Imagine Australia in 1937, before World War 2 had broken out. The year J.R.R Tolkien published his first addition of “The Hobbit”. The year that Charlie Chaplin was the most popular actor in cinemas, with the release of his first speaking movie “Modern Times”. This year of the infamous disaster when the German airship Hindenburg burst into flames. In the same year, today’s shark meshing program (SMP) began, involving the placement of lethal shark nets at popular beaches that measure between 150m long (New South Wales) and 183m long (Queensland) and 6m high, sitting below the surface of the water with the aim to catch as many sharks as possible. Over the years, the language used when referring to the shark nets has changed but the intent and design remains the same.
Today’s shark meshing program of nets are not shark-proof barriers or enclosures. Shark-proof barriers were in place in Coogee, Sydney before 1937, but the public considered them to be an “eye-sore” and it was thought that swimmers swam towards them so often that extra life-savers were required (The Daily Telegraph: Thu 10 Sep 1931). In addition, they were frequently damaged by storms and were expensive to repair.
In the late 1930s when shark-proof barriers and enclosures were being considered to be replaced with today’s shark meshing program, Randwick council in Sydney opposed the motion and stated that they "believe that the only safe way is to erect shark-proof enclosures" (Daily Telegraph: 29 Mar 1935). However, the public supported the motion and so the shark meshing program, as we have today, began.
In 1937 when the shark nets that we know today were first installed, it was with "the aim of the company being to catch as many sharks as possible" (Labour Daily: 17 Nov 1937). Shark nets were a preferred option as the public supported a lethal programme to “rid the ocean of sharks” and to “deal with the shark menace” (Canberra Times: Thu 19 Jul 1934).
The design today has not changed, other than the addition of dolphin and whale pingers that have done little to prevent multiple dolphins and whales being caught and killed. At the time of writing this paper between 1st Sep 2021 and 31st Oct 2021, 5 humpback whales have been caught, despite these pingers. 92% of all animals caught in the nets are non-target species, and over a third of animals caught in the nets are considered to be endangered, or vulnerable to extinction. The shark nets are considered fishing devices in law and it is only in propaganda and misleading statements that people refer to them as a tool designed to keep people safe – this was never what they were designed for. They were specifically designed to catch and kill sharks and other marine animals.
In 2021, we have much more sophisticated technology, including drones, and much more sophisticated medical practices. A lot has changed since 1937, and we need to encourage our government to move with the times too. Help support this campaign and show your support to show our government that the public do not support the outdated shark meshing program and want to use non-lethal methods only.