Article

Shark Attacks on the Rise?

After a series of recent shark attacks in Australia, experts search for answers

| posted on July 31, 2012

Year after year, Western Australia remains at the top of the list for the area with the dealiest shark attacks. Photo: AP

Yesterday, a 48-year-old man was bitten on the arm while surfing near Streaky Bay in South Australia. This comes just over a week after surfer Ben Linden was fatally attacked by a great white near Perth, making it the sixth shark attack in Australia this year. While experts say the number of attacks in Australia has steadily increased in line with population growth, recent attacks have as raised further questions as to whether there is more to the equation.

Alexia Wellbelove, Senior Program Manager at Humane Society International says the number of attacks may be more than coincidence. “Thousands of dead sheep are being thrown overboard as ships depart the ports,” she says. “It’s likely that the disposal of animal remains will attract large sharks…The Humane Society has written to the WA federal government with a documented list of shark attacks and presence of live export vessels, urging them to investigate possible links and any connection between them.”

The Department of Fisheries Supervising Scientist, Dr. Brett Molony, claims that the factors linked to shark interactions are being investigated. “Our attention is focused on identifying times and environmental conditions where shark sightings and human interactions with sharks are likely to occur,” he says. “Regulations are also being drafted for a state ban on shark tourist ventures based on the attraction of sharks, including cage-diving.”

While Molony recognizes human culpability, he denies that live exports are to blame. “There is no scientific evidence to support any increased risk of attack by White Sharks associated with live export vessels,” he says. “A ship’s captain is required to dispose of a dead animal as far as practicable from the nearest land. The Federal Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry has informed the WA Department of Fisheries this isn’t likely to happen until the ship has been at sea for several days and is far out to sea.”

Judging by statistics, there are considerably more sharks in Western Australia, but with waves like this littering the coast, surfers continue to take the risk. Photo: Gurney

Mike Burgess, Head of the Department of Fisheries WA Shark Response Unit, says, “Most of the cases cited by the Humane Society International don’t appear to support a proposed link between White Shark sightings, attacks, and live sheep transport vessels. White Sharks are typically solitary and rarely aggregate. In addition, the diet of White Sharks consists mainly of fish, other sharks, and marine mammals. While we can’t dismiss the possibility that some species of shark may follow these vessels, it’s unlikely that the White Sharks would. It’s more plausible that oceanic pelagic (surface-dwelling) shark species, such as oceanic white tips and blue sharks, would follow these vessels. However, there are no records of attacks by these species, or sightings of them in coastal WA.”

Locals in the Perth community are concerned, but most aren’t jumping to conclusions. “They have been exporting live animals for years. The increase of whales and seals in the area, along with the protection of the Great White Sharks are the reason for attacks,” says longtime Perth resident Paul Manners, who’s lived in Perth for over 40 years and currently resides in Gnaraloo Bay, better known as Shark Bay.

Surf photographer and Perth resident Ian Regnard says, “That is the first I have heard that the problem was due to live animal exports. I thought it was more due to the fact that down south in Australia they do a lot of cage diving, attracting sharks with blood and fish and therefore seeing humans in the water may get the sharks associating food with humans. Along with seal population on the rise and our water getting more depleted from its resources.”

While there are still no definitive answers, Tony Capelluti, head of Western Australia’s Fisheries Department, says they’ve allocated some $14 million to get a better understanding of the Great White Sharks and the reasons why fatalities are occurring. “Western Australian water is home to more than 100 species of sharks,” he says. “A tagging and tracking program was introduced last year. It shows that the sharks, which have no predators other than humans, whales, and other sharks, will linger off Australia’s west coast for months at a time.”

With the new programs in place for research on White Sharks, hopefully we will get a better understanding of the species to prevent shark attacks in the future and promote the safety of swimmers and surfers in Australia.—Mike Drentea

  • Dominic O’Byrne

    There is a great deal of rubbish being published about whether or not the ban on hunting great white sharks should be lifted in Australia. the men from the ministry sniff a chance to get their names in the press, be seen to be pro-active and maybe even score extra government dollars for research into the great white population.

    If some are saying that the ban could be lifted as early as the summer, I’d say best of luck… it won’t be possible to conduct any kind of meaningful research in so short a period of time into a species that is documented as being so far-traveling in its migration patterns. So you have to smell a rat straight away – as if influential officials have made up their minds already and any so-called research is just cynical window-dressing.

    Being a whingeing pom I can only say how glad I am that it isn’t MY taxes that are going towards this utter crapola. As a South African-born whingeing pom, however, I do worry that your article says South Africa ought to take note if Australia does follow through its threat to condone renewed slaughter of this species on the basis of barely credible research.

    I’m more sanguine about the common sense of South Africans than I am about Australian research methodology, however. And while a lot of ocean-using people and surfers themselves are notably relaxed about sharing the seas with these predators (some shark attack victims even shrug off their experiences as bad luck and an acceptable risk of visiting the sharks’ territory – and fair play to them too) I would like to plant a thought with your readers which they might care to pass on to the fisheries ministry…

    You’re unlikely to realize an accurate count of the WA shark population for the reasons I’ve already outlined. You’re much more likely to make an accurate tally of surfers and swimmers themselves so why not take THEM out of the equation? Now, from a morality standpoint, where are we on banning human use of the oceans or even – while the lunatics are running the asylum already – “Save the Sharks, Shoot a Surfer”? Now there’s a t-shirt I would wear in an attempt to demonstrate how idiotic a lifting of the hunting ban will prove to be.

  • richard fawell

    FINALLY THOSE IN CHARGE REALIZE THAT SAVING HUMAN LIVES IS MORE IMPORTANT THAN SAVING THE LIFE OF A SHARK!!!!!!!! WHAT IS SO ABSURD THAT IT TOOK THIS DAMN LONG FOR ACTION TO BE TAKEN TO CULL THE VERY DANGEROUS GREAT WHITE POPULATION. HOW MANY HUMAN LIVES MUST BE TAKEN BEFORE ACTION IS TAKEN IN CALIFORNIA FOR EXAMPLE WHERE WE HAVE HAD THREE FATALITIES IN LESS THAN 4 YEARS? THE CONT IS ACTUALLY 5 FATALITIES IF WE INCLUDE THE TWO DEATHS IN MEXICO–ALL OF THEM ON THE PACIFIC OCEAN. IT DOES OT TAKE MUCH BRAINPOWER TO KNOW WHY WE HAVE SO MANY FATALITIES COMPARED TO THE LAST 100 YEARS. WHEN YOU ALLOW A SEAL POPULATION TO EXPLODE FROM 10,000 TO OVER 300,000 THEY ARE FED UPON BY THE GREAT WHITE–DRAWING THE GREAT WHITE IN ALARMING NUMBERS CLOSE TO SHORE LIKE NEVER BEFORE. WE MUST RETURN TO THE NORMAL CONTROLLED FISHING OF THE GREAT WHITE ALONG WITH THE NORMAL CULLING OF THE SEAL POPULATION. ALSO, WE NEED TO INSTALL SHARK NETS AT THE APPROPRIATE BEACHES. CONSERVATIONISTS HAVE BLOOD ON THEIR HANDS AND THEY MUST PLACE THE LIVES OF HUMAN BEINGS OVER SHARKS. IF THEY DO NOT THEN THE LAW OF THE AND MUST BE CHANGED IMMEDIATELY TO LIFT THE BANS MENTIONED ABOVE. WE NEED TO HVE SURFERS DEMONSTRATE AS YOU HAVE DONE IN YOUR LAND!!!!!!!!!!!!! WE CANNOT BE APATHETIC—WE MUST ACT TOGETHER NOW.

  • Saket waghmode, atlanta ,ga.

    Just don’t act like we humans are entitled to go anywhere and that all places are our homes…problem solved…sharks don’t come on land and attack people!! If some people think that all territories belong to humans, just think…would you like animals coming into your home and staying there with the same attitude?