Whale caught in shark net off Gold Coast in 2016. Photo: Twitter/Nine News Gold Coast
Whale caught in shark net off Gold Coast in 2016. Photo: Twitter/Nine News Gold Coast

Change needed to keep whales out of shark nets

HERVEY BAY whale enthusiasts agree there needs to be a different solution to deterring sharks that doesn’t endanger whales.

Earlier this month, three whales were caught in shark nets in a space of three days in Gold Coast waters.

As Hervey Bay prepares for its annual whale watching season - its first since securing World Whale Heritage Site accreditation - marine biologist Yvonne Miles hopes a compromise on shark netting can be found.

She said more research could reduce the number of whales becoming entangled during their annual migration.

Ms Miles said the entangling of whales each year in shark nets created a dangerous situation for people freeing them, threatened the survival of the whales and damaged the nets.

She said if the nets could come down during the migration period or have devices attached to repel the whales it would help solve the yearly problem.

Ms Miles said the whales swam close to the shore because it was the fastest and safest route.

“It’s a quicker route, especially when they’ve got a calf, they tend to hug the shore,” she said.

“They put the calf between the shore and them for safety. The calves tend to get tangled and the mothers get tangled trying to get them out.”

Ms Miles said some fishermen in southern waters used pinger fishing nets that emit a noise to defer wildlife such as seals.

Fraser Coast Tourism and Events general manager Martin Simons said the nets were there to protect people from sharks but it was an ecological problem.

Andrew Ellis of Pacific Whale Foundation believes shark nets do little to deter sharks and only offer a perception of safety.

“We have to come up with a better solution,” he said.

Mr Ellis said while animals including sharks swam over, under and around the nets he could understand the dilemma the government had in needing to keep them.

“If they removed the nets and there was a shark attack it’d be terrible,” he said.

With three entanglements in three days so far this year and another 20,000 whales on their journey north he thinks the nets should go.

Since the Queensland Government’s Shark Control Program (SCP) was implemented in 1962 there has been only one fatal shark attack on a protected beach.

From 1916 to 1962 there were 36 shark attacks and 19 fatalities.

According to the Department of Agriculture and Fisheries the SCP relies on nets or drumlines or a combination of both which lowers the risk of shark attack but does not provide an impenetrable barrier between sharks and humans.

The SCP also works to reduce the effect of prevention methods on other marine animals without compromising human safety.