Queensland Government's own expert witness admits that ending shark culling would not increase risk of bites

By : Humane Society International February 1, 2019

Under cross examination, an expert witness for the Queensland Government admitted at a public court hearing that there would be no discernible increase in unprovoked shark bite and fatality risk if the Queensland Government stopped killing sharks tomorrow.

Associate Professor of Environmental Science, Dr Daryl McPhee, made the admission at Humane Society International's court challenge to the Queensland Government's shark culling program in the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park, heard at the Administrative Appeals Tribunal in Brisbane this week. The three day hearing concluded today.

"This staggering admission confirms what Humane Society International has been arguing—that this is an outdated program from the 1960s that desperately needs a complete overhaul,” said Nicola Beynon, HSI Head of Campaigns.

Dr McPhee agreed there is an extremely low risk of shark attack, and even lower risk of fatality due to shark bite. He also agreed that he had never advocated for lethal shark control programs when his advice has been sought by the WA and NSW Governments and if Queensland was designing its program today he would not advocate for lethal shark control. 

The hearing revealed that on average 144 tiger sharks are killed in the Great Barrier Reef each year, with more than 2000 being killed over a 16 year period. The Tribunal heard evidence that tiger shark numbers in Queensland may have reduced by as much as 74%. Scientists released a paper last week recommending the species be reclassified as an endangered species in Australia.

As one of the 19 species of shark on the Queensland Government's target list, tiger sharks that survive the hooking on a drumline are either shot dead or in some cases, killed by spike to the head. The drumlines also catch and kill many other species including threatened and harmless species of sharks, ray and turtle.   

Humane Society International is seeking to overturn a 10 year permit given by the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority to the Queensland Government that allows 173 lethal drumlines to catch and kill sharks in the World Heritage listed Reef.

"Killing sharks on the Great Barrier Reef poses a risk to the World Heritage Area's ecology, which is under pressure from myriad threats including climate change, invasive species, and over-fishing. Sharks help maintain reef resilience against these pressures. This program is one pressure we have the opportunity to completely eliminate,” said Ms Beynon.

Humane Society International thanks the Administrative Appeals Tribunal for hearing this important case and giving the issue of lethal shark control the scientific and legal scrutiny it warrants.

Humane Society International is extremely grateful to have been represented in court by the Environmental Defenders Office NSW and barristers Saul Holt QC and Natasha Hammond.

"This was an important hearing with compelling evidence that the Queensland Shark Control program is a placebo, not a public safety measure and is risking the ecology of the delicate Great Barrier Reef ecosystem,” concluded Ms Beynon.

The AAT will consider the evidence presented in the coming weeks before handing down its decision. 

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About HSI Australia

HSI concentrates on the preservation of endangered animals and ecosystems and works to ensure quality of life for all animals, both domestic and wild. HSI is the largest animal protection not-for-profit organisation in the world and has been established in Australia since 1994