Confused.com

There were 2 big stories in the news last week which demonstrate how utterly arbitrary, hypocritical and deluded our morality is when it comes to animal ethics in this country.

Firstly there was the appallingly cruel arson attack on a Manchester dogs home in which 53 dogs died.  This story became bigger news for the fact that people were so moved by this deeply upsetting story that a JustGiving page was set up and donations flooded in from all over the world, exceeding £1.3 million in less than 3 days.  Staggering.  Heart warming.  Amazing.  It goes to show how deeply people care about dogs – even dogs that have been left unclaimed in a dogs home – dogs that would largely have been pit bull terriers and Rottweilers and other such breeds.  Breeds which are at the less ‘cute and cuddly’ end of the doggy scale.  And still people are enormously upset by the idea of these dogs suffering such a painful and frightening death.

In contrast, on the same day, there is a story about a cull that had been carried on miniature pigs and piglets in the Swansea area.

One of the piglets

Over 100 micro-pigs were culled by a licensed professional.  “These animals presented a serious risk to other livestock in the region in the event of a disease outbreak, and because of this we were left with no option but to carry out a cull,” said a spokesperson. What a load of horseshit!  The only threat these animals could possibly offer is if they come into contact with farm bred infected pigs as they could then spread the disease.  Why on earth should these wild pigs pay the heaviest price for the farmers carelessness.  If the commercially bred pigs weren’t harbouring disease in the first place then there wouldn’t be a problem.  It’s exactly the same story with the badger cull and TB.  The farmers should ensure that their cattle don’t get TB and if they do then they should pay the price.  They shouldn’t be farming cattle in the first place as far as I’m concerned so I’m afraid I have little sympathy.   If culling innocent badgers is their solution then they clearly it’s a non-starter of a business model!

These same farmers who claim to be animal lovers were the ones who put pressure on Swansea Council in the first place to carry out this appalling cull.  Yes, some farmers may care about their livestock, but as soon as something might get in the way of their profit margins, you see where they really stand on animal welfare issues.

The slaughter of these innocent, healthy and harmless pet pigs amounts to an atrocity that should be totally unacceptable to an educated and caring society.

A much more sensible approach: “Can science stop sharks attacking humans?”

Here’s a much more sensible article outlining various ways that humans could try and modify their behaviour to work in harmony with sharks.  In the same way an inoculation for badgers in the UK would be afar better method than random culling – the same applies to the shark population. Mindless culling is never the answer! 

Bull shark

Sharks have patrolled the oceans for at least 400 million years and evolved into a huge range of remarkable species.

There are deep sea lantern sharks that glow in the dark, wobbegong sharks that grow shaggy beards, and majestic, plankton-sifting whale sharks – the biggest fish in the sea.

Nevertheless, when many people think of these animals, one thing comes to mind: shark attacks.

As a beachgoer, diver or surfer your chances of encountering a shark, let alone being killed by one, are in fact incredibly slim; lightning strikes, bee stings and car accidents all pose far more of a threat than sharks.

In reality, people kill millions more sharks than sharks kill people.

A quarter of all shark species, and their relatives the rays, are threatened with extinction, according to a recent report from the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN).

The main threat to sharks is overfishing and in greatest peril are the largest species.

Shark-repellent wetsuits The striped suit tells sharks a diver is not safe to eat, while the blue design acts as camouflage

But a controversial cull of sharks was recently ordered in Western Australia following a spate of attacks.

Scientists are now looking at other approaches to deal with the shark attack issue.

Prof Shaun Collin is leading a University of Western Australia (UWA) team of neurobiologists who are learning to think like sharks.

“We’re trying to tread this very fine line of protecting both humans and sharks at the same time,” Prof Collin told the BBC World Service programme Discovery.

By studying shark brains and shark senses, the team is developing and testing various non-lethal repellents. The aim is to manipulate the sharks’ finely-tuned senses in ways that discourage them from approaching and attacking people.

One of these is a “shark-proof” wetsuit designed to make people look like poisonous, black and white banded sea snakes, something that many sharks tend to avoid.

The stripy wetsuit was first thought up years ago by marine biologist Walter Starck. Now a detailed understanding of shark vision is helping the UWA team to bring this idea up to date.

Nathan Hart, assistant professor at UWA, explained to me that sharks don’t see as well as humans.

“We’ve made sure that the size of the bands can be detected by a shark from a certain distance,” he says.

Tests of the new wetsuit design are currently underway. This involves wrapping the fabric around a barrel filled with dead fish and watching how sharks respond to it in the wild.

It is still early days, but so far, Nathan told me, the results have been encouraging.

“Based on what we know about the sensory systems of sharks, they should reduce your risk to some extent,” he says.

“Just like a seatbelt in a car, it doesn’t reduce your risk to zero; it’s a matter of reducing your risk by a certain amount and by as much as possible,” he adds.

Shark dive boat in Fiji Divers in Fiji have trained the sharks how to behave in return for food

As well as trying to protect individual swimmers, another tactic is to make certain areas out of bounds to sharks.

“We can try and define areas on the beaches where people are confident they can go and swim,” says Dr Hart.

Bubble curtains could be deployed to keep sharks away from popular beaches.

The idea is to lay perforated hosepipes across the seabed and pump air through them and create a plume of bubbles that sharks may decide not to swim through.

Sharks can see and hear the bubbles and also feel them with their lateral line, a system of sense organs many fish have.

“It’s a system of what’s known as ‘distant touch’; it detects vibrations and very low-frequency sound in the water,” Nathan explained.

Early tests showed that tiger sharks eventually pluck up the courage to cross a barrier of bubbles, suggesting they have the ability to learn.

Eugenie Clark, a veteran marine biologist at the Mote Marine Laboratory in Florida, pioneered studies of shark learning back in the 1950s.

Nicknamed “The Shark Lady”, Dr Clark trained captive sharks to press targets with their snouts and ring bells for a food reward. She showed for the first time that sharks can learn and remember things.

Eugenie told me about the time she took a trained baby nurse shark as a gift for the Crown Prince of Japan who shared her fascination with fish.

“The airline gave me an extra seat for the shark. Most people didn’t know, he was such a tiny thing he was less than two feet long. But he never made a mistake,” says Eugenie.

Recently, I witnessed for myself the capacity sharks have to learn and in particular that they can learn not to attack people.

I went diving off the Pacific island of Fiji and saw my first bull sharks, notorious as one of the most aggressive shark species.

Locals from Beqa Adventure Divers have trained a population of around 100 bull sharks to approach a diver, one-by-one, and gently take a chunk of fish offered to them by hand.

The sharks have learned how to behave if they want food.

“They know us very well,” Fijian divemaster Papa told me before I jumped in the water. “That’s the good thing, they know what’s going on.”

Preparing for the dive, I wasn’t exactly sure how I would react to seeing these giant predators. But as soon as I got down beneath the waves my nerves evaporated and I saw just how graceful and calm bull sharks can be.

Male tiger shark killed as part of Western Australia cull The Western Australia government responded to a recent spate of attacks with a cull

There was no safety cage or any sort of repellent and I never felt in any kind of danger.

As well as helping to shift the sharks’ bad reputation as insatiable killers, the Fijian divers are showing that a live shark in the water is worth far more than a dead one.

In Fiji and elsewhere around the world, sharks are under immense pressure from the demand in Asia for shark fin soup.

Back in Western Australia, the shark cull continues amid beachside protests.

The problem has been an abnormal high in shark attacks, with seven fatalities over the last three years compared with 20 in the last century.

The response of the Western Australia government has been to lay baited hooks offshore from popular beaches. Any great white, tiger and bull sharks that are caught and are larger than 3m long are shot and dumped at sea.

One opponent of the cull is shark attack survivor Rodney Fox. Fifty years ago he suffered a horrific attack from a great white in South Australia but since then has become a dedicated shark advocate.

“We just have to learn how to live with the sharks and not just kill them from fear,” he told me.

He thinks killing sharks deliberately is an unscientific and irrational strategy to try to reduce the attack rate.

But Western Australia’s government says the cull is in place to protect swimmers and surfers. Premier Colin Barnett has said: “The West Australian government is absolutely confident that the policy in place is the right policy and we intend to continue it.”

An open letter from more than 100 scientists has urged Mr Barnett to reconsider the cull, highlighting its environmental impact and the low chance of catching the individual sharks responsible for the attacks.

“Every scientist that I’ve heard of and talked to all agree that it’s not the thing to do,” says Mr Fox.

Shark cull – enough to make you weep!

The shark cull going on in Western Australia this week is enough to make you weep.  It’s reminiscent of the badger cull we are having here at the moment – an astonishingly incompetent and pointless exercise which serves only to be seen to be trying to solve a problem which is man made in the first place and won’t make a damned bit of difference anyhow.  The total disregard for the badgers and sharks is arrogant in the extreme and makes my blood boil!   What is wrong with people??? 

Just read this article and you’ll se what a staggeringly inhumane and pointless waste of life this is…

In this photo released by Sea Shepherd, a male tiger shark hangs tied up on a fishing boat off Moses Rock on the Western Australian coast, on Saturday, 22 Feb, 2014

More than 170 sharks have been caught on lines under a controversial cull policy in Western Australia.

Drum lines were set up along seven Western Australian beaches as part of a trial between January and April. Fifty of the biggest sharks were destroyed.

Authorities said the cull was necessary after six people were killed in shark attacks.

No great white sharks, to whom most of the attacks were attributed, were caught.

Australia’s state government said the cull was successfully restoring confidence among beachgoers.

It is seeking to continue the programme for three more years.

“I think the strategy’s gone very well, bearing in mind that it’s a very broad strategy, and that’s basically to protect those people that swim in those popular areas,” Western Australia Fisheries Minister Ken Baston said.

“While of course we will never know if any of the sharks caught would have harmed a person, this government will always place greatest value on human life.”

Protesters argue that a shark cull is not the answer and would only damage the sea’s delicate ecosystem.

“The policy is very unpopular, it has hardly caught any of the sharks it was destined to catch,” said Labor fisheries spokesman Dave Kelly.

“What people want is scientific research to show why the government thinks this policy makes our beaches safer.”