Endangered angels snared by deadly shark nets
While the threatened great white shark holds the news headlines, a pair of harmless and critically endangered angel sharks have become the latest victims of shark nets on Sydney’s beaches. Thanks to the quick sighting by a SurfWatch diver, the male shark was able to be cut free and released. The fate of the female shark, however, remains unknown as she was badly injured and released close to death.
“Angel sharks are very much a bottom-dwelling species,” said Michael Kennedy, HSI Director. “For a pair of these unique and endangered animals to become ensnared in a shark net is deplorable and leaves little doubt that the nets were left lying on the seabed, indiscriminately trapping any animal that should otherwise be able to swim underneath.”
Angel sharks are classified as Critically Endangered by the World Conservation Union (IUCN), the world’s largest conservation network. Their numbers have declined so dramatically that in some parts of the world they have become extinct.
“We will never know if the female that was freed close to death actually survived this ordeal,” said Mr Kennedy. “This is yet another sad example of the reality of these nets. For every 1 dangerous shark that is captured, 7 harmless animals are either trapped or killed in these nets.”
Contrary to popular belief the shark nets do not effectively control sharks by excluding them from the beach. Roughly a third of sharks caught are on the inside of the nets having already swum into the beach. The real effects of the nets are revealed through their impact on other marine species, with 1,485 harmless marine animals being caught and killed in nets in NSW alone between 1995 and 2004.
“HSI has long been of the opinion that bycatch of marine species in these nets is unacceptable,” said Mr Kennedy. “The NSW Government is aware of the death toll inflicted by these nets on hundreds of harmless animals every year. It is not uncommon for turtles, dolphins or even whales to become entangled or killed in these nets. Yet these statistics are ignored in favour of maintaining the pretence that these nets protect the public. These nets must be permanently removed.”
As a result of a HSI nomination, shark nets are formally recognised in NSW legislation as a key threatening process to threatened species, particularly for their impact on the critically endangered grey nurse shark east coast population – and yet the government will not act. In the last 3 years Sydney’s beach nets have killed 3 breeding female grey nurse sharks. With a population of no more than 500 individuals left on the east coast, the loss of even one female is detrimental to this species’ survival prospects.