "last year in NSW, 143 sharks were caught with 96 different types of other animals, and quite a lot were freed."

"For a start, how about quoting the actual figures from the DPI report on last year's shark mesh catch," Dr Bucher said.

"Table 7 of that report clearly says that only 44 individuals of the target species were caught and only three of those were alive in the net.

"In contrast, there were 145 entanglements of non-target species with 116 being dead in the nets - sounds a lot more lethal to me than Mr Carroll makes it out to be." 

Marine ecologist and university lecturer, Dr Daniel Bucher.
Marine ecologist and university lecturer, Dr Daniel Bucher. Contributed

Mr Carroll's fourth myth: "Nets aren't just for catching sharks: they disrupt local shark territorial patterns" is also incorrect according to Dr Bucher.

Referring to the State Government's shark tagging program, Dr Bucher said the data reveals large sharks on the east coast are not territorial.

"Bull, Tiger and White sharks are all long-distance travellers. There are no territorial patterns to be interfered with," he said.

While Dr Bucher acknowledged Mr Carroll was correct in saying that the nets will be fitted with devices to help prevent harm and death to marine life.

But he said Mr Carroll's implied myth is that dolphin catches are no longer an issue.

Dr Bucher highlighted that shark nets have killed 10 dolphins and a Minke Whale in the past two years on the Gold Coast, despite the detection technology.

He said since the introduction of dolphin 'pingers' in NSW, the catch rate dropped from 3.3 to 2.0 dolphins per year.

Dr Bucher also moved to bust the myth that nets will block all sharks from entering swimming areas, saying the nets don't even intercept the majority of sharks.

Here, he raised the question of why no one has been killed on a netted beach in more than 50 years.

"The answer lies in the case of the surfer bitten by a white shark at Bondi in 2009, while the beach was netted."

"His left hand was nearly severed and later had to be amputated - a potentially fatal injury. Did the net save him? No, Bondi, like all the other netted beaches, is also a full-time patrolled beach and it was the lifeguards who saved his life."

For Dr Bucher, the biggest myth about the shark debate is that this is a people versus animal argument.

"It's a people and animals debate," he said.

"There are many more effective methods of reducing the risk that do not involve lethal approaches. Use shark shields when surfing, support surf lifesaving clubs and observation programs, swim between the flags, stay out of the water when sharks are spotted and no person or animal needs to die.

"In the end, its a wild environment, not a swimming pool. I'd prefer to keep it that way."

Dr Bucher will present a talk titled "Sharks in my Swimming Pool" for SCU's School of Environment Science and Engineering's Open Doors event at the Lismore campus on November 8.

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