The combination of long, beautiful sandy beaches and the world’s largest coral reef has made Queensland in north-east Australia a powerful tourist magnet.
But the authorities in the state, which has been nicknamed “The Sunshine State”, are literally killing to ensure the continued influx of surfers and bathers, beach lions and lionesses.
A drone recording that has gone viral on social media recently has put a strong spotlight on what is happening along the coast.
The footage was taken on 20 December 2023 and shows a 2.8m tiger shark caught in a shark trap deployed by authorities off King Beach at Caloundra. Two contractors hired by the state Department of Fisheries (DAF) have secured the shark along the ship’s side.
While one of them holds it with a hook, the other man starts stabbing the shark repeatedly in the head with a knife. The knife blade is literally hammered in while the man twists the shaft, and eventually you can see a long, deep gash running across the shark’s head.
The tiger shark twists and turns from the repeated bites, which last for over a minute.
Finally, the men seem to give up. They turn the shark around so that its belly is facing up and start gutting the animal while it is still alive. The blood colors the water red before we see the man rip out what may look like a heart.
– Terribly slow
Briefly, the shark control program in Queensland involves the state government using shark nets and drumlines at a wide range of beaches. This is done to keep bathers safe by targeting so-called “dangerous” shark species, which are then killed.
The tiger shark recording has caused many to rage against Queensland’s shark control program. Several experts and environmentalists have pointed out that this is something that happens regularly and are asking that the “inhumane” program be changed.
– This is standard practice along the Queensland coast, 365 days a year, to catch and kill sharks. What is unusual is that it is documented and exposed, Andre Borell tells Dagbladet.
Borell, who is a documentary filmmaker and founder of the environmental organization Envoy, has shared the recording on social media.
– The incompetence shown by the government’s contractors led to the shark suffering a terribly slow, cruel and painful death over many minutes. This is by definition animal cruelty, and far from the “humane euthanasia” the government claimed it was.
A spokesperson for the Department of Agriculture and Fisheries said in a statement reproduced by ABC News, among others, that the contractors in the video euthanized the shark in accordance with protocols.
– The killed shark was taken approximately three kilometers out to sea for disposal, explained the spokesperson.
The authorities describe the contractor’s long-term and repeated stabbing of the shark as “euthanasia” – a word which the Great Medical Encyclopedia describes as a form of active euthanasia and which derives from the Greek meaning “good death”.
This makes Andre Borell stiff.
– Their language is misleading and aims to minimize public distrust of the shark control programme. If this wasn’t about how it would look, then they would simply admit the atrocities and inform the public that they are exempt from the Animal Care and Protection Act.
Fredrik Myhre is a marine biologist and head of the ocean team at the WWF World Wildlife Fund. He believes the recording of the tiger shark shows an environmentally harmful practice in which the authorities in Australia systematically capture and kill large sharks along the beaches of Queensland.
– The tiger shark is a near-endangered shark species, and both it and other shark species need increased protection and not a systematic fishing out, says Myhre to Dagbladet.
The shark trap in which the tiger shark in question was caught is a so-called “drum line” – loosely translated as tromline in Norwegian. It is an unmanned shark trap with a hook that is placed at popular swimming beaches. The idea is that they will reduce the risk of shark attacks.
Drum lines have previously been criticized for, among other things, harming migrating whales and turning sharks into live, helpless bait for larger relatives. In 2009, the image of a three-metre long white shark that had been bitten almost in half by a larger white shark went worldwide.
– Drum lines are an incredibly poor way to take better care of vulnerable species such as tiger sharks, white sharks and bull sharks. These are species that need better protection and are already directly threatened with extinction or are in imminent danger of becoming so, says Myhre.
Shark researcher supports stabbing
One of those who have come out and defended the two contractors is Bonnie Holmes who is associated with the University of the Sunshine Coast (SCU). For the past 15 years, she has been researching sharks.
In an interview with ABC News, she says that the killing follows the protocol for the correct use of killing methods for captive sharks.
– Stabbing the animal’s brain means that you can kill animals quickly and easily with a minimal degree of discomfort and pain. Stabbing is actually the best method of our time to kill large animals that cannot be killed through the use of chemical means.
Holmes refers to the shark’s violent reaction to being stabbed in the head as a “completely normal, natural reaction”. The gutting, where the animal’s heart was removed, is described as “a secondary measure”.
– It was then that the blood went into the water and things looked quite bad. But in the main, the person in question did the right thing, she tells ABC News.
Holmes also says that progressive practices such as tagging and releasing the sharks can be a good alternative to culling.
Andre Borell in Envoy strongly opposes Holmes’ statements.
– I actually think it is out of the question for Bonnie Holmes to comment on this as she has a conflict of interest. The University of the Sunshine Coast receives dead animals for research, so it is beneficial to Bonnie and SCU that the program continues and to maintain positive relationships.
He says that he has received statements from a shark researcher connected to Holmes’ department, who wishes to remain anonymous for fear of retaliation.
The person emphasizes that an animal the size of the tiger shark in question needs the same approach as cows or horses for a more “humane” killing.
“You can’t guarantee instant death with a tiny little knife, and by slashing repeatedly like that. You can see from the animal’s movements that it is suffering through it all,” says the person’s explanation, which Borell refers to Dagbladet.
“Unless checking eye movements, gill response and reaction to noxious stimuli to ensure actual death, it is not possible to be sure that the animal was actually dead when it was opened and the heart removed.”
Caught on the inside
Fredrik Myhre of the WWF World Wildlife Fund is clear that both the drum line program and the program for netting sharks outside swimming beaches should be banned and ended.
– Every year, both programs kill a number of endangered shark species and also other vulnerable wildlife such as marine mammals and endangered fish species, explains the marine biologist to Dagbladet.
Myhre says that a large number of the sharks are also caught on the inside of the shark nets, i.e. when they are on their way back from the bathing beaches.
– Rather, we have to come to terms with the fact that the sea is the shark’s kingdom, where we humans are only guests for a short time.