Do drumlines really protect us or do they just attract larger and more dangerous sharks closer to shore with their baits and the smaller catches?
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The Mermaid Invader | Words and pics Luke Sorensen
It was an overcast day a few years back when I sat on my balcony watching some kind of commotion on the sand at Mermaid Beach – no I’m not some kind of super wealthy polo-shirt-wearing gazillionaire, I just happened upon a garage to rent as a room for cheap, and it was ever so conveniently positioned on the shore at Hedges. So I’m sitting there eating my not-so-Hedges-Avenue breakfast and looking down on a group of people, and they’ve got something. It’s a big dark looking thing and they’re dragging it ashore. We’d had a bit of rain, and with the grey weather I just assumed it was a log or some kind of debris washed in. Picking up my camera and lining up the tele-lens I drew in for a closer gawk, turning the ring and pulling focus on what was unmistakable; a very alive-looking great white shark!
This was my second encounter with one of these ancient creatures inside the shark nets on the Gold Coast. The first was in 1998 when myself and a mate were stalked by what I could only describe as a Combi-Van-sized great white at Main Beach – it was one of the craziest 25 minutes or so of my life, but that’s another story altogether. This one was a little smaller, but no less magnificent. I clambered down the dunes and started snapping photos. What had happened was that a couple of lifeguards had waded out into chest-deep water to retrieve some shark control gear that had seemingly broken loose, unaware of the grey suited visitor that was attached to the end of the short line. They had grabbed the buoy and there was a tug or two on the end – they ended up literally wrangling the shark ashore. Now before people start getting stuck into those fellas, it should be known they did the right thing. All agreed later that swimmer safety (it was right next to the flags) obviously outweighed the protected status of the shark in this case. Within minutes the fisheries department had arrived and began their clean up process. Their haste arguably demonstrated that this was clearly something they didn’t want seen on a Gold Coast beach, especially one in the heart of the tourist strip.
The shark was well and truly alive, but visibly exhausted, with the chain and buoy still hanging out of its jaw. Its gums and mouth were rubbed red raw showing that it had been stuck on this hook and chain for a while, and had obviously struggled (and suffered) for a significant amount of time. It threw out a last few tail flicks, but they were very slight and sapped looking. The shark’s gills tried for water but not even the occasional wave crashing over it seemed to slow the ebbing of its life. In moved a fisheries officer with a filleting knife, and with surgical precision a deep cross was cut into the shark’s head – this great white was ‘brain spiked’ and began to bleed out. At one point I gazed into its eyes for a period of time – it was something else. It was a kind of mad-nutter spiritual moment of interconnection where it shared its fear and its suffering with me, and I shared my amazement, wonder and sadness with it. His eyes were not black and lifeless, they were the deepest of beautiful blue with an electric ring around them, and they moved, watching me as I watched it. Whilst their brains are relatively small, the great white shark is said to be the most intelligent, sensitive and curious of all the sharks.
With the assistance of a few bystanders the shark was hoisted on to the awaiting inflatable boat and trailer. We were told its remains were to be examined for scientific purposes, but as quickly as you could say ‘we’re gonna need a bigger boat’ – the shark was whisked off the beach and the blood stains washed into the sea.
Was this a good and necessary thing that I had just witnessed? Digesting what had just occurred took some time, but in the end it was quite clear that statistically this shark would have presented very little danger to Gold Coast surfers and swimmers and that perhaps its death was meaningless and unjust. It was out there doing its thing, not quite yet at the size they say white sharks start to incorporate marine mammals into their diet – it was looking for fish and that’s what it had found. The drumlines had pounced yet again on a keystone species, an incredibly magnificent and awesome animal that was doing what it has done for tens of millions of years. It was truly sad to think that this is how we as a society still deal with our fear in this day and age, hence the investigation and extensive article we’ve penned in the latest issue of the magazine where we try to unravel just some of the truths, some experiences, some facts and figures, and a little bit from both sides of this eternal argument regarding the shark control program in Queensland – a program that essentially equates to little more than an extensive and widespread 50-year culling operation that has killed thousands of sharks, and thousands of other animals as well. A total of 44 great white sharks have been killed by the Queensland government shark control program since 2002, just on the Gold Coast alone.