Sea Shepherd challenges shark culling policy in Australia

SYDNEY - Militant environmental group Sea Shepherd on Wednesday said it is seeking a Supreme Court injunction to halt a controversial shark culling policy in Western Australia.

The group, best known for battling Japanese whalers in the Antarctic, has teamed up with Sharon Burden, the mother of a shark attack victim, to apply for a judicial review of the decision, claiming it involves the unlawful killing of a protected species.

"Sea Shepherd Australia believes that the tender process was unlawful, that the WA state government has been acting unlawfully, that the taking and killing of protected animals was illegal," it said in a statement.

"The law contemplates some sort of process being in place to protect these protected animals and that process has been scotched."

The controversial policy to catch and kill sharks off popular west coast beaches was given the green light in January after six fatal attacks in the past two years.

It is aimed at reducing the risks to water users and allows baited drum lines with hooks designed to capture large sharks to be set one kilometre (0.62 miles) offshore at busy Western Australian beaches for a trial period until April 30.

Any shark longer than three metres (10 feet) snagged by the lines and deemed to be a threat - including great white, bull and tiger sharks - is being destroyed.

Sixty-six sharks were caught in the first three weeks, according to the West Australian newspaper, which Wednesday said there were fears among fisheries officers that sharks impaled on hooks were attracting bigger sharks to coastal areas.

The cull move has angered conservationists with rallies held at sites around the country over the past few weeks. Opponents claim the trial flies in the face of international obligations to protect the great white shark.

"We are seeking an injunction to remove the drum lines immediately on the basis that a judicial review needs to be conducted as to the way the shark mitigation programme was rolled out," Sea Shepherd said.

Sharks are common in Australian waters and experts say attacks are increasing in line with population growth and the popularity of water sports.