Footage of five large rays which became tangled in shark nets in Australia has led to renewed debate about methods for protecting the nation’s beaches.
Just days after a parliamentary inquiry said shark nets were unsafe for marine life and should be scrapped, Sea Shepherd, the marine conservation group, released footage of rays caught in a net near Ballina, a town in eastern Australia where there has been a spate of recent attacks and sightings.
"To see the animals still alive and struggling to get out of the nets was really hard," Leigha Aitken, a diver and Sea Shepherd crew member, told The Northern Star newspaper.
"It’s horrible. With the rays it’s all through their wings, through their tails, all around their neck.”
The footage follows fresh debate about how to protect Australia’s beaches without unnecessarily harming marine life.
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An inquiry this week said states which use shark nets, designed to prevent sharks from entering areas where humans swim, should phase them out in favour of alternatives such as sonar technology and drones.
Proposed solutions include sonar buoys which can identify different marine species and alert life guards via smartphone when a shark is in the area.
Other proposals include “shield” devices which can attach to surfboards or diving equipment and transmit electric signals to deter sharks.
Authorities have already begun deploying drones to detect and trail sharks at popular beaches. But there is still strong support for traditional nets.
The parliamentary inquiry’s dissenting MPs said nets in the states of New South Wales and Queensland had improved safety, with just one death at 85 or so protected beaches in the past 55 years.
David Wright, the mayor of Ballina, which has had a surge in shark attacks and sightings, said he supported the nets as a deterrent.
"The nets in my belief are not there to catch sharks and they are there to deter sharks if possible," he told The Northern Star. "I’ve seen stacks of [government] footage that shows sharks will swim along the nets and then go away because they see it as a barrier."
Mark Furner, a Queensland state minister, said the government intended to keep the nets. “It has undoubtedly saved lives,” he told The Courier Mail.