Fisherman arrested after ‘using shark tag to bait surfers with hoax alerts’

·2-min read
Shark warning sign at the entrance to Wylie Bay in Esperance, Western Australia - Marcus Whisson
Shark warning sign at the entrance to Wylie Bay in Esperance, Western Australia - Marcus Whisson

A fisherman in Australia has been charged with setting off false shark alerts after he allegedly removed a tracking tag from a great white and triggered warnings around popular surfing beaches.

The 48-year-old man is said to have accidentally caught the shark while fishing, then removed the acoustic tag that had been fitted by officials as part of a monitoring program, before releasing the dangerous animal back into the ocean.

Police found the device during a search at his property near Albany, on the southern coast of Western Australia, where alarms had been incorrectly triggered seven times during August and September.

A police spokeswoman told the ABC that the man was charged with theft, and was due to appear in Albany Magistrates Court on November 4.

Sgt Hugh Letessier told The West Australian: “It leaves an untagged white shark that we know is in waters off Albany … Also, the false alarm causes unnecessary fear to residents and people using the water.”

It is not clear why the man allegedly raised false alarms, or how indeed he caught the great white and removed the tag. When a shark is tagged, its dorsal fin is pierced through and the tracker attached.

Surfers and divers on alert after fatal attacks

Albany has two detection buoys at Ellen Cove and Frenchman Bay, popular surfing and diving locations, that alert authorities when a tagged shark is in proximity.

Three of the four most recent fatal shark attacks in Western Australian waters have occurred off the state’s southern coast, including two last year.

There has been fierce debate in Australia, particularly in Western Australia, over how to address shark attacks, with some advocating a cull rather than the catch, tag and release strategy.

Some 115 sharks, including great whites exceeding four metres in length, have been tagged by the Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development since the programme started.

The acoustic tags emit their own unique low-frequency sounds that are picked up by the receivers.

Across Western Australia there are 34 acoustic receivers that send alerts when a tagged shark is in the area which are then communicated to the public via an app called SharkSmart.

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