9 Feb 2023

Unease over New Caledonia council's shark cull

10:56 am on 9 February 2023

Recent shark culling in New Caledonia is proving to be a controversial move in the French territory.

Three four-metre-long tiger sharks have been killed by local authorities after two recent attacks including one where a 49-year-old woman was mauled by a bull shark on one of Noumea's most popular swimming beaches.

Noumea beach closed until further notice.

Photo: Facebook

However, local wildlife conservation advocates have fought to protect the sharks.

The head of WWF New Caledonia, Marc Oremus, said the measures used by the Noumea council lack direction and transparency.

"The information is not really shared in a fluid manner so it hard to say how many sharks they have killed over the years but there doesn't seem to be a defined strategy. This is why it all seems to be inefficient, useless and counter productive."

After the two recent shark attacks which occurred within a week of each other, local authorities closed all beaches in the capital until further notice.

The Noumea council said it has have ordered another round of shark culling.

Joint CEO of the Noumea Council Philippe Jusiak said they will only kill bull sharks of two metres or more, and tiger sharks of four metres or more, in the area of the attack.

"There is no number, it is completely random, it either bites or it doesn't. We restrict ourselves on the number of days after the attack because we know that the animals move."

He also said the campaign includes other methods to reduce the likelihood of a shark attack and making sure people know when not to enter the water.

"There are a lot of prevention campaigns that have been led by the southern region and the council of Noumea.

"This incorporates posters, media campaigns and videos. We also have a reduction of the sources of attraction such as fishing waste and food. The plan as a whole is not only about reduction in numbers."

Shark culling in New Caledonia in 2019 following the attack on a boy.

Photo: Facebook

As well as wildlife conservationists the shark culling does not sit well with some indigenous Kanaks.

On Lifou island for example, there remains a strong sense of spiritual ancestry with sharks.

Although many people spearfish on the island the fisherman say they never experienced any attacks.

The Chief of the village of Drehu, Sineiko Wathe, told la premiere they do not hunt sharks and they respect that the ocean is their domain.

"For me the shark is like a spirit. The shark is our grandfather, its our ancestor the fisherman of here they never hunt sharks when I go fishing I go and when I see there is a regrouping of sharks I change spots and go somewhere else."

One woman at the closed beach of Anse Vata told La Premiere she doesn't think culling sharks is the right direction.

"You do need to respect that animal, after all he is in his environment. So for me to kill them is maybe not the solution and there is probably other things to do to deal with the issue."

Oremus said the shark debate is one that has been going on for years in New Caledonia.

Closing a few beaches and killing a few sharks will not solve anything because it is a huge ocean, he said.

Oremus said it would be more useful to keep promoting awareness about safety in the water and to educate people about sharks.