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Beach Grit

“Tagging Whites Turns ‘Em Into Killers?”

Derek Rielly

by Derek Rielly

Tagging is trauma! And it might be making 'em bite… 

You know how Great Whites are tagged? They’re either dragged aboard a boat in a sling and jabbed with the satellite tracker or it gets stuck into the fish via a harpoon.

Great Whites ain’t dumb. They’re going to go searching for the son of a bitch who knifed ’em.

You tag ’em, they’re going to come back and bite.

At least that’s the theory in a story that appeared in The Australian recently, a story written by the surfer Fred Pawle, and backed by compelling evidence.

And let’s be honest, Fred is more than happy to call a spade a spade.

One common factor in six of the attacks is that they occurred within or adjacent to areas where researchers are tagging sharks or dive-boat operators are trying to turn them into tourist attractions.

In the story, Better to cull sharks than stir them up with tagsFred reports:

“There have been seven serious shark attacks reported around the world in the past month. Three were fatal: surfer Laeticia Brouwer, 17, in Esperance; surfer Adrien Dubosc, 30, at Reunion Island; and Austrian diving instructor Leopold Mairhuber, 68, in South Africa. Of the other four, one involved a partial leg amputation (Kauai, Hawaii) and a near fatal bite to the thigh (southern California).

“One common factor in six of the attacks is that they occurred within or adjacent to areas where researchers are tagging sharks or dive-boat operators are trying to turn them into tourist attractions.

“It hardly bears repeating that none of them occurred in Queensland, where a program of nets and drum lines has been keeping ocean lovers safe for 55 years.

“Brouwer was attacked at a beach near Esperance, 80km from Salisbury island, where an Australian researcher, working with filmmakers commissioned by the US Discovery Channel, had been tagging sharks, with state government approval, two months ear­lier. Esperance also is one of the sites where the CSIRO and the West Australian Department of Fisheries have tagged great whites through the years. In 2014, surfer Sean Pollard was attacked by two sharks there, losing one arm and a forearm. Two sharks, one tagged, were caught and destroyed.

“The DoF has said repeatedly it is “unknown” whether the tagged shark was involved in the attack.

“The tagging program in Western Australia was initiated because of the increase in attacks, says Rick Fletcher of the Department of Fisheries. It was “funded to investigate the series of attacks that had occurred in 2012”, he says.

“The NSW DPI’s main tagging program is off Ballina. There have been five serious attacks (two fatal) and scores of close encounters in the area in the past three years. Asked if the department has considered if there is a causal relationship, the DPI also says its program has been in response to attacks.

“In Reunion Island, however, where the first of nine fatal attacks began in 2011, the same year as a two-year tagging program, local surfers are critical of the response by researchers.

“Tagging is trauma,” says protester Jean Nativel. “And the ones that have been hooked are very difficult to recapture. We have tagged 80 monsters and released them in front of the beaches to watch if they are going to attack. And they have. If these sharks were fished instead of tagged, we would have saved lives.”

And,

“Byron Bay council, one of the organisations invited to address the inquiry, last year embraced its own method to deal with the problem — Shark Watch, a program developed in Cape Town, South Africa, involving people sitting on towers staring at the water. The program was launched last year with the endorsement of state MP Tamara Smith, and the promise of $11,000 from the council.

Tagging is trauma,” says protester Jean Nativel. “And the ones that have been hooked are very difficult to recapture. We have tagged 80 monsters and released them in front of the beaches to watch if they are going to attack. And they have.

“Byron Bay mayor Simon Richardson tells Inquirer the program has been put on hold after problems caused by Cyclone Debbie and will “recommence shortly”.

“Surfing Australia chief executive Andrew Stark told the Senate inquiry that such surveillance methods were useless anyway. When pro surfer Mick Fanning was attacked in South Africa in 2015, it was live on TV, he said. “There was more surveillance than you could imagine. There were 10 cameras, thousands of people on the beach, spotters, and people looking straight at him … and no one saw that great white shark.”

“Stark said surfers felt safer 80km north, in Queensland. “I know of many surfers that used to travel down here to surf in Byron and northern NSW that stay on the Gold Coast now because they feel inherently safer,” he said.

You biting Fred’s theory? That tagging is creating a generation of unamused Great Whites? That the feel-good thing of watching sharks appear as blips on computer screens might be killing people?

Oowee, it’s a hell of a posit.