Experts suggest ways to protect yourself during shark attack

CAN you protect yourself in the event of a shark attack?

There is no short answer to this question according to long-time surfers, surf lifesavers and a marine biologist who had their say on how, and if, surfers can adopt strategies to defend themselves during a shark attack.

As highlighted by a lucky Byron Bay surfer's brush with a 2.8m white shark on Monday, shark spotters can't watch over all of our beaches 24/7.

Defending yourself against the brute strength of a shark is no easy task, and few swimmers have survived to tell the terrifying tale.

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Knowing the psychology behind the sharks involved in these attacks can provide a solid grounding about what you may come up against.

Southern Cross University marine biologist Daniel Bucher said the majority of sharks encountered on local beaches had been sub-adult or juvenile white sharks transitioning from feeding on fish to feeding on larger animals.

He said in recent times most sharks had preyed on unsuspecting surfers from behind. The initial lunge at the surfer has been preceded by the animal circling for a distance to gauge whether or not to attack.

"If you see it coming, and that's a big if, then offence can be the best defence, they are still in that unsure state of mind and if you can do anything to convince them to leave you alone then that's the way to go," Dr Bucher said.

"You're telling the shark 'hey, I am not just some injured animal lolling on the surface, I am very much alive and I am potentially dangerous myself'."

Punching and kicking a shark in its head, Dr Bucher, said might cause it to recoil during an attack due to sensory organisms on their heads.

"We aren't sure how much a punch on the nose would feel to them but certainly I think it is just that aggression you can bring to the situation to make it think twice and give yourself an opportunity to get out of that danger zone," Dr Bucher said.

Le-Ba Boardriders president Don Munro said sadly most surfers don't have the opportunity to fight back, citing the ferocious and sudden shark attack that killed Japanese surfer Tadashi Nakahara at Shelly Beach, Ballina, in February last year.

He said "it's hard to say what to do" until you are faced with a shark in the water.

"It (the attacks) has put an edge on guys surfing but surfers are a resilient bunch," Mr Munro said.

"Do whatever you need to do, if you are in a position, to fend off the shark."

Following the spike in shark attacks in the past two years, Dr Bucher said it was important to be mentally prepared for the possibility of an attack.

"It is worth thinking about and assessing the conditions and deciding whether you think the risk is heightened because of the conditions," he said.

Avoiding surfing after heavy rain, especially around river mouths, was highly recommended by Dr Bucher.

"After heavy rain we know that sharks will hang around river mouths looking for dead animals and anything else that might of washed out with the heavy flow from the river and that's not a good time to be surfing near river mouths," he said.

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The time of day doesn't play a major role in determining when a shark will strike, according to Dr Bucher, who said attacks mostly depended on the mood of the shark.

"If you look at the statistics of shark attacks in New South Wales, the peak time is actually from about noon to 6pm. It's actually when most people are in the water rather than when most sharks are active," he said.

Lennox Head Alstonville Surf Life-Saving Club's junior activities coordinator Sam Miller said lessons taught to nippers about vigilance in the ocean should be applied by surfers and other ocean-users.

Ms Miller said signals sharks may be lurking nearby include large flocks of seabirds congregating on the water or baitballs, which look like large black shadows.


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