Counting Sharks on Australia's East Coast

The research project will use the information to determine the best way to protect swimmers.

New research has emerged that there are approximately 5,500 sharks living in the waters off Eastern Australia. The landmark research is now fuelling more debate about how to best protect swimmers from the apex predator.

The study, which is led by the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation, hopes to provide physical evidence, where fear and misconception often overrun the debate.

The project, which cost 1.5 million dollars to undertake, combines tagging, DNA fingerprinting and advanced statistics to estimate how many great whites are living in Eastern Australian waters.

According to the study, there are around 750 fully grown adult Great White Sharks swimming around from Tasmania to central Queensland to New Zealand. When juvenile sharks are counted in the mix, the total is significantly higher an estimated 5,460 or as many as 12,800.

Around 1,460 adult great white sharks inhabit the waters off South-West Australia.

After the release of the initial numbers, Environment Minister John Frydenberg called for “more rigorous and proactive measures to protect its citizens from shark attacks.”

Though there are twice as many adult sharks in the south-west, a spokesperson from the CSIRO explained shark density may not be as high as it is in the East.

Researchers are hoping the new data will not only help conserve the apex predator, but will also help inform policy-making.

So far, there is no evidence to suggest that shark numbers are increasing. The project belongs to the Federal Government’s National Environmental Science Programme Marine Biodiversity Hub.

Recent shark “attacks” near the North Coast of NSW have prompted a trial of “smart” drumlines and shark nets, which have raised concern with conservation groups.

These shark nets which are used across NSW in the warmer months are responsible for many great white deaths as well as turtles and other marine species.

Western Australia, established “kill zones” near beaches, which allowed sharks to be killed, however due to public outcry and environmental opinion the policy was dropped.

Marine scientist, Jessica Morris from the Humane Society International told the Sydney Morning Herald:
“Sharks are incredibly important for healthy ecosystems, and our government needs to be informed about the nature and necessity of these species,”

“There are many studies showing killing sharks does not make our beaches safer.”

Lead Image: PHOTOGRAPH BY JIM ABERNETHY, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC CREATIVE

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