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Evolving Shark Control Program makes Gold Coast shark nets safer for whales

July 16, 2016

Last Saturday was the first whale entanglement in a shark net on the Gold Coast for the 2016 whale season.

But with 24,000 humpbacks whales going up then back in Spring more entanglements in the coast’s controversial shark nets are bound to happen.

Migrating humpback whale numbers are increasing every year so the Gold Coast’s Shark Control Program through DAF has been adapting to face the challenge.

Shark Control Program manager Jeff Krause says the program’s response to whale entanglements has improved in the last few years.

“We are evolving with time to release whales and be notified,” Mr Krause says.

“If an animal is caught in shark control gear it is our responsibility,” he says.

Mr Krause encourages anyone who is concerned about a whale to contact the hotline on 1800 806 891 or 132523.

Distressed whales will thrash about until they tire, while another sign is seeing the shark nets out of alignment.

If you make a call the SCP has four ways to assess the whale’s situation

  • Use surveillance cameras that can zoom onto the shark net (SCP has remote control of local Coastalwatch surf cams so they can check the nets)
  • Contact the local surf lifesaving club or SLSC Command Center to get their assessment
  • Contact members of the Volunteer Whale Spotter Program in high rise buildings near the shark nets
  • Contact boating and fisheries
  • Send own staff to assess the situation

With the introduction of these initiative there has been a 90 percent reduction in false reports.

He gave a recent example where a local called because pod of whales was behaving strangely near shore at Mermaid Beach.

Mr Krause said the conditions were unclear so he couldn’t see the shark nets using the Coastalwatch so the team called the local surf life savers who confirmed the whales were safe.

If the clubbies had said a whale was either entangled or swimming with netting the SCP would have sent the specially trained Marine Animal Release team who launch a small rubber IRB off the beach at the site and are supported by a larger ship. Alternatively Sea World would send a boat with a specially trained team or the two teams work in conjunction.

A SCP spokesperson says the MAR team are specially trained in whale behaviour and use special cutting devices that don’t harm the whale.

Mr Krause says, technically under the nature conservation act anyone can attempt a release if they say see a whale entangled in gear but untrained people around whales are “destined for disaster because they are such big animals.”

He says the whales interact with the shark nets in different ways. He has responded to calls and found whales in no danger sleeping against the nets or feeding their calves.

Many people have questioned the need for Gold Coast shark nets in recent years in relation to the yearly humpback whale entanglements and the security they provide for bathers and surfers.

The Seaworld team was successful in cutting the first whale caught in shark nets free on Sunday. Let’s hope they can continue that success for the rest of 2016.

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