Sharks Kill Surfer, Reigniting Net Debate in Australia

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Almost immediately there were calls for the sharks to be hunted and shot, although Peterson's family said they wanted the enormous creatures left alone.

States with nets in place immediately said Peterson's death could not have happened in their waters.

The New South Wales fisheries minister, Ian Macdonald, believes netted beaches are safer beaches for swimmers, surfers, divers, and snorkelers.

"In the years prior to the implementation of this project, there was virtually a death every year from shark attack," Macdonald said.

"Without the nets I guess it would be safe to assume that there would be a higher death rate among swimmers."

But Macdonald and his Queensland counterpart are criticized by the Humane Society International, an environmental group that has staged a long campaign against the nets.

Humane Society activist Nicola Benyon said the nets should at least be removed in Australia's winter months to avoid the regular entanglement of migrating humpback whales along Australia's eastern coastline.

"The Queensland and New South Wales shark-control programs kill hundreds of innocent marine animals every year, many of them threatened species," Benyon said.

"There are alternatives to the destructive nets and [baited hooks]."

Of particular concern is the grey nurse shark, a smaller, less predatory shark living off the coast of New South Wales and Queensland. Its numbers have plummeted to around 300.

Misunderstood?

Barry Bruce, a marine biologist with the Australian government Commonwealth Science and Industry Research Organisation (CSIRO), said very little is known about sharks and that such ignorance can breed unnecessary suspicion among humans.

To try to increase knowledge of the little-studied creatures, Bruce is part of a team monitoring the progress of four tagged white sharks in South Australia.

The sharks—named Rolf, Bomber, Michael, and Sam C—were fitted with tracking tags at North Neptune Island near Port Lincoln, South Australia, late last year.

The male sharks are nearly 13 feet (4 meters) long and weigh up to 1,100 pounds (500 kilograms). They traveled between 310 and 430 miles (500 and 700 kilometers) during the first three weeks of the monitoring program.

"Managing the impact of human activities on white sharks in Australian waters is a complex challenge, combining the interests of public safety, commercial and recreational fishing, tourism, and conservation," Bruce said.

"But information on the status and behavior of white sharks in Australian waters is limited and often speculative. We're addressing this information gap on white sharks through research that examines their movement patterns, linkages between populations and favored habitats, and their biological characteristics."

CSIRO has been tagging and tracking white sharks since 2000. Migration and some behavioral patterns have started to emerge.

"[White sharks] seem to spend extended periods in one area when food resources are available, then make relatively rapid and directed movement away, presumably in response to food availability or reproductive cues," Bruce said.

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