Dolphins, dugongs and turtles caught in 'wildlife death traps' near popular beaches

There are renewed calls for Queensland to abandon its shark netting program after new data revealed most animals caught were non-target species.

Dolphins, dugongs and manta rays were among the 722 sea creatures killed by the Queensland government’s controversial shark mitigation program in 2023.

Around 56 per cent of the creatures snared in nets or hooked on drum lines were non-target species, according to data released by the state’s fisheries department (DAF). That’s a small jump from 52 per cent in 2022, after 55 per cent in 2021 and 53 in 2020.

Humane Society International has slammed the government’s methods to kill sharks saying they “don’t discriminate”, with its marine biologist Lawrence Chlebeck calling the nets “wildlife death traps”.

“These figures tell a story of a depressing disregard for our precious marine wildlife. How can we continue to let dugongs, dolphins and turtles suffer and die each year off Queensland beaches, and even in the Great Barrier Reef?” he said.

Left - An aerial shot of surfers in shallow water. Right - a boat on the Sunshine Coast with blood trailing from it.
Queensland authorities maintain its shark mitigation program (right) reduces shark bites. Source: Getty/Envoy Foundation

In a statement provided to Yahoo News, DAF described its level of bycatch as both "comparable to previous years" and "within the range of normal year-to-year variability".

It said measures used to limit the catching of non-target species include the use of electronic warning devices to deter cetaceans like whales, bait choices that aren't favoured by turtles and dolphins, and "regular" checking of drum lines.

"In an effort to further reduce by-catch, the Department is also conducting a comparative trial of circle hooks and J-hooks to assess the effect on catches of target sharks, non-target sharks and other marine animals," s spokesperson added.

What species were caught in the shark nets?

Humane Society International said while 30 per cent of non-target species were released alive, their survival could not be guaranteed as many were likely exhausted and stressed. The list of creatures caught by the government program included:

  • 38 endangered sea turtles

  • 12 dolphins

  • 11 humpback whales

  • 2 dugongs

Although 82 of the animals caught were protected species, the Queensland government’s shark net program is exempt from federal environment laws.

Only Queensland and NSW continue to use shark nets and drum lines to catch sharks — in Western Australia protesters succeeded in forcing the government to stop using them. Since then it has taken measures like banning shark fishing at city beaches to reduce the prevalence of species that can harm humans close to shore.

Chlebeck warned the drum line and net program could actually be attracting more sharks close to shore because non-target species can act as bait.

His comments align with conservationist group Envoy Foundation which sharply criticised the Queensland government for bloodying waters when they stab sharks to death. Footage collected by its founder Andre Borell showed a targeted tiger shark being repeatedly stabbed in the head, and a non-target manta ray being removed from nets close to shore.

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