Jaws vs Sharkie

A shark cull teaches a class about the power of one.

Malin Frick

To believe in yourself and know that you as an individual can make a difference … it is important to learn this at a young age. As a learning and support teacher at an inner-Sydney school I am determined to teach my students this lesson; I know it will make them feel good about themselves.

It is easy for young ones to become overwhelmed and sad when they are swamped daily by news about destruction, habitat loss and threats to endangered species.

Many children naturally have a positive relationship with animals; they may have had a favourite teddy, a favourite animal cartoon character or a beloved family pet, so they want to protect wild animals and their habitats. I thought I would use this to teach them. My students know that their “Miss Marlin”, as they call me, loves the oceans and its wildlife, so I used my interests to capture their interest.

The shark cull (a state government policy of capturing and killing large sharks by the use of drumlines — floating traps with large baited hooks) in Western Australia this year received a great deal of media attention. Many people — including celebrities such as Ricky Gervais and Jane Goodall — spoke up against this inhumane killing of endangered species.

The cull, which cost the Western Australian Government $1.3 million, caused the death of 68 sharks and left many more injured and left to die.

Last month it was decided that this shark cull will not continue next year but at about the same time the shark nets were put back along NSW beaches.

I felt that the truth about shark nets was something that I really wanted to share with my students since most people are not aware that sharks can swim, over, under and around the shark nets and that more than 16,000 marine animals such as whales, dolphins and turtles have been killed by the nets — many of these animals are listed as endangered species.

My students watched educational film clips about sharks and learned how important they are for the ocean’s ecosystem. I wanted the students to relate to sharks, feel connected to them and understand the importance of them as an apex predator in our oceans.

We discussed how sharks were portrayed in the media and what we could do to make others understand what magnificent and beautiful creatures they are.

We carried out research on shark nets and how meaningless they actually are in protecting humans from sharks. The students also learnt that the nets are only 150 metres long and we looked at maps to see how small the nets are in comparison to the full length of the beaches. The students all agreed — the nets are no good!

So the next step in our shark education program was to practise persuasive writing and formal letter-writing. All the students wrote letters to Premier Mike Baird who, after an escape from an attacking shark while he was surfing, spoke out in favour of nets.

Each of the children wrote and asked him to think again about his support for shark nets. Some decided to illustrate their letters with some great artwork.

Some students wanted to become more active so I told them about a shark rally at Manly beach (it was held last month).

Many of the students came to the rally with their parents — it was Father’s Day but the parents told me that nothing could have stopped the kids from attending this event.

The students all looked great: they had made their own placards and created shark fins on top of their caps and written messages on their t-shirts. They had even choreographed their own “Save our Sharks” dance.

We all had a great day with more than 1000 people turning up to be the voices for the sharks at Manly beach.

My students were thrilled this month when they received “Young Protector of the Oceans” awards from a Western Australian conservation organisation. The award says: “Thank you for being a voice for the sharks. As a young protector of the oceans you have made a real contribution towards shark conservation” — signed: “Sharkie”.

While the shark nets are still in and we continue to read sad news reports about whale calves entangled in them, at least we know there is still hope while we have some really strong young voices that are committed to stand up for the sharks.

Malin Frick’s last article in Education was on her voyage on the Sea Shepherd to save whales from Japanese hunters. She teaches at Crown Street and Paddington public schools.