Fatal shark attacks spark Australian cull

Licence to kill: these dangerous animals are now in the firing line.

This week, Western Australia took drastic steps in an attempt to make its coastline safer for humans. But can killing dangerous or irritating animals ever be justified?

‘You’re gonna need a bigger boat,’ says a visibly alarmed marine biologist in the 1975 shark slasher, Jaws. In the film, a hunt for an enormous shark is underway after a string of grisly deaths, and the razor-toothed beast has just reared his head from the watery depths below.

Life mirrors art, it would appear. On Sunday, a three-metre female tiger shark was shot four times in the head, dragged out to sea and dumped by a fisherman, as part of a Western Australian government initiative.

The policy is in force after seven fatal attacks in three years. Government contractors have deployed baited drum lines one kilometre off the Perth coast, with the aim of luring the animals to hooks. They then become trapped and die, or are shot by roving hit squads.

Not everyone is happy with the controversial plans. The Western Australian premier, Colin Barnett, has been heckled at public events, and more than 4,000 protesters gathered on a beach earlier this month. In response, Mr Barnett said: ‘I get no pleasure from seeing sharks killed, but I have an overriding responsibility to protect the people of Western Australia.’

Animal culls take place all over the world. The UK government announced in 2011 that it would permit controlled badger culls to protect farmers’ livestock, and in Japan, whales and dolphins are routinely slaughtered as part of the national culture and for scientific research. Seal hunting has taken place in Canada for centuries, and also in Finland and Sweden, to protect fish stocks.

But animals are also killed or maimed in the pursuit of leisure. This week, a New Zealand man ‘put a few nicks’ in a shark when it attacked him during a spearfishing expedition. Earlier this month, a British teacher was injured on safari when an elephant tipped over her car; the elephant was later put down because safari officials could not understand its behaviour. And last year, it was discovered that animals died in the making of popular blockbuster epics Life of Pi and The Hobbit.

Jaws for thought

Many people believe that because animals are sentient, they have rights. Killing them is cruel and can threaten delicate ecosystems. A day after the Australian policy took effect, a shark had already been shot, proving our trigger-happy nature. Others argue that culling is ineffective anyway, and some Australian scuba divers say the shark attacks will now increase as bait will bring them closer to shore.

But supporters argue that culls are justified. Killing animals because they scare us or prevent our pursuit of leisure activities may be wrong, but not when they destroy livelihoods – or lives. We have a greater obligation to our fellow humans than to the animal kingdom. We already harm animals when we eat and wear them; it would be just as legitimate to kill them when they pose a threat.

You Decide

  1. Should animals have rights?
  2. Should the use of animals as objects of sport and entertainment be banned?

Activities

  1. Brainstorm all the films you can think of which feature animals. Are they portrayed in a positive or negative light?
  2. Research the places in the world where animal culls take place. Look on government websites and find out the reasons behind them.

Some People Say...

“Man is the cruelest animal.’ Friedrich Nietzsche”

What do you think?

Q & A

I’d love to live in a country which has sharks, tigers or lions!
Millions of people do. But there are some parts of the world where communities are extremely vulnerable to wild animals. Human encroachment in Assam, India, has resulted in hundreds of villagers being trampled to death by elephants, and scores of the animals being poisoned in return.
Shouldn’t we sort out the issue of human suffering and poverty before we turn our attention to animal protection?
Yes, of course! We should do all we can to alleviate human suffering. But the welfare of animals is also important. Protecting our ecosystems is vital to ensure a healthy planet, and to prevent animal species from becoming extinct.

Word Watch

Jaws
The most difficult film Steven Spielberg ever made, the director would claim years later. The film suffered countless production problems, largely due to the mechanical shark. Spielberg named it Bruce, after the lawyer he hired to sue the shark’s manufacturers.
Western Australian
Australia is split into six states, and ten territories. Each state has its own constitution.
New Zealand man
When 24-year-old junior doctor James Gaunt was attacked by a sevengill shark earlier this week, he used a first-aid kit to stitch his own wounds, before heading to the pub for a pint.
Spearfishing
The act of hunting fish underwater while holding the breath, with the use of speargun or polespear. It is illegal in the non-tidal reaches of the UK.
Blockbuster epics
A report by The Hollywood Reporter last November accused the American Humane Association, which issues the ‘no animals were harmed’ credit at the end of films, of covering up animal abuses on sets. The Bengal tiger used in the film of Life of Pi almost drowned during filming.
Sentient
The ability to think, experience and feel. The claim that animals have rights was first put forward by the Australian philosopher Peter Singer in the 1970s. He coined the phrase ‘animal liberation’. The New Yorker magazine once described him as the world’s most influential philosopher.

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