RENOWNED WA shark expert Hugh Edwards and WA Agriculture Minister Terry Redman have backed the Australian Live Exporters Council in rejecting the Humane Society International’s (HSI) attempts to link recent tragic shark attacks off the WA coast to live sheep exports.
Responding to claims made by HSI Senior Program Manager Alexia Wellbelove in a radio interview on Perth’s 6PR last week, Mr Edwards said “I don’t think I’ve ever heard so much nonsense in my whole life”.
He said while some sheep do die during their voyage to the Middle East, they are thrown overboard more than 2000 miles away from the WA coast, out of Great White Shark territory.
“Sheep ships can have no influence whatever on the Great Whites,” he said.
Mr Edwards said the Great White Shark was “a mystery” and very little was know about their behaviour patterns.
“There are a whole lot of silly ideas put out by the conservationists and I’m a conservationist – but some of them are far, far to the left,” he said.
“One of them is that the shark has made a mistake in attacking a human and mistaken a human for a seal.
“But I ask you, how many seals have you seen on a surf board or how many seals have you seen with a scuba tank on?”
Mr Edwards said the influx of Great White Sharks off the WA coast coincided with an influx of seals and whales, that have built up in numbers, and more people are getting in the water.
“Take those three factors and run them together and that’s why we’re getting more attacks,” he said.
“But you also have to consider, that in the 2000’s and that’s the last 10 to 12 years, we’ve still had a lot of people in the water, we only had four attacks between 2004 and 2008 and now we get five in 10 months, so that doesn’t cover the ground either. “And the whole thing with sharks is; it’s such an area of mystery that we still don’t know.”
In apologising to Ms Wellbelove, the shark expert said sheep ships have got nothing to do with shark attacks.
In the same radio program, Ms Wellbelove said she had no data to support a link between live exports and the most recent and tragic death of WA surfer Ben Linden on July 14, to a Great White Shark near Wedge Island, about 160 km north of Perth.
“I don’t think we have that data yet unfortunately,” she said on 6PR.
But in a media release yesterday, HSI documented 11 shark attacks and the presence of live export vessels, which included the details of Mr Linden’s death.
In making its argument, HSI said the MV GHENA was “out of port” at 10.38pm the day before the surfer’s death.
Instead, Ms Wellbelove referred to the second most recent shark incident on March 31 this year of Peter Kurmann.
Mr Kurmann, 33, died after a fatal attack, while diving about 1600m off Stratham Beach, between Busselton and Bunbury.
She said a live export boat entered Fremantle docks the following day but said she didn’t know if it arrived via passage between Busselton and Bunbury.
The point of HSI’s research, she said, was that live export ships are an “attractant”.
She also said the link between shark attacks and live exports was only a possible theory and rejected the suggestion HSI were drawing a long bow.
In a statement to Fairfax Agricultural Media, WA Agriculture Minister Terry Redman also rejected HSI’s claims.
“To suggest a link between fatal shark attacks along the Western Australian coast and our livestock export trade is preposterous, opportunistic and offensive,” he said.
“Livestock ships leave our ports carrying healthy animals.
“If animal deaths occur, which is very rare, it’s generally when the ship is well into its journey and thousands of kilometres from the WA coast.”
HSI issued another statement on Tuesday, urging the WA government to look into all aspects that may be affecting shark behaviour, following the recent spate of shark attacks, believing there may be a possible connection to live sheep exports from Fremantle.
HSI has also presented the WA government with a documented list of shark attacks and the presence of live export vessels, urging them to investigate possible links.
Last week ALEC CEO Alison Penfold slammed the HSI statement saying the move was irresponsible, insensitive and wrong.
Ms Penfold said it not only drew a long bow on connection between shark attacks and live exports but also played politics with the life of a man tragically killed at the weekend.
She said HSI was trying to re-focus the spotlight on live exports for political gain at a time when the man’s family members were grieving and coming to terms with the sudden loss.
Ms Penfold said despite 99.85 percent of animals arriving fit and healthy in export markets, regulations did not permit any dead ones being discharged within 20 nautical miles (37kms) of the coastline.
But she said even then it was impossible to make any conclusions about links between the live export trade and shark attacks.
HSI’s statement sought to clarify ALEC’s comments about the distance that dead animals can be disposed from live export vessels and the possible attraction of Great White Sharks.
Ms Wellbelove said the Australian Marine Safety Authority regulations do not allow dead sheep to be discharged within 12nm (22.2 kilometres) from the nearest land.
Between 12nm to 100nm (22.2 - 185.2 kilometres) discharge of ‘treated’ carcasses is allowed.
But Ms Penfold declined to comment on the second HIS release this week.
“I don’t want to engage in a debate that goes to the tragic death of an individual,” she said.