The Australian Government wants to back out of a scheme it previously supported, by removing protections on five local shark species.

Australia signed up to the UN-administered convention on the conservation of migratory species of wild animals in November last year, but now appears to have missed some details.

Australia took on the obligations to protect 31 new species at the convention summit last year, which included 21 species of shark, ray and sawfish, along with polar bears, whales and gazelles.

The Federal Government has reportedly lodged a “reservation” to get out of having to protect three species of thresher shark and two species of hammerhead shark.

The government claims it already has effective protections in place for the thresher and hammerhead sharks, despite neither species being listed as threatened under the federal government’s Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act.

The Humane Society International (HSI) has told reporters for The Guardian that the move “sends a very bad signal that Australia doesn’t care about these species.”

“Australia seems to think other countries can cooperate on this but we will do nothing in our own waters. As far as we know, this has never happened before,” said Alexia Wellbelove, senior program manager at HSI.

Federal Environment Minister Greg Hunt has written a letter to HSI, saying Australia “already has strong domestic measures in place” for the hammerhead and thresher sharks.

“The landing of thresher sharks is already prohibited in tuna fisheries,” Hunt wrote.

“Recreationally, thresher and hammerhead sharks and subject to strict bag limits imposed by state and territory governments.”

The Department points out that it is spending $4.6 million on projects to conserve the eight shark species listed as threatened, but these will still leave the five unlisted shark with severely limited protections.