Groundbreaking research highlights little support for shark culling

9 April 2014

Dr Christopher Neff
Dr Christopher Neff has conducted the first ever postdoctoral research into public policy around shark attacks.

In the wake of yet another fatal shark bite in Australia, groundbreaking new research released today by the SEA LIFE Conservation Fund has found little support for the Government on the hotly debated issue of culling sharks who have been responsible for causing injuries or death to swimmers.

The survey of 583 aquarium visitors asked participants how they thought the Government should respond to shark bites and found that despite the public's fears, 87 per cent favoured non-lethal responses with 18 per cent responding that the shark should be "left alone" and 69 per cent supporting public education as the best method for preventing shark bites.

Only 4 per cent of those surveyed supported the hunting of sharks, while nine per cent supported more shark nets as a preventative measure.

Another key finding was that the least amount of "blame" for shark bites was directed at the Government with just 2-4 per cent. Respondents' blame toward the shark also ranked low with only 6-8 per cent. Those indicated as most responsible were either the swimmer (38-44 per cent) or simply "no one" (33 - 40 per cent).

Conducted by University of Sydney Lecturer Dr Christopher Neff and funded by the SEA LIFE Conservation Fund, the survey is the first research of its kind. Dr Neff stated, "These responses show that there is little support for government measures that kill sharks and that the public does not blame governments when these tragedies occur."

The new data also supports the analysis that the 'aquarium experience' is a critical piece of public education and conservation. The majority of those surveyed indicated that they came to the aquarium for 'fun' (79 per cent) without a 'green' agenda and according to the survey, the impact of viewing the aquarium sharks significantly reduced their levels of fear towards sharks.

This research comes as the national debate on shark culling policies in Western Australia has also raised questions about the shark culling policies in place in Queensland and New South Wales.

"The Australian public is ready for some new options" said Claudette Rechtorik, Director of the SEA LIFE Conservation Fund, an independent, non-profit organisation dedicated to conserving and protecting Australia's marine environment.

She added, "The findings from this data are consistent with what we hear every day. After 77 years of shark culling in New South Wales it is time to consider something else. We feel strongly about Shark Mission and believe the research is important for policymakers to consider given that it suggests that the Government should respond to shark bites with greater public education and non-lethal shark culling measures."

The project used 10 iPads to survey SEA LIFE Sydney Aquarium visitors inside the Shark Valley exhibit - an immersive experience offering 360 degree views of some of the world's biggest sharks on display as part of Shark Mission. Five iPads were placed on each side of the Shark Valley exhibit with special survey software (called Quick Tap Survey) and visitors were asked to answer the survey questions when they entered and exited the exhibit to register their perceptions of sharks after witnessing different science and conservation based messages.

The project is entitled Taking the Bite Out of Jaws: Rethinking Public Education about Sharks and is also funded by the Save Our Seas Foundation. It was conducted in November 2013 following the succession of fatal shark bites in Western Australia in November and is being incorporated into the curriculum of the various SEA LIFE aquariums around Australia so visitors can learn more about the research.

Media enquiries: Kate Mayor, 02 9351 2208, 0434 561 056,

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