Thousands protest at Manly Beach over WA shark cull

Thousands of people brandishing hand-painted posters, inflatable shark toys, shark hats and other shark-related paraphernalia braved the heat of Manly Beach  on Saturday to protest  at the  West Australian government’s shark cull.

‘‘Crooks use hooks’’ declared one sign, ‘‘Barnett can bite me’’ declared another, while in the distance a woman in a head-to-toe shark costume wandered on Manly’s packed promenade.

The colourful crowd assembled on the sand was one of a series of gatherings held across Australia, New Zealand and South Africa to protest against Western Australia’s decision to capture and shoot large sharks caught in drum lines one kilometre from the state’s  shores. The decision follows a string of fatal shark attacks in recent years.

The first shark was caught and killed on Australia Day.

Events were held in at least 10 locations across the nation, from the NSW central coast to Adelaide, Melbourne, Hobart and Cottesloe, Broome and Perth in WA. Protests were also held in New Zealand and South Africa.

The protests came hours after an under-size two-metre shark, believed to be a tiger shark, was pulled from a baited drum line off Perth’s Leighton Beach by fisheries officers.

The animal – the second to be killed under the program – was dumped further offshore.

Protest co-organiser Alice Forrest, an aquarist at Manly Sea Life Sanctuary, said the cull was not based on science. ‘‘He’s killing endangered species,’’ she said, referring to West Australian Premier Colin Barnett. ‘‘He’s making a lot of people very angry. He thinks it’s going to help with tourism. If anything, it’s giving WA a bit of a redneck reputation and making people not want to go out there.’’

Among the crowd was artist and designer Angela Van Boxtel, who said the WA government would be better off promoting greater public understanding of sharks and the low risk they actually pose to swimmers. Over the past 50 years, an average of one person per year has been killed by a shark, according to data from the Australian Shark Attack File.

‘‘I grew up in the Netherlands and was raised with this whole fear of what sharks are about. When I came here and learnt more and more I started thinking, well, this is silly,’’ she said.

‘‘If you’re not educated then you are fearful. The government should … show the real facts and educate tourists about the amazing wildlife we have.’’

Sitting on the bright blue beach towel was Edward Hunter and his family, who drove an hour and a half from western Sydney with his wife and two children to join the protest.

‘‘The oceans are a necessary thing for the human race to survive on the planet. You try and take out the apex predators in an environment and bad things happen to the rest of the environment,’’ he said.

Standing behind speakers on the promenade, Mosman High school teacher Pru Wawn said the shark cull was just one of a many examples of the government disregarding popular opinion and destroying the environment.

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