Drum line scepticism

Warren HatelyAugusta Margaret River Times
Margaret River diver and skipper Luke Thom captured this photo of a great white attacking his dive cage and said shark behaviour was influenced by human interactions.
Camera IconMargaret River diver and skipper Luke Thom captured this photo of a great white attacking his dive cage and said shark behaviour was influenced by human interactions. Credit: Luke Thom

Surfers remain sceptical about the Gracetown smart drum line trial despite getting everything they allegedly wanted.

Surfers this week told the Times there was “too much politics” at play for the trial, which started yesterday, to focus on their safety alone.

The trial comes amid warnings regular surfers will still be at risk of shark attack because of the ever-growing number of people crowding local breaks.

The drum line trial was bolstered this week by news nine Spectur alarms were added to the 10 sets of drum lines and 240 monitors used in the trial, offering lights and sirens to warn about sharks nearby.

However, Vasse MLA Libby Mettam said surfers were unlikely to get the real-time warnings they wanted because signals from the Spectur alarms went via a third-party provider in Canada.

She also repeated calls for Main Break and other “key local beaches” to host VR4 receivers.

“The absence of a real-time receiver at the Margaret River Main Break to warn surfers of the presence of a tagged shark is a clear indication that the State Government is not taking the trial seriously,” she said.

The new alarms were not included in the $3.84 million budget for the 15-month trial and will cost an extra $79,000.

A beach siren installed on land this week also stirred the ire of surfers, who said that was never imagined as part of the Government response.

South West Safe Shark Group convenor Keith Halnan feared the additional costs would get lumped into the trial, allowing Fisheries Minister Dave Kelly to argue the price was too high for drum lines to become a regular feature off WA’s coast.

Surfer Alex Travaglini, who was attacked during last year’s Margaret River Pro, said he had mixed feelings about the trial and wanted to know what data would be collected, and why the Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development didn’t already have adequate data.

“In the end, they gave in to pressure and they’re doing it,” he said. “They are not transparent at all.

“It’s not real time, and that’ll come back to bite them if there is ever a case of a tagged shark (attacking).” Mr Travaglini said he was surfing again, but avoided attack hotspots like Lefthanders.

Margaret River-based professional diver Luke Thom said the trial would not protect surfers at Lefthanders, North Point and South Point because sharks were a greater risk at deeper breaks.

“The drum lines are more a thing for people to think they’re safe,” he told the Times.

“The sharks are there. And there’s more people in the water than ever. Someone’s going to get eaten (again) eventually.

“It’s unavoidable.”

Mr Thom made headlines this week for his stunning photos of great whites up close, taken during his work as a diver and boatie.

He said he only surfed more shallow breaks like Redgate or Contos because of what he observed about shark behaviour.

“Sharks are smart. They are ambush predators,” he said.

“They’re going to go (after surfers) like a dog after a ball.”

Mr Kelly said the “quality science” provided by the trial was “crucial to developing our State’s shark mitigation strategies and saving lives”.

“This data will be used by the chief scientist Peter Klinken for his independent scientific assessment into the effectiveness of the technology in reducing the risk of shark attacks in WA,” he said.

“Seabed monitors will not only detect sharks tagged during the trial, but also previously tagged sharks, which will help improve our understanding of white shark movements in WA.”

Surfers were urged to check www.sharksmart.com.au.

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