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UPDATE: A large shark has been shot dead off Australia's western coast - the first under the controversial culling policy introduced to cut the number of shark attacks on surfers and swimmers. The three-metre animal, believed to be a female tiger shark, one of three species on the government's kill list, was caught on bait lines off Meelup Beach near Dunsborough, south of Perth.
A CULL of great white sharks is set to begin in Australia in response to a growing number of fatal attacks over the past three years.
The country's new conservative government approved the cull yesterday, granting Western Australia an exemption from 1999 legislation that lists the great white as an endangered species.
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Recent years have witnessed an increase in the number of great white attacks off WA. with a 35-year-old surfer killed last November the seventh fatality since 2010. Opinion varies as to why the number of attacks has risen sharply, but one theory put forward by the Ocean's Institute in Western Australia blames them on "a corresponding rise in the number of migrating whales along Australia's coast, which draws in marine scavengers".
Whatever the cause, the attacks are threatening the state's $7.8bn tourism industry with The Australian newspaper reporting that the WA government believes the deaths have "dented tourism and leisure-based businesses". Additionally, recreational diving operators said the number of people learning to dive had dropped by 90 per cent.
As a result WA's state premier, Colin Barnett, has authorised a plan to catch sharks more than three metres in length using 72 baited drums that the state government will monitor round-the-clock. Sharks under three metres will be released but those exceeding the measurement will be shot by professional hunters.
The measure has outraged conservation and environmental groups who point out that great whites are listed on the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora. The Humane Society has described the cull as "a complete disgrace" and thousands of protesters recently rallied against it on Perth's Cottesloe Beach.
A repeat demonstration is planned for 1 February and Lynn MacLaren, from Western Australia's Green Party, is considering a legal challenge to the hunt. But Australian Environment Minister Greg Hunt remains unmoved by the protests. "One does not have to agree with a policy to accept that a national interest exemption is warranted to protect against imminent threat to life, economic damage and public safety," he said.
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