Sharks: be alert but don’t be alarmed
With recent attacks just up the coast at Fingal and on the South Coast, both of which attracted plenty of media attention, shark numbers are not on the increase.
That’s the message from marine expert Dr Danny Bucher, senior lecturer in fisheries biology and marine biology at Southern Cross University.
Indeed, said Dr Bucher, there were a lot more shark sightings locally at this time last year.
He said bull sharks were more active closer to shore at this time of the year because it was their ‘pupping’ season.
Great whites were not so common in local waters in summer, but were more likely to be around in winter.
Dr Bucher said despite the recent attacks and sightings, he believed shark numbers were down worldwide.
His view is backed by long-time Byron Bay fisherman, Ron Boggis, who recalls hundreds of sharks being around when the bloodline from the old Byron Bay meatworks emptied into the bay.
Mr Boggis said he had heard all the stories about the recent attacks and sightings, but didn’t believe there were any more sharks around than normal.
“We used to see more years ago, especially tiger sharks,” he said.
“The surfers say they are seeing a lot more because the water is cleaner.
“The water is that clear and everyone is seeing them.
“They are there all the time. People just didn’t see them before.”
Mr Boggis was one of the fishermen involved in the hunt for the great white shark that attacked and killed diver, John Ford, near Julian Rocks in 1993, the last fatal shark attack at Byron Bay.
The killer shark was hooked but got away. A great white, believed to be the one that attacked Mr Ford, was last seen obviously injured and floating on the surface near Tweed Heads.
The previous local shark attack fatality before 1993 was in 1982 when surfer, Marty Ford, was bitten at Cosy Corner.
Surfing mates brought him to the beach, but he died after a massive blood loss.
In more recent times, Byron Bay surfing identity, John ‘Maddog’ Morgan was dragged backwards on his stand-up board for 40 metres at Clarks Beach last September after a large shark had apparently got caught up in his leg rope.
While shocked by the terrifying experience, Mr Morgan was not injured.
In late 2007 there was a rash of shark-related incidents at Byron Bay.
The most serious happened in October of that year when Linda Whitehurst was knocked out of her sea kayak by a great white near The Pass.
Ms Whitehurst fought off the shark with a paddle and was able to climb back into her kayak.
She was later treated at Byron Bay Hospital for a bite to one of her hands.
A month later, two 14-year-old Byron Bay schoolgirls spent terrified moments on the wreck of the Wollongbar at Byron Bay as a big shark circled them.
They had to be rescued by a rubber ducky crew.
In the same month, a shark struck a surfer from behind at Wategos, knocking him into the water.
The attack left teeth marks in the board and lacerations in his wetsuit. The surfer was able to paddle safely to shore.
In December 2007, swimmers at Byron Bay were forced from the water three days in a row because of shark sightings.
At the time, Dr Bucher explained that with a lot of bait fish in the area, the jump in shark sightings was simply a matter of food supply.