Australia Considers Text Alerts For Shark Attacks Amid Controversial Plans

Australian authorities are considering a plan that would use text messages to alert beachgoers in the event of a shark attack along the coast, hoping the move would extend the reach of their safety efforts after last year saw an unusually high number of such incidents.

The plan is being considered by Life Saving Victoria, according to the Huffington Post. Authorities hope that it would allow their reach to extend into unpatrolled stretches of coastline, while also assisting lifeguards in disseminating information at more crowded beaches. The SMS service would be similar to those employed by emergency services, according to Nine News, and would send shark attack alerts directly to beachgoers’ phones.

The program is being considered amid an unusually active year for shark attacks in Australia. So far, 22 unprovoked attacks have occurred along the nation’s coastline, prompting numerous calls for action and a wide range of responses from authorities. Earlier this year, the government of New South Wales made headlines when it announced that it would fund a program, which uses aerial drones in an effort to spot dangerous sharks near populated coastlines. Their program is multifaceted, and also involves the use of so-called “smart” drum lines, which can be actively monitored. As the Inquisitr has previously reported, traditional drum lines are highly controversial, as they have the potential to capture and kill any animal unfortunate enough to take their bait.

The drone program will reportedly be used between Byron Bay and Evans Head, and will focus on known shark aggregation sites. The drum lines, meanwhile, have already been placed off Ballina, engendering a strong reaction from locals. As the ABC notes, conservationists have argued that the drum lines operate indiscriminately and have campaigned for their removal. Some other locals, meanwhile, are upset that the drum lines will only remain in place temporarily, and will not be deployed until numerous sharks are spotted.

According to Don Munro, president of the Le-Ba (Lismore-Ballina) Boardriders, the drum lines don’t go far enough to protect surfers. He asserted that as many as 20 sharks were recently spotted between Byron Bay and Evans Head, yet he alleges that the government of New South Wales will only redeploy the drum lines after another shark attack takes place.

Drum lines aren’t the only shark management strategy that has proven controversial in Australia. Earlier this year, a number of residents near Ballina advocated for a shark cull in the wake of several deadly attacks. The same strategy has been suggested in the past, leading to widespread controversy and, at times, international condemnation. Last December, controversy erupted surrounding an early warning system employed in Western Australia when the state government attempted to use it to preemptively target a white shark that had shown no signs of aggression towards beachgoers. The shark eventually escaped, though not before researchers threatened to withhold tracking data from officials.

In addition to the text messaging system, several other technology-based shark management tools have been proposed or employed in the region. A company called Shark Shield manufactures and sells a device for swimmers and surfers that wards away the predators using an electric field, though it is not suitable for all beachgoers. A recently released NSW SharkSmart app, meanwhile, allows Australian swimmers to assess the potential for a shark incident before they enter the water.

[Photo by Ryan Pierse/Getty Images]