Is the Grey Nurse Shark really on the brink of extinction as we�ve been told? Or has good science been junked for Green politics? SUNDAY investigates claims that evidence has been suppressed by some scientists suggesting these so-called thilocenes of the sea are not endangered at all
Recreational and sports dive fishermen say that while they strongly support protecting the Grey Nurse Shark, they�re being unfairly locked out of new marine parks and other prime fishing areas at least in part because of scientific claims suggesting there are now as few as 400 Grey Nurse left along the entire East Coast of Australia.
To prove their case there�s thousands of Grey Nurse sharks out there, they�ve taken SUNDAY to the secret spots where they say these beautiful animals are thriving � locations they are refusing to disclose to Fisheries scientists because they fear these areas too will be closed off from fishing.
The now retired State Upper House MP Dr Jon Jenkins, a highly qualified scientist himself, believes someone in NSW Fisheries chose to sit on a second scientific survey of Grey Nurse shark numbers done in August 2003. He used the Parliamentary Order for Papers in 2005 to demand Fisheries hand over any studies, reviews or reports on the shark�s numbers but he says it wasn�t until late last year, when he insisted the data existed, that the Parliament was finally given the evidence.
Jenkins believes someone did not want the public and policy-makers to know about this evidence which he believes undermines the published data that Fisheries scientists are now using to justify expensive research and to also justify restrictions on fishing worth many millions of dollars.
�They just trashed the science that didn�t support their point of view,� Jenkins says.
But Chief Fisheries Scientist Dr Steve Kennelly defends his scientists, denying the data was suppressed and saying it could not be used to count Grey Nurse numbers because it was inadequate to be statistically valid.
However eminent Townsville-based marine biologist Dr Walter Starck, one of the pioneers of scientific investigation of coral reefs, also believes claims the Grey Nurse is near extinction are unsubstantiated:
�I think that the population the total population is probably much larger than is being claimed,� he tells SUNDAY.
Dr Starck, and other respected marine biologists consulted by SUNDAY, believe too little is known about the numbers and locations where Grey Nurse�s congregate for current survey methods to be able to accurately measure the population.
It�s a high-stakes debate because one of the fundamental basis�, for founding marine parks up and down NSW� coastline was to protect the Grey Nurse shark. Economic analyses have costed the effects of fishing closures as being disastrous for the NSW economy. What Dr Jenkins argues is that such measures should be based on rigorous objective science.
�Somewhere along the line, a deliberate or an accidental fraud has been perpetrated here. The science is absolutely clear that these documents clearly indicated that there were more than 500 sharks out there and yet it has been withheld and not only has it been withheld it has been suppressed from both the public, the scientific community and the Parliament.�
Reporter: Ross CoulthartSUNDAY � Channel Nine TV � 9am