A short read: Does shark control work?

2023-10-06 04:40 AM by Envoy: Shark Cull–  5m read

While it is widely accepted in scientific and legal circles that shark culling (shark control programs) is not effective, we wanted to put together a short and simple summary for the rest of the community.

What is shark control?

The lethal removal of sharks from a region, via the use of shark nets and catch-and-kill/traditional drumlines, with the stated aim of reducing the local shark population to in turn reducing the risk of shark bite. It is a state-sanction and Government funded culling program of the targeted shark species.

Thought shark nets were a barrier?

A lot of people do, and this is a common misconception. Shark nets do not keep sharks away from the beach or out of an area. They do not create an exclusion zone and are not an enclosure. They are a fishing net designed to catch and kill sharks, to reduce their 'local populations'. They are tiny compared to the beaches they are placed at. 180m long and set at beaches many kilometres long. They are also only half the depth of the water, 6m high nets in 12m deep water.

How would we know if shark control was working?

Since the method is based on reducing shark populations in the region, we would need to see a total prevention of shark bites, or significant reduction in all shark bites (fatal and non-fatal) in the entire region to demonstrate effectiveness.

What do scientists say?

Here is one example: Associate Professor McPhee said under oath that he would never recommend a lethal program, and could never imagine advocating for a lethal shark program anywhere. He agreed that it was “highly plausible” that if the SCP became non-lethal tomorrow, we would see “no discernible change in unprovoked shark bites, in particular fatalities.” from Humane Society International (Australia) Inc and Department of Agriculture & Fisheries (Qld) [2019] AATA 617 (2 April 2019)

What does the law say?

Here is one example: "The lethal component of the SCP does not reduce the risk of unprovoked shark interactions. The scientific evidence before us is overwhelming in this regard." from Humane Society International (Australia) Inc and Department of Agriculture & Fisheries (Qld) [2019] AATA 617 (2 April 2019)

Why should we count all shark bites, not just fatal shark bites?

Shark bite survivability has improved markedly since the early to mid 1900s, and can in no way be attributed to shark nets or drumlines. There are more Surf Lifesavers today, first response is better today, emergency services transit times are faster today, medical treatment for this type of severe trauma in hospitals is better today. Fatalities have markedly reduced, but shark bites have not. It is the job of shark nets and drumlines to reduce bites, which is something they have not done. A Government keen to claim that shark nets work will always point to reduced fatalities to stake their claim, however this is a slap in the face to the true heroes of this reduction in fatalities - surf lifesavers and first responders. In reality, there have been at least 100 shark bites, and 13 shark bite fatalities at beaches with shark nets or drumlines. 1 in NSW, 2 in QLD and 10 in South Africa.

Has there been an overall reduction in shark bites?

Not due to shark nets or drumlines. There was a sharp reduction in shark bites in most regions in the early to mid 1900s. This is not due to shark nets being placed, this is due to humans learning more about sharks and taking steps to lower shark bite risk. In Sydney, this means abattoirs stopped dumping offal and excrement (both shark attractants) into Sydney's waterways and beaches. In South Africa, this means implementing the closing of beaches during the 'sardine run'... an annual migratory event that brings with it huge amounts of sharks. Steps like this have seen a reduction in shark bites, and may loosely correlate with shark net or drumline placement in terms of chronology.

Has anyone removed shark nets or drumlines, and how did it go?

Dunedin, New Zealand had also employed the use of shark nets as a way to reduce shark interactions with humans for 40 years; however, in 2011, the nets were removed. This was a result of an investigation, and subsequent vote, carried out by the Dunedin City Council following an Otago Daily Times feature condemning the practice. The shark nets were removed in 2011, despite loud concern from minority sections of the community that there would be fatalities if this were to occur. Since the removal of the nets, no bites or fatalities have occurred.

Why do Governments and some shark net supporters claim that they work?

Vested interests. We've seen 25 year old debunked studies from people with vested interests and motivated reasoning (KZN sharks board) used to 'prove' that shark nets work, whilst in the same sentence accusing anyone who says they do not work, of having vested interests and motivated reasoning.

Has the Government ever stated that lethal shark control doesn't work, or recommended a move to non-lethal programs?


  1. Fisheries Scientific Committee NSW (repeatedly)
  2. Threatened Species Scientific Committee NSW (repeatedly)
  3. Legislative Assembly Committee on Investment, Industry and Regional Development NSW (2016)
  4. Shark Control Program Scientific Working Group QLD (repeatedly)
  5. National White Shark Recovery Plan Committee (2013)
  6. Shark Mitigation and Deterrent Measures Senate Inquiry Committee (2017)

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