Entertainment

‘Hush-hush’ shark research shut down off the coast of Esperance

A US film company has had its plans to conduct shark research off the coast of Esperance knocked back following concerns about the “scientific value” of their plans, but will still be allowed to film off the coast of the popular surfing town.

Red Rock Films submitted a research exemption application to the Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development earlier this year, in order to conduct research off Salisbury Island.

The research would have informed Australian organisations about the presence of great white sharks off the WA coast. The research would have informed Australian organisations about the presence of great white sharks off the WA coast. Photo: AP

The company was attempting to fund an independent scientist on board, but the department has now confirmed it has since rejected the application because it failed to meet relevant criteria surrounding scientific research.

Esperance Ocean Safety Group spokesperson Mitchell Capelli said while it was good news the scientific application had been knocked back, it was still concerning the company would be filming off the coast of the seaside town.

“It’s been very hush-hush, and everything has been done under the table,” he told the Esperance Express.

“The biggest issue is that the film crew have broken our trust as a community by going behind our backs and not letting anyone know. 

“To my knowledge, they can still go out there and film.

“The community is already so sensitive to this issue without them coming in and stirring it up.”

Mr Capelli said he was most concerned about the fact that it appeared no one was policing the filming activity taking place.

“It’s not our job as a community to police it – that’s a massive issue,” he said.

According to Mr Capelli, Red Rock Films had offered him a spot on the boat but he did not plan to attend.

Red Rock Films met with the Esperance Ocean Safety and Support Group on Saturday, in an attempt to revive quashed shark filming plans, but the outcome is unclear at this stag.

The production team specialises in both science and nature videography, having produced shark related content for broadcasters including the Discovery Channel and Animal Planet.

Red Rock Films president and principle filmmaker Brian Armstrong said there had been misinformation about the intent and methods of the science, and said locals had some “unfounded” concerns.

“In this case, the scientists wanted to use a small amount of bait to lure in sharks to a cage on the bottom of the ocean and use a speargun type of device to extra a core sample of flesh and blood for DNA sampling,” he said.

“This would be part of a CSIRO study that would help determine where these sharks are from, where they are going to and how they are related to each other and the wider great white population. 

“We were also hoping to support Fisheries with some additional tagging work out there. 

“We hope to be able to move in and out with a minimal fuss and noise and, out of respect for the community, we will not be speaking publicly without first consulting Mr Capelli.

“With time, education and community consultation, we hope to be able to rectify this so work can be down out there in future years that will ultimately inform us about shark movement and assist with shark mitigation.”

Mr Armstrong said that whilst the opportunity to collect the samples had been lost this year, the production team did intend to continue with filming operations and collecting photographs and video that would identify individual sharks.

A department spokesperson confirmed that, as a stand-alone activity, filming did not require an exemption.

“Exemptions are a legal instrument under the Fish Resources Management Act 1994 to allow an activity that would otherwise be illegal, with consideration of exemption applications undertaken carefully,” the spokesperson said.

“Exemptions may be granted for a number of purposes, including research. 

“The assessment of applications for a research exemption, particularly those for protected species such as white sharks, requires very careful consideration and assessment on merit.”

The spokesperson said the primary purpose of the activity must be for undertaking research which makes a “substantive contribution”, with the expectation that a scientific publication would result from the activity.

– Esperance Express

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