Two people have died in shark attacks on Australian beaches this year and a further 15 have been mauled, spurring calls for a cull.
An abundance of sharks, however, may not be the cause, says University of Queensland researcher Dr Jennifer Ovenden.
She’s part of a team at the School of Biomedical Sciences using genomics to determine how many sharks are in Australia, and whether numbers are increasing.
“Ultimately our research will help determine if the recent increase in shark attacks in Australia is due to an increase in shark numbers or to an increase in human interaction,” Ovenden said.
“It will be a number of years before we know if the populations are increasing or decreasing.”
She said knee-jerk culling could have negative impacts for decades to come.
“Managing shark populations is very challenging,” she said.
“Like humans, sharks can live for a very long time and their rate of reproduction is comparatively low.
“We need to be particularly careful about the numbers of sharks harvested, either commercially or by culling, from wild populations.”
NSW’s north coast has been on high alert this year after a fatal attack at Ballina and several near misses, prompting the State Government to announce a $250,000 monitoring program with no plans for a cull.
Meanwhile Western Australia’s shark culling program has been dumped after the state Environment Protection Authority found there was “a high degree of scientific uncertainty” about it’s effectiveness in protecting swimmers.
In Queensland, a long-running shark culling program continues, with 348 sharks being caught on baited drum lines from January to June this year.