Mass demonstrations have taken place across Australia to protest against Western Australia state government's controversial new policy to trap and kill large sharks. The protests have the backing of several celebrities including Sir Richard Branson, Tom Daley and Ricky Gervais, and are being partly co-ordinated by the Conservation Council of Western Australia.

In Perth, Western Australia (WA), up to 6,000 people gathered at Cottesloe Beach demanding an end to the cull, clutching toy sharks and chanting ""Rights, rights, rights for great whites." One 19-year-old activist chained herself to a fisheries boat as it was preparing to set out to monitor baited hooks, delaying its departure for several hours.

The cull was introduced following several fatal attacks off WA in recent years. Last November a surfer was killed off Gracetown, WA by a shark – the tenth off WA in a decade. The WA state government says that only dangerous white, tiger and bull sharks over 3 metres long will be killed but a smaller tiger shark was found dead on a baited hook last week.

Around 2,000 people protested at Sydney's Manly Beach on the opposite side of the country, while hundreds more gathered in the South Australian resort of Glenelg. Among them was shark attack survivor Rodney Fox who said the cull was a waste of money:

"We've tagged them with satellite tags with sonic tags. There's just not enough money to put enough sonic or satellite tags to find out where they go, what time of year, when there's more around. The money should be put into science."

State officials claim shark attacks are damaging the tourist industry but many locals believe humans have no right to harm animals simply doing what comes naturally.

Sir Richard Branson, who has business interests in Australia, added his voice to those defending the sharks: "Last year, Australia was praised all over the world for creating the biggest marine reserves. This year, the world is looking at Australia - and particularly Western Australia - and wondering 'what on Earth is going on?'"