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World's only shark wrangler lobbies for a Cor -

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World's only shark wrangler lobbies for a Coral Sea marine park

Nicole Butler reported this story on Friday, December 4, 2009 12:43:00

SHANE MCLEOD: Now to a marine biologist who doesn't like being compared to the croc hunter, the
late Steve Irwin.

Richard Fitzpatrick is a shark campaigner who says he lassoes and rides the man-eaters in the name
of science not entertainment.

The 39 year old is putting together data on marine life in the Coral Sea off north eastern
Australia as the Federal Government considers whether it will create a marine park in the region.

But Mr Fitzpatrick spends most of his time closer to the coast. Today he's examining a pack of
tiger sharks feeding on a dead whale off Cairns.

But before heading off the shark wrangler spoke with our reporter Nicole Butler.

NICOLE BUTLER: Richard Fitzpatrick, you're known as a marine scientist, a shark campaigner, a film
maker, a cameraman and the world's only shark wrangler, the man who lassoes sharks. Which
description do you think best suits you?

RICHARD FITZPATRICK: Ah, kind of bit of a mix. I mix film making with science 'cause marine science
is very expensive, especially shark research, and when we make documentaries it gives us funding
and boat time to get to areas where other scientists don't need to go.

NICOLE BUTLER: When you say it gives you funding, do you receive government funding like most
scientists rely on?

RICHARD FITZPATRICK: No I sort of work outside that circle and I've really been relying upon
funding coming from the likes of the BBC and National Geographic and Discovery Channel to get me
out to the different locations to do the work.

But when we're making the films they're all about the new science we're doing so we're actually
using the film making to make new science as it were.

NICOLE BUTLER: Are you the shark hunter, you know like the late Steve Irwin was the croc hunter?
Are you Australia's new wildlife man?

RICHARD FITZPATRICK: No I wouldn't go as far as to say that. It's just the techniques that we use,
you know, by tail roping the animals and not hooking them and all that kind of stuff, we go about
that to actually minimise stress to the sharks and try and make it safer for us.

But it just looks a bit different to what other people are doing. So I think that's what's
attractive to a lot of the overseas broadcasters. And you know not having to hook sharks, there's
no blood involved so for TV it actually looks a lot better and safer for the animals as well.

NICOLE BUTLER: It also looks more dangerous for you because you actually rope and ride some of
these enormous man-eating sharks.

RICHARD FITZPATRICK: Yeah but we're not going out there to hurt ourselves. Safety is always
foremost in our minds. And you know it may look a bit chaotic on TV at times but myself and the
team that I've got, we all know what we're doing.

And the most important thing to remember when working with sharks is actually knowing when to stop.
And we're the first ones to wimp out really quickly and go that's it for the day.

NICOLE BUTLER: Have you ever been hurt or injured, knocked out?

RICHARD FITZPATRICK: Yeah I've been knocked out and bitten a few times but it's always been my
fault. They're all just love bites really from the animals saying remember I'm a wild animal. And
they've always been when I've been hanging onto their tail.

NICOLE BUTLER: How did you first come up with the idea that you needed to lasso these sharks and
ride them? I think it's so you can microchip them and follow them. Is that right?

RICHARD FITZPATRICK: Yeah well the very first time we did that with a tiger shark was when I was
working as part of a stunt crew for a movie getting shot up here in North Queensland like 20 years
ago.

You know previously in the old James Bond movies they used to hook and drug the shark and you could
see the hook marks hanging out of their mouth. And we had a tiger come in really close and we
actually jumped on it and tail roped it so we didn't have any hook marks.

And that's when we found out that the big tigers, if you grab their tail they just stop swimming
and stop thrashing around.

NICOLE BUTLER: Are sharks in any danger of their numbers dwindling?

RICHARD FITZPATRICK: Oh for sure. You know all around the world shark numbers are in dramatic
decline. But most of the work we're doing at the moment is out in the Coral Sea which is currently
not a marine park at all and it's proposed that it will become one.

NICOLE BUTLER: Well the Federal Government is currently considering its decision about a marine
park in the Coral Sea and you'd like that to happen. Why is that? Why is it important?

RICHARD FITZPATRICK: Sharks are a top order predator and they play a very important role in keeping
the health of the oceans.

I've just come back from assignment on the west coast of the US. All the top order predators have
been taken out. So the big sharks, the big fish are gone and now you have this species of squid
that's now invading and destroying all the remnant fisheries up the west coast.

So we have examples around the world where whole fisheries that collapse because of the removal of
top order predators and the system becomes extremely unhealthy.

Luckily out in the Coral Sea and here in Australia our system is probably one of the best in the
world and so for us to set up, you know, representative areas and have marine parks scattered
around Australia is just going to ensure that that stays the case for the future. And then people
can still be able to go out there, catch a fish and enjoy seafood.

SHANE MCLEOD: Shark wrangler Richard Fitzpatrick speaking with Nicole Butler.