Why duck shooting season still isn’t on the endangered list

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The rising influence of the gun lobby in Australia may have extended the prospects of duck season continuing for the foreseeable future.

Siobhan O’Sullivan, UNSW

On March 17, the 2018 duck shooting session will open in Victoria. The first shots were fired in Tasmania and South Australia last weekend. The Northern Territory allows certain types of bird shooting later in the year. Duck shooting is prohibited in the rest of Australia.

States and territories have jurisdiction over duck shooting. In Victoria a new raft of regulations has been introduced to try to limit the damage to the state’s wetlands. One change of note in Victoria is that this year the Blue-winged Shoveler cannot be legally shot due to the low numbers of the species.

The Blue-winged Shoveler has been added to the protected list in Victoria this year for the first time.
Flickr CC

Other new regulations require that hunters recover the birds they shoot. This rule serves to formalise what Victoria’s Game Management Authority (GMA) refers to as “standard practice for responsible hunters”.

However, in most other respects Victoria’s 2018 duck season will look almost indistinguishable from previous years. It will still be three months long, with a “bag limit” of ten birds per person per day.

In Tasmania, authorities postponed the shooting start time in 2018, among a raft of other minor amendments.

In fact, the various states regularly make minor changes to the rules. Hundreds of minor adjustments have been made over many decades. While these changes may seem significant, from a broad socio-legal perspective they do little to challenge the status quo.

Playing by the rules?

A GMA-commissioned review by Pegasus Economics last year documented regular instances of duck shooters behaving irresponsibly. The independent report concluded that “non-compliance with hunting laws is commonplace and widespread”.

The ABC has aired allegations that unsustainable hunting is on the rise and that regulators feel unable to enforce the rules. It revealed pits containing around 200 unrecovered shot birds from the 2017 opening weekend at Victoria’s Koorangie State Game Reserve alone.

Activists interviewed in the report claimed to have brought out 1,500 dead birds from the wetlands. Of these, 296 were protected species, including 68 endangered Freckled Ducks.

In my book Animals, Equality and Democracy, I argue that there is a generalised tendency for animal welfare laws to be more effective for socially visible animals. Laws that govern the welfare of zoo animals have improved much more quickly, for example, than those that cover animal welfare in factory farms.

Duck shooting is not a highly visible cause of animal harm. Relatively few people live near the wetlands where shooting takes place. But animal advocates have been effective in making it visible, despite laws that limit their ability to do so.

Elaborate events such as Duck Lake, in which animal activists performed their own version of Swan Lake on the opening morning of the 2016 Tasmanian duck shooting season, help generate media attention.

In 2017, long-time Victorian anti-duck-shooting campaigner Laurie Levy from the Coalition Against Duck Shooting was once again fined for entering the water to help an injured bird. While such activities go some way in generating public visibility, they have thus far not been able to stop duck shooting outright.

The gun lobby’s growing influence in Australia

At present, only 28,000 Australians are registered duck shooters. According to 2012 Australia Institute analysis, 87% of Australians support a ban on duck shooting. There is mounting evidence that endangered and non-game species are also being killed.

Before being re-elected at this month’s Tasmanian state election, the Liberal state government promised to soften the state’s gun laws. It also committed to “always protect the right of Tasmanians to safely and responsibly go recreational shooting”.

In Victoria the picture is a little more complex. A 2016 report asserted that most members of the state’s Labor Party oppose duck shooting and that the Andrews government’s continued support may cost it votes.

Indeed, despite the pressure from within the ALP, the daily bag limit for the 2018 season is ten, compared with just four in 2016.

‘Industry capture’ reinvigorating duck shooting

The Pegasus Economics review identifies “industry capture” as a significant factor in the continuation of duck hunting. Industry capture refers to a situation in which industry has a disproportionately close and influential relationship with policymakers compared with other relevant stakeholders.

The decision by the Tasmanian Liberal Party to share details of its proposed softened gun laws with shooters and farmers, and not other interested parties or the public, suggests industry capture is a genuine factor in Tasmania too.

The ConversationWith widespread community opposition ranged against the entrenched interests of the shooters themselves, state governments will need to make some big calls on the future of duck hunting, rather than the current tinkering around the edges.

Siobhan O’Sullivan, Senior Lecturer in Social Policy, UNSW

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.


Tackling the kraken: unique dolphin strategy delivers dangerous octopus for dinner

Kate Sprogis, Murdoch University and David Hocking, Monash University

For wild predators, catching, killing and eating prey can sometimes be a risky business. We can see this on the African savannah, where a well-aimed kick from a zebra can spell trouble for a hungry lion. The Conversation

But the same can also be true in the ocean, where some prey types are far from helpless seafood.

In particular, a large octopus can be a risky prey for predators to tackle. This is especially so for marine mammals, such as dolphins, which don’t have hands to help them keep control of this clingy, eight-armed prey.

Our new research highlights the development of complex behaviours that allow dolphins to eat octopus, thereby improving their ability to survive and reproduce.

It’s another example of a strategy that helps to drive the success of dolphins in coastal environments around Australia.

Dangers of eating octopus

In 2015 an adult male bottlenose dolphin was found dead on a beach in Bunbury, southwest Australia.

Wild dolphins face many threats in today’s oceans, yet it was a gruesome surprise when we found octopus arms hanging out of the stranded dolphin’s mouth.

An examination by a veterinary pathologist revealed that this otherwise healthy dolphin, known as “Gilligan” to the research team, had suffocated to death while trying to eat an octopus.

As strange as it sounds, this is not the first recorded case of a dolphin choking to death on an octopus in southwest Australia. There have also been several observations from around the world of dolphins facing difficulties while tackling octopus.

So what is it that makes octopus so hard to handle?

Octopus can grow quite large, with some species bearing muscular arms reaching more than a metre long. Each of their eight arms have powerful suction cup-like suckers on the underside, which are normally used to help octopus capture their own prey while crawling along the seafloor.

But when attacked by a dolphin, these suckered arms also help octopuses to defend themselves by latching onto the dolphin’s smooth skin.

When this happens, dolphins have been observed leaping rapidly out of the water before crashing onto the surface in an attempt to dislodge an octopus.

The real problem is that these arms stay active even after an octopus has been mortally wounded. So even while a dead octopus is being processed, the suckers may still be able to find something to stick onto.

Australia’s octopus-eating dolphins

But we’ve observed some wild bottlenose dolphins that have found a way to handle and feed on octopus, with the findings published today in Marine Mammal Science.

These observations were made between March 2007 and August 2013, while we were conducting boat surveys to study the dolphins living off Bunbury’s coast.

Over this time, we observed 45 octopus handling events by dolphins. Most were performed by adults (male and female), although we also saw four juveniles and two calves performing this behaviour.

Bottlenose dolphin tossing octopus off Bunbury, Western Australia.

During these events, dolphins were observed shaking and tossing octopus around at the water’s surface. In some instances, the prey was gripped in the teeth before being slapped down onto the water.

This likely helped both to kill the octopus and to tear it into smaller, more digestible pieces. In other instances, the octopus was tossed across the surface of the water before being recaptured and tossed again.

By tossing the octopus across the water, dolphins avoid letting the octopus latch onto their bodies. This behaviour also likely assists in wearing out the octopus’s reflex responses that make the suckered arms so dangerous to swallow.

Once the prey has been battered and tenderised enough that the arms are unresponsive, it is then safe for the dolphins to proceed with swallowing their catch.

It’s quite a process the dolphins have developed to deal with the octopus. They have a short, fused neck which means they have to arch their whole body to toss their prey out of the water.

Given the danger, why eat octopus at all?

When we looked closely at when these observations were made, we found that the dolphins were targeting octopus more frequently over winter and spring. These cooler times of year are also the octopus’s breeding time.

Octopus are semelparous, which means they slowly become weaker and then die in the weeks after they finish breeding. It is possible that as they become weaker, they also become easier to catch, making them a relatively easy meal for any opportunistic dolphins swimming by.

At the end of the day, octopus are just part of the broad diet eaten by wild bottlenose dolphins.

Dolphins have also been found to use several other highly specialised feeding behaviours, including processing cuttlefish by popping out the cuttlebone, stranding themselves while hunting fish, and using a marine sponge as a tool to probe the seafloor while searching for buried fish hiding in the sediment.

Octopus shaking and tossing is yet another example that illustrates how intelligent and adaptable these charismatic marine predators are.

Kate Sprogis, Research associate, Murdoch University and David Hocking, Research associate, Monash University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Traditional hunting gets headlines, but is not the big threat to turtles and dugongs

Helene Marsh, James Cook University and Mark Hamann, James Cook University

Recent calls for a ban on legal traditional hunting of dugongs and marine turtles imply that hunting is the main threat to these iconic species in Australia. The science indicates otherwise.

While more is being done to address traditional hunting than any of the other impacts, the main threats to their survival often pass unnoticed.

The real threat to sea turtles

The draft Recovery Plan for Marine Turtles in Australia evaluated 20 threats to the 22 populations of Australia’s six species of marine turtle. Climate change and marine debris, particularly “ghost nets” lost or abandoned by fishers, are the greatest risks for most stocks.

If you’re a marine turtle, a likely cause of death is getting tangled in a discarded fishing net.
AAP Image/Department of Heritage and Government

Indigenous use is considered to be a high risk for three populations: Gulf of Carpentaria green turtles, Arafura Sea flatback turtles and north-eastern Arnhemland hawksbill turtles.

However, in each of these cases it is the egg harvest, not hunting, that causes concern. International commercial fishing is also a high risk for the hawksbill turtle, whose future remains uncertain. Traditional hunting of marine turtles in Australia is limited to green turtles.

Is hunting a threat?

The Torres Strait supports the largest dugong population in the world and a globally significant population of green turtles. Archaeological research shows that Torres Strait Islanders have been harvesting these species for more than 4,000 years and the dugong harvest has been substantial for several centuries.

Our research shows that the Torres Strait dugong population has been stable since we started monitoring 30 years ago and that the harvest of both species is sustainable.

The situation for dugongs is very different in the waters of the Great Barrier Reef south of Cooktown. The Great Barrier Reef Outlook Report classifies the condition of the dugong population in this region as poor.

Modelling indicates that the southern Great Barrier Reef stock of the green turtle, which live and breed south of Cooktown, is increasing.

Nonetheless, both green turtles and dugongs died in record numbers in the year after the extreme floods and cyclones of the summer of 2010-11. Dugongs stopped breeding in the Great Barrier Reef region south of Cooktown.

Thankfully, our current aerial survey indicates that dugong calving has resumed as inshore seagrass habitats recover. There is no evidence that the 2011 losses significantly affected green turtle numbers.

Working together

Traditional owners are the first managers of our coastal waters, with cultural practices extending back thousands of years. They have the most to lose from any loss of turtles and dugongs. It is therefore in their best interests, and the government’s best interest, to work in partnership to protect and sustainably manage these species.

Longstanding tensions between traditional owners and tourist operators are behind much of the opposition to traditional hunting in the Cairns area. Some of these tensions have been relieved by the Gunggandji Traditional Use of Marine Resources Agreement signed in June 2016.

Under this agreement, the traditional owners decided to cease hunting turtles and dugongs in the waters surrounding Green Island, Michaelmas Cay and Fitzroy Island.

The Gunggandji agreement is the seventh to be signed between the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority and traditional owners. In addition, there are two Indigenous land use agreements that address hunting issues in the Great Barrier Reef.

In the Torres Strait, dugong and turtle hunting is managed through 14 (soon to be 15) management plans. There are similar agreements with traditional owners and management agencies in other regions in northern Australia.

Indigenous rangers are crucial to implementing all these agreements in collaboration with management agencies and research institutions. Rangers deliver the practical, on-the-ground arrangements to conserve these species in their Sea Country.

The Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority has implemented an Indigenous Compliance Program that authorises trained Indigenous rangers to respond to suspicious and illegal activities that they encounter as part of their work.

Indigenous rangers and community members from Badu Island in Torres Strait help JCU scientists fit a dugong with a satellite tracking device.
Takahiro Shimada/James Cook University

Indigenous rangers also remove marine debris from remote beaches. The community-based organisation GhostNets Australia has worked with 31 coastal Indigenous communities to protect over 3,000km of northern Australia’s saltwater country from ghost nets. These community projects have been instrumental in rescuing turtles, clearing ghost nets off beaches and identifying key areas to aid management agencies to better understand the impact.

Traditional owners from the Torres Strait and the northern Great Barrier Reef also play a valuable role in intervention works at Raine Island, one of the world’s most significant green turtle rookeries. This includes rescuing stranded turtles, using fences to stop turtles from falling over cliffs, and altering beach profiles.

What about welfare?

Traditional hunting raises animal welfare issues. The turtle and dugong management plans developed by the Torres Strait communities explicitly address animal welfare. The Torres Strait Regional Authority has been working with a marine mammal veterinarian and traditional owners to develop additional methods of killing turtles humanely.

Indigenous hunters who breach state and territory animal welfare laws can be prosecuted. But more widespread animal welfare problems, not associated with hunting, are largely hidden and ignored. The Queensland Strand Net Program reported that 879 turtles died of their wounds from vessel strike between 2000 and 2011.

An immature female loggerhead turtle severely injured by a boat strike near Gladstone. This turtle was determined to be unrecoverable and was euthanased by a local veterinarian in May 2016.
Takahiro Shimada/James Cook University

Other serious animal welfare issues are associated with animals drowning in nets and being caught in and ingesting marine debris. In addition, the potential impact of emerging threats like underwater noise pollution and water quality remain as substantial knowledge gaps. These matters tend not to make the headlines.

Australian waters are home to some of the world’s largest populations of marine turtles and dugongs. A comprehensive and balanced approach to their conservation and management is required to enable our grandchildren and their children to enjoy these amazing animals.

The Conversation

Helene Marsh, Dean, Graduate Research, James Cook University and Mark Hamann, Senior Lecturer in Environmental Science (marine focus), James Cook University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.


Illegal Wildlife Trade


Big game: banning trophy hunting could do more harm than good

Corey Bradshaw and Enrico Di Minin, University of Helsinki

Furious debate around the role of trophy hunting in conservation raged in 2015, after the killing of Cecil the lion in Zimbabwe, and a critically endangered black rhino in Namibia. Together, these two incidents triggered vocal appeals to ban trophy hunting throughout Africa.

While to most people (including us) this might seem like an abhorrent way to generate money, we argue in a new paper that trophy hunting, if done sustainably, can be an important tool in the conservationist’s toolbox.

Widespread condemnation

In July 2015 American dentist Walter James Palmer shot and killed a male lion called Cecil with a hunting bow and arrow, sparking a storm of outrage. Cecil was a favourite of tourists visiting Hwange National Park in Zimbabwe.

Allegations that aspects of the hunt were done illegally added considerable fuel to the flames, although Palmer was not charged by the Zimbabwean government.

Likewise in May 2015, a Texan legally shot a critically endangered black rhino in Namibia, which also generated considerable online ire. The backlash ensued even though the male rhino was considered “surplus” to Namibia’s black rhino populations, and the US$350,000 generated from the managed hunt was to be re-invested in conservation. The US government has endorsed hunting of black rhinos by allowing a limited import of rhino trophies.

These highly politicised events are but a small component of a large industry in Africa worth more than US$215 million per year, “selling” iconic animals to (mainly foreign) hunters as a means of generating otherwise scarce funds.

It’s mostly about the money

Conserving biodiversity can be expensive. Generating money has become a central preoccupation of many environmental charities, conservation-minded individuals, government agencies and scientists. Making money for conservation in Africa is even more challenging, so we argue that trophy hunting should and could fill some of that gap.

The question of whether trophy hunting is ethically justifiable is a separate issue. While animal suffering can be minimised with good practice, the moral case for or against trophy hunting is a choice we must make as a society.

Beyond the ethical or moral issues, there are still many concerns about trophy hunting that currently limit its use as a conservation tool. One of the biggest problems is that the revenue it generates often goes to the private sector rather than distributing benefits to conservation and local communities.

It can also be difficult (but not impossible) to determine just how many animals can be sustainably killed. Some forms of trophy hunting have debatable value for conservation. For instance, “canned lion hunting”, where lions are bred and raised in captivity only to be shot in specially made enclosures, provides no incentive for conserving lions in the wild.

At the same time, opposing sustainable trophy hunting could end up being worse for species conservation. While revenue from wildlife sightseeing is good, in most cases effective conservation requires much more. Without more funding creating incentives to conserve wildlife, many natural habitats will be converted to farmland, which is generally much worse for native wildlife and the entire ecosystem.

Trophy hunting can also have a smaller carbon and infrastructure footprint than ecotourism because it requires fewer paying customers for the same amount of revenue. Trophy hunting can even generate higher revenue than the most successful ecotourism enterprises.

Hunting can lead to larger wildlife populations because they are specifically managed to keep numbers higher. Larger animal populations are more resilient to extinction, and hunters have an interest in their protection. This contrasts with ecotourism where the presence of only a few individual animals is sufficient to ensure that the expectations of many paying tourists are met.

Making trophy hunting work

To address some of the concerns about trophy hunting and to enhance its contribution to biodiversity conservation and the benefit to local people, we propose twelve minimum standards:

  • Mandatory levies should be imposed on trophy hunting operators by governments. These can be invested directly into trust funds for conservation and management.

  • Trophies from areas that help conservation and respect animal welfare should be certified and labelled.

  • Populations must be analysed to ensure that killing wildlife does not cause their numbers to fall.

  • Post-hunt sales of any part of the animals should be banned to minimise illegal wildlife trade.

  • Priority should be given to trophy hunting enterprises run (or leased) by local communities.

  • Trusts should be created to share benefits with local communities and promote long-term economic sustainability.

  • Mandatory scientific sampling of animals killed, including tissue for genetic analyses and teeth for age analysis, should be enforced.

  • Mandatory five-year (or more frequent) reviews of all animals hunted and detailed conservation plans should be submitted to government legislators before permits are extended.

  • There should be full public disclosure of all data collected.

  • Independent government observers should be placed randomly and without forewarning on trophy hunts as they happen.

  • Trophies must be confiscated and permits revoked when illegal practices are discovered.

  • Backup professional shooters and trackers should be present for all hunts to minimise welfare concerns.

Can developing nations implement these strategies?

Yes, they can, but only if the funding model is transparent and includes direct support from national governments, as well as mechanisms for oversight and regulation as we have outlined. Some form of regional and international cooperation might also be necessary to minimise the chance of corruption.

Without greater oversight, better governance, and management based on scientific evidence, we fear that the furore over trophy hunting will continue – to the detriment of biodiversity, hunters and local communities. Adopting our ideas could help avoid this.

The Conversation

Corey Bradshaw, Sir Hubert Wilkins Chair of Climate Change and Enrico Di Minin, Researcher in Conservation Science, University of Helsinki

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.


Trophy Hunting


Hunting in South Africa