Environment

Four Corners report finds shark net programs do not prevent attacks

Shark mitigation programs on NSW beaches  have no statistical impact on the number of shark attacks, new analysis to be aired on ABC's Four Corners has found.

The analysis of 50 years of data, by Associate Professor Laurie Laurenson from Deakin University's School of Life and Environmental Sciences, is the first to determine that there is no link between the number of sharks and the number of attacks in a localised area.

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Despite being the product of an unpublished paper, which has no guarantee of being published, the findings are the subject of a report to be aired on Four Corners on Monday evening.

"We've looked at a long time frame of data and the underlying assumption of the netting programs or drum line programs is that if you reduce the number of sharks you will reduce the numbers of attacks. That has been the primary justification for the use of these programs over the best part of 70 years," Mr Laurenson said.

New analysis of shark attacks point to the need for alternative mitigation methods to be considered.
New analysis of shark attacks point to the need for alternative mitigation methods to be considered. Photo: Natalie Grono

"But we cannot find a relationship between the number of sharks in the waters where you have these nets in NSW and the number of shark attacks in those areas."

Mr Laurenson said, instead, he and his team could find a statistically significant relationship between the number of shark attacks versus the number of people.

"We could prove the number of attacks was related to human population size, but not shark population size."

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The four-year study assessed three things: where shark attacks were globally, according to latitudinal and longitudinal co-ordinates; how many sharks were in NSW waters; and how many people were on the coast of NSW.

While Mr Laurenson was reluctant to comment on the effectiveness of shark mitigation programs on Sydney beaches, he said the findings of his analysis "certainly beg the question" of whether new, alternative mitigation methods should be considered.

"I'm not going to tell the NSW government how to do their jobs. But I would suggest they check our analysis and if they can refute it, that's fine, that's science. But until they can refute it we would hope they use this analysis."

NSW chief shark scientist Dr Vic Peddemors told the ABC an equivalent analysis of shark sightings and attacks was  underway by the NSW Government.

"We've been working on that literally for the last six months, trying to also bring in the human population growth, so it's taken a lot of time and effort to go way back," he said, maintaining that "shark nets have worked"

Mr Laurenson said there was no doubt the findings were "controversial" and conceded that it was "definitely a problem the information was out there before [the report] was published."

"It wasn't a deliberate attempt to publish it. It just happened. But the argument that the research has no value because it's not published doesn't hold water, because I could turn to any number of government agencies and say the same of their reports."

"Shark Alarm" will air on Four Corners on ABC TV at 8.30pm on Monday.