How smart are the SMART Drumlines?
As part of the New South Wales Governments $16M Shark Management Strategy, SMART drumlines are being trialled along Sydney’s Northern Beaches.
SMART (Shark-Management-Alert-in-Real-Time) drumlines consist of two buoys, an anchor and a trace and baited hook which is linked to a satellite linked communications unit. The intention of the device is not to harm sharks, but "maximise the survival of sharks and other marine animals caught”.
Once a shark takes the bait, the communications unit on the device is triggered, alerting Department of Primary Industries (DPI) scientists and contractors so they can immediately “manage the animal”.
The SMART drumlines sit about 500 metres offshore, away from swimmers and surfers. Upon catching a shark on the contraption, sharks are tagged and released 1km offshore. The drumlines are deployed daily, and do not sit in the water overnight.
From February 10, 2019, the SMART Drumlines will be trialled for three months. The beaches include Palm, Whale, Avalon, Bilgola, Newport, Dee Why, Curl Curl, Freshwater, Queenscliff and Manly.
SMART drumlines have been utilised in regional locations around NSW, such as Ballina, Coffs Harbour, Kiama and Tuncurry. Minister for Primary Industries Niall Blair said in order for the trials to continue, the technology needs to be utilised at “some of our busiest beaches”.
While tagging sharks can be a useful way to collect data and alerting the broader community of a shark potentially posing a threat to beachgoers, the SMART drumlines are controversial at best.
The trial is being branded as a “non-lethal bather protection tool”, however, the technology does not completely ensure the survival of sharks caught.
In Ballina-Lennox Head and Evans Head, the SMART drumline trial has been operating since December 2016 and the data available on the Department of Primary Industries website goes up to December 2018. The drumlines at Ballina-Lennox Head and Evans Head were one of five areas which were used for the initial trial.
Of the 116 sharks caught on the drumline at Ballina-Lennox Head, one shark was dead before release. Another shark was found dead after just days after it had been tagged and released at Evans Head.
The drumline is for three targeted species of sharks, White, Tiger and Bull, but during the two year period, 62 “non-targeted” species were caught on the SMART drumline at Ballina-Lennox Head and 29 at Evans Head. A Common Blacktip Shark and a Black Marlin were found dead on the line.
After trailing the SMART Drumlines in regional towns along the NSW coast, research was conducted to find out what people thought of this new strategy.
The study found most participants perceived the SMART Drumlines to be more efficient than traditional nets “because they catch more target sharks, release sharks and have less bycatch”, while many participants had concerns of the drumlines attracting sharks.
As for the app and Twitter account which alerts the public when a tagged shark is nearby, the study found while lifeguards value the app, surfers do not.
While the fatalities seem low overall, Clear Tides founder Jessica Brading is concerned for not just the sharks, but all other animals that could potentially be caught on the SMART drumlines. The new technology may be a step up from “shark nets”, which are useless, but only time and research will tell if the SMART drumlines will do more harm than good, especially once they are installed on some of Australia’s busiest beaches. It is also worth noting, the NSW Government has no intention of removing the shark nets along the NSW coast.
“Drumlines are not the answer to reducing shark incidents in Australia,” says Jessica. “To me, placing a large baited hook less than 500m from swimmers, divers and surfers is a disaster waiting to happen and it’s important to note these hooks can do serious damage to sharks and other bycatch such as dolphins, turtles and rays.
“The animals are stuck, helpless and often inflict more damage on themselves as they try and escape. This is not the answer.
“Many of our busiest beaches have not had a fatal attack in many many years - why? The answer is simple - increased education, increased response time or medical teams and improved knowledge of ‘at risk times’ [when sharks are most likely to swim close to shore].
“Placing a baited hook in the water is dangerous for us and the sharks. It isn’t the answer.”