A study suggests there may be twice the number of adult great white sharks off WA’s coast.
Preliminary results from the CSIRO have found white shark numbers in WA are not increasing but are steady and remain somewhere between 750 to 2,250, with a 90 per cent survival rate.
On the other hand, the great white shark population in the east is estimated to be between 470 to 1,030.
Federal Environment minister Josh Frydenburg and WA Liberal members are using the findings to put pressure on the WA Government to look seriously at its shark attack prevention measures.
“Couple these higher numbers with the 15 fatal shark attacks over the last 17 years in Western Australia and it’s clear the state government needs to look seriously at more rigorous and proactive measures to protect its citizens from shark attacks,” Mr Frydenburg said.
“The Queensland and New South Wales governments have had in place extensive measures to manage sharks for a number of years.”
The study was ordered by Mr Frydenberg after a string of shark attacks in WA and the east coast.
WA Fisheries minister Dave Kelly said he was “flabbergasted” that Mr Frydenburg and the WA Liberals were not more supportive of the government’s $200 subsidy for shark deterrents.
“Josh Frydenburg’s comment that ‘blind Freddy could see there had been an increase of white sharks in WA’ is untrue,” he said.
“The number of sharks hasn’t changed, so if you want to make people safer you look at who is most at risk.
“Thirteen of the last 15 fatal shark attacks have been surfers and divers.”
The subsidy program for the Shark Shield Freedom7 device began in May last year and has been inundated with 977 rebate claims in the first six months.
“The fact that over 100 West Australians have taken up that subsidy shows that it makes sense,” Mr Kelly said.
“All [WA Liberals] are doing is make these bold statements that tougher measures need to be taken, without outlining the details of any plan and how it would make people any safer.”
Opposition tourism spokesperson and Liberal member for Vasse Libby Mettam has slammed the McGowan Government’s approach to the issue.
“The complete absence of a strategy to manage shark numbers means we can expect them to grow exponentially,” Ms Mettam said.
“This debate has to be taken from the ‘sharks over people brigade’ that is currently holding the McGowan Government hostage and given its rightful priority as a serious public safety issue.”
Mr Kelly said Ms Mettam’s comments were “ridiculous”.
Ms Mettam said the subsidy program was a tokenistic approach to shark attacks and suggested that concerns about shark safety could take a bite out of the tourism industry.
“As the Margaret River region opens its doors to a swelling population of tourists, the Fisheries Minister should refrain from patting himself on the back and look at what more he can do to address the public safety of the hundreds of thousands of people taking to beaches around the state this summer,” she said.
Ms Mettam said it was the previous Liberal Government that had invested in science to better understand shark populations, while the current government had provided only a limited subsidy which only benefited scuba divers.
“I remain convinced that providing $200 towards a $750 commercial product for 2,000 scuba divers is not an appropriate government response to what is a major public safety issue,” she said.
WA Tourism Minister Paul Papalia said Ms Mettam’s concern for WA’s tourism had no basis.
“The amount of sharks has had no impact on tourism in WA,” he said.
“What has had an impact on tourism is the appalling tourism strategy that was implemented by the last government.
“If she focused on things that actually have an impact on tourism she actually might be conceding their failure and supporting the government responding much more appropriately and aggressively towards improving tourism in WA.”