Friday, October 03, 2008

Untangling the Tangle?

The tickers have been buzzing with the heroic and successful efforts by rescuers to untangle a subadult Humpback Whale from a piece of Shark net.
Rescuers called this Whale rescue the toughest yet, calling into question once again the necessity of the Shark nets. This particular Shark net had gone missing from Currumbin Creek on September 20 and at nearly 2000 feet long and 50 feet deep with a 16-gauge chain, was found wrapped around the young Whale's tail.

Shark control gear was introduced in the early 1960s in response to a spate of fatal Shark attacks off Queensland beaches. The gear, which includes Shark nets and drum lines, is in place off 87 Queensland beaches. Ever since, not a single person has been killed by a Shark at a netted beach.

Since 2000, 23 Whales have been caught in Shark netting in Queensland and 20 have been successfully freed - alas, however, several have died, too. The stranding of Dolphins, Turtles, Dugongs and Whales in the Shark nets has sparked calls from environmentalists for the nets to be removed.

The Queensland Government has long been opposed to the idea of removing Shark nets but comes under increasing pressure during the winter months, when whales make their annual migration from the Antarctic up to the tropical waters of north Queensland. Many of the whales making the return journey south do so with newborn calves, who are often confused by the Shark nets. Up to 11,000 Humpbacks are now making the annual winter migration up the coastline.

I'm certainly passionate about Shark Conservation - but this controversy has me a little perplexed, like always when I'm confronted with all-or-nothing positions.

On the one hand, I strongly oppose the wanton killing of Marine Life - but on the other, these are some of the most frequented recreational beaches in the world and the nets obviously "work".

Whereas some passionately demand the removal, other more pragmatic voices point out that removing an "established" net may entail more then just safety risks.
And depending on whether the media carry a report about a Shark incident or a Whale entanglement, public opinion swings back and forth, apparently with no alternatives, solutions or end in sight.

Has anybody come up with any alternative safety measures that are both effective and economically viable? Maybe, by tapping into the research of Sharkdefense into magnets or electrochemicals, or the like? Maybe, by using NGO money to fund that research?
Frankly, I don't know - but given the necessary goodwill (from both sides!), I'm sure that reasonable compromises could be found.

The good news is that we're not talking about the classic "Shark Killers" vs "Shark Protectors" scenario. What is facing the Conservationists, at least in its overwhelming majority, is not a mob of Shark haters, just a group of people voicing legitimate concerns. It is still a delicate balancing act for the Politicians who are being asked to enact legislation, but at least one could presume that the positions are not completely entrenched.
Or are they?

When it comes to the problem with the Humpbacks, maybe this could be a suggestion.
Winter is when the Whales migrate and, I assume, the season where only few people go to the beaches for a swim. Surely, there must be data about exactly when the Whales migrate and about the routes they follow.
In my experience, most people nowadays react favorably to sensible Conservation measures - with that in mind, could the nets not be removed at least during that period, with signs that explain the reasons being placed on the beaches?

Or is this just too trivial?

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