Failure to fund shark network could leave Government with blood on its hands

Greens MLC Lynn MacLaren has warned that failure to maintain WA’s network of expensive satellite-linked ‘early warning system’ shark monitors in the ocean could lead to the Government being blamed if a shark bite occurs.

 “If someone is bitten by a big shark off a Perth, South-West or Albany beach and it turns out that Fisheries’ monitoring device at that location was not working through lack of maintenance or replacement, then the question will be – would that person have been bitten if the early warning system was functional,” Ms MacLaren said.

“We are talking about high-tech, specialised electronic gear weathering rough ocean conditions; gear requiring maintenance by trained individuals and presumably, regular replacement.

“With this cut in funding it is likely that should a receiver off Cottesloe or Smiths Beach break down, for example over a long weekend or Easter, no one would be immediately available to fix it.

“We could see a situation where we have a lot of surfers in the ocean using the ocean but no functional early warning receivers for a period of days or weeks.

“If someone who usually checked for shark alerts got bitten, then the Government could wear some blame.

“The shark monitoring network provides the best system we have for detecting a real shark threat because only large sharks big enough to bite a human are tagged, and when a tagged shark is detected, we immediately know the species and size.

“This is much better than most other detection systems such as aerial surveys which are notoriously inaccurate.

“A tagged shark persisting in an area alerts us to a potential attraction for other sharks at that location and enables authorities to make informed decisions about closing beaches.

“The Government has not thought through these cuts and it needs to, because potentially this decision could have very serious consequences for responsible ocean-going members of the public.”  

Fact file:

  • Since 2009, the WA Government has invested in 26 satellite-linked ‘VR4G’ receivers stationed on buoys on the sea surface off Perth, the South-West and Albany. (It has also installed ‘VR2W’ receivers on the ocean floor. Both types of receivers detect tagged sharks. Unlike VR4G receivers, data from VR2W receivers is collected by taking the VR2W receivers from the ocean and downloading it onto a computer before reinstallation on the ocean floor. This is done annually.)
  • ’VR4G’ receivers detect tagged sharks up to 500 metres away and send a message in near real-time via satellite to safety authorities such as Surf Life Saving WA who then issue alerts on social media. 
  • There are around 600 tagged big sharks in WA waters, including 200 great white sharks, that can be detected on VR4G and VR2W receivers. Department of Fisheries’ research collaborators continue to tag more sharks.
  • On 2 October 2014, a white shark wearing an acoustic tag was caught in Wylie Bay near Esperance, after surfer Sean Pollard was bitten by a white shark at that location. There were several white shark sightings in the area in days leading to the incident. There are no VR4G receivers near Esperance.