A dying tiger shark off Australia was nursed back to life by divers who took turns swimming with the shark for one and a half hours in an effort to keep it upright and to get oxygen into its gills. Just as the conservationists were about to give up, the shark kicked, indicating new life.
The success story comes amid the controversial shark-culling program implemented as a means to reduce the risk of shark attacks off the Western Australian coast.
The program, launched in January and scheduled to run until April 30, involves WA Fisheries deploying baited drum lines (baited fishing lines connected to a floating drum) just over half a mile off Perth’s metropolitan beaches.
Any tiger shark, bull shark, or great white shark longer than 3 meters (9.8 feet) caught on the hooks are shot dead. Smaller ones are measured, tagged, and released. But they aren’t always released alive or in good shape, since the sharks could have been hooked for up to 14 hours before the lines were checked.
When fisheries officials released a 7.8-foot tiger shark near Trigg Beach, observers on three boats noted that it was floating just under the surface and began turning upside down, indicating imminent death.
About 15 divers from a Sea Shepherd vessel and an Animal Amnesty boat began taking turns swimming with the tiger shark in an effort to revive it. Sea Shepherd released this video showing part of the rescue:
Among the divers were shark conservationists Riley Elliott, a PhD student at the University of Auckland, and Ocean Ramsey, the Hawaiian who came to fame when she was photographed riding the dorsal fin of a huge great white shark.
“It wasn’t particularly dangerous,” Amy-Lea Wilkins of Animal Amnesty told The Australian. “We could see the shark was close to death and it was a matter of everyone taking turns—two people swimming with the shark and one spotter.
“We kept tickling it under the chin and moving it to help get the oxygen into its system. It was really beautiful to see it swim off.”
Other sharks aren’t as fortunate.
Ramsey described to The Australian seeing an 11-foot tiger shark shot and dumped at sea and a 3-foot tiger shark appearing to be dead after being released “alive.”
“It’s a complete waste of life because of the ineffectiveness of the methods,” Ramsey said. “The small sharks aren’t surviving and the large ones are tortured for a long period of time before they are eventually put out of their misery.
“The Fisheries guys just don’t know how to handle the animals. They were unable to kill [the larger shark]. They started dragging it out as if they had killed [it] and then they realized they hadn’t killed it so they had to stop and shoot it again.
“It’s hard [to witness] for someone who works with sharks and gets to see them alive, to see how beautiful and misunderstood they are. I feel like this cull is just coming out of fear and is a knee-jerk reaction by politicians because they feel like they have to do something.”
Billionaire Richard Branson also weighed in on this “catch and kill” program, tweeting on Wednesday, “Stop killing sharks for behaving like sharks.” He also wrote about why Western Australia’s shark cull must stop.
“This entire policy to protect the beaches came about to save tourism because everyone feared the sharks,” Elliott told The Guardian. “What they’ve done is far more damaging to their image, and how people view Western Australia, than the six or seven shark attacks that there were.”
WA Today reported that between January 25 and March 16, 110 sharks had been caught. Sixty-six were released and 31 were shot; the remainder were in such poor condition that fisheries officials euthanatized them.
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