Friday, February 16, 2007

Can excessive shark fishing and 9/11 be responsible for drop of shark attacks?

OVER-fishing, the weather, media coverage and even the September 11 terrorist strikes have been named as reasons for the continuing fall in the number of shark attacks around the world.
While four fatalities have been recorded - including Queensland woman Sarah Wiley, 21, killed on North Stradbroke island on January 7, 2006 - 96 people have been unlucky enough to experience “shark-human interaction”, 62 of which have been recorded in the annual International Shark Attack File as “confirmed cases of unprovoked shark attack.”

But it's a dull year, according to the ISAF's authors at the University of Florida. Since 79 attacks recorded in 2000, humans have experienced a decline in so called interactions with sharks each year, although 2006 saw one more than in 2005. “We love dull years because it means there are fewer serious attacks and fewer victims,” George Burgess, director of the International Shark Attack File at the university, said.

Overfishing of sharks is the main reason for the decline in attacks, but apparently so is a decrease in tourism in high shark-human contact areas. Since the attacks of September 11, airtravel in some areas has fallen, resulting in slower tourism industries and hence fewer people taking to the water. The figures are also affected by cyclones and tropical storms that have seen fewer people enter the water in areas like Florida, usually high-contact areas for sharks. And we are smarter at avoiding them, thanks to media driven information on what to do when confronted with one.

So perhaps that tabloid television programme might be worth watching afterall. As usual, the US had more shark attacks than any other nation, with 38 last year. That was down from 40 the previous year and well below the 53 recorded in 2000. Florida, with its long coastline and year-round swimming weather, accounted for nearly two-thirds of the US tally, but there were no shark bite fatalities in America last year.

Australia was second with seven attacks. But while the fear of an attack by a Great White may keep some people safely on the sand, figures released by the Medical Journal of Australia show that dog attacks, lightning strikes and bee or wasp stings are more likely to be fatal.

Bee and wasp sting top the list with an average of more than 100 people being killed in Australia each decade. And the most deadly creature in the world is one of the smallest. The World Health Organisation reports that encephalitis, the West Nile virus, malaria and Dengue fever, delivered by mosquitoes, cause more than two million deaths each year worldwide.

Friday, February 09, 2007

Large shark spotted near Sydney beaches

Reports of a "monster" great white shark near southern Sydney beaches have got local authorities stepping up patrols.

Locals at La Perouse beach, Botany Bay, rapidly left the water about 8.30am today when a large shark was spotted nearby.

Surf Life Saving Sydney spokesman Steven Leahy said a helicopter made several passes over Botany Bay shortly after, but failed to spot the shark.

"A number of people have said it is a monstrous shark, up to 15 feet. Anecdotal evidence to us has been that it is actually big enough to create a wake behind it," Mr Leahy told
After investigating today's reported sightings Mr Leahy said it was likely the shark had been around for at least a few days.

"It has harassed people, apparently it has come close to land, into the shallow water on several occasions.''

SLSS is planning to lay on patrols tomorrow morning at the beach, which is usually unpatrolled.
"We're hoping that we will have two Jet-skis patrolling the area along with an offshore rescue boat between 7am and 9am," Mr Leahy said.

There will also be several lifesavers patrolling the beach.

"When several people tell us that it's a monstrous shark and that it's been there the last couple of days and [that] it's been getting closer and more aggressive, then we have to take that seriously.
"We have to go down there and provide safety services."

Brian Mangan, owner of the Boatshed Cafe, close to many of the recent sightings, confirmed he had seen the shark chasing fish 200 metres offshore, about 7am today.

"It was quite a large shark, it would've been probably the size of my tinnies on the beach, or even bigger, and they're about 13 foot.

"I could see the fin but I couldn't tell if it was a tiger shark or a white pointer, but it was big. It was making huge ripples, like a boat taking off."

He said he had had numerous sightings of a similar sized shark in the same area reported to him by customers at the cafe over the last few days.

"One of the chaps who runs the boats for me downstairs, he was walking his dog on Monday just a little further over from the cafe and he saw it there."

Again it was about 200 metres out and chasing a school of fish.

He said about six people who rent boats from his other business and customers from his cafe had told him they had seen a similar shark over the last three or four days.

"I'm glad there was no one swimming, because quite often a few people go swimming here early in the morning and they go out a fair bit. So they might want to start thinking twice about it until this monster goes away," he said.

Four people to whom spoke also confirmed reports that a shark had taken a pelican and a dog in recent weeks.

Bondi Beach was also the subject of a shark alarm about 9am today, after a distressed member of the public reported a large shark to lifesavers.

"He was really, really distressed and was certain that he'd seen the shark," a spokeswoman for Waverley Council said.

Lifesavers closed the beach for 15 minutes to the 150 or so beachgoers while they checked the water, but were unable to find a shark.

Shark attack on boogie boarder!

A BOOGIE boarder was rushed to hospital with serious leg injuries yesterday after he was bitten by a shark.

Matthew McIntosh, 26, from Goonellabah was on the board when the predator grabbed his left leg.
The victim sustained lacerations to the lower leg and foot and was in a stable condition at Lismore Base Hospital last night.

Charlie Wood, who is filming a television series, Surf Patrol, for Channel Seven and Surf Life Saving Australia on the far North Coast, interviewed the victim immediately after the attack off Black Head, the northern end of Shelly Beach at Ballina.

He said the boogie boarder had caught a wave with two others when the shark swam up from behind.

"There were three surfers on the wave. The boogie boarder didn't even see the shark," he said.
"He felt this massive jolt on his leg and looked down to see blood everywhere.

"He yelled out and everyone got out of the water as they dragged him onto the rocks.

"Nobody saw the shark. There is a lot of bait fish around in the water at the moment and this bloke was wearing a black wetsuit and black flippers, so the shark probably got confused about what it was chasing."

Wood said the victim was in good spirits despite the attack.

"He was sitting up in the ambulance and talking to me before being transferred to the rescue helicopter. He was grateful to be alive," he said.

Westpac rescue helicopter pilot David Milnes said the man was still counting his blessings as they rushed him to hospital.

"He was talking as we transported him - he realised he was pretty lucky."

The incident was the second shark attack in NSW waters within a fortnight.

On January 23, abalone diver Eric Nerhus survived a terrifying attack by a white pointer shark near Eden, on the NSW Far South Coast.

The three-metre predator swallowed his head and shoulders but Mr Nerhus, 41, broke free after poking the shark in the eye. His nose was broken and his torso cut.

Shark expert Harry Mitchell, who is general manager of the McDonald's aerial patrol, said he had noticed increased shark activity along the NSW coast in the past three weeks.

"From what we know about sharks, it was likely that this attack was by a great white, tiger or bull shark," he said.

Friday, February 02, 2007

Man's foot mauled by shark

The man's foot was mauled in the attack off Shelly beach, between Ballina and Lennox Head, about 8am (AEDT) today, police said.

Lacerations to his lower left leg and foot were not life-threatening, said paramedics who airlifted him to Lismore Base Hospital.

He told paramedics that he was attacked from behind as he rode a wave on his boogie board.
"He was catching a wave when the shark bit him ... he didn't see the shark at all," Westpac rescue helicopter pilot David Milnes said.

"He just felt it grab him and he told me he just knew what had happened and yelled out to his mates to get him help.

"Then he got himself to shore and was patched up by ambulance officer before we took him hospital."

Mr Milnes said the surfer was conscious and talking during the flight to hospital.
No-one seems to have seen the shark to identify its size or species.

"His mates didn't even know what happened," the pilot said.

The attack follows an abalone diver's miraculous escape from the jaws of four-metre great white two weeks ago on the NSW south coast.

Eric Nerhus, 41, managed to pull his head and shoulders out from between the shark's jaws after poking it in the eye with his fingers, eight metres below the surface near Cape Howe.

Mr Nerhus suffered only a broken nose and cuts to his torso.

He's believed to have spent up to two minutes inside the shark's mouth, without his air supply, and with his head wedged as the white pointer's teeth rasped across the lead vest credited with saving him from being bitten in two.

The father of two was dragged onto a boat by his son as the shark circled in the bloodstained water.

Scientists looking for "Jaws"

Two New Zealand scientists are luring great white sharks from the ocean in a bid to protect the feared, but endangered species. MICHELLE SUTTON followed them on their hunt for Jaws
Clinton Duffy and Demian Chapman wait patiently for a deadly predator to appear under the water, lured by the scent of a bloody feast.

The blue-green ocean in the Papakura Channel, off Auckland, is tarnished with chunks of dead fish and a burley bag dangles from their boat. The meaty stench will drift for kilometres on the outgoing tide.

The men scan the water, squinting because of the sun that also makes waves look like dorsal fins in the distance. Silently they hope for the return of the 3.3m great white shark that turned up in 15m-deep water the day before – in a spot that is popular among fisherman. Where great whites frequently lurk, too.

On that day the monstrous fish, more than half the length of their 6m boat, appeared at Te Pirau Pt without Duffy realising it until the shark reared its bullet-point snout out of the water, only metres away.

"From the boat it looked like a giant brown submarine moving under water," says Duffy, of the 500kg great white that swam by and nudged the orange buoy with its head. The shark then picked up the burley bag and steel anchor that was tied to the two-tonne boat and swam away.

When Duffy pulled the rope towards the boat, the shark hung on and swam to the surface – its brawn giving way to curiosity; its big purple eyes watching his every movement, until it ripped the bottom of the burley bag and disappeared with the bait before it could be tagged with a pop-off satellite device.

The tiny satellite is at the crux of research being carried out by Duffy and Chapman, which is the first study of great whites in New Zealand.

The tag will track the shark's movements by measuring water depth, temperature and light levels. After six months it releases from the shark and transmits the data to an e-mail address.

First, though, the scientists must man-handle a great white; with its 300 razor teeth, pure hard muscle and the ability to kill with one inquisitive bite.

A second attempt to find a great white at Te Pirau Pt is foiled when three divers arrive. They wade into the water despite being told a great white was in the area the day before, so the search is moved to Papakura Channel.

Duffy and Chapman's methods are no different from fishermen's, they say. They even buy their bait from the same shop.

"The sharks are already there," says Duffy, "and we are merely trying to lure them to the boat."
If a shark appears it will be coaxed to the side of the boat with bait so they can get close enough to insert the tag into the back of its dorsal fin.

Failing that, they will try to harness it to the boat and take a DNA sample at the same time. They have done this before. In fact Auckland-based Duffy (42) has been chasing great whites since 1991 when he started the only data base of sightings and attacks in New Zealand.

He is also involved in a three-year project tagging great whites in the Chatham Islands.

"I started it for my own interests because I was a spear fisher and part of it was because we were always hearing stuff about them that was obviously rubbish.

"When I grew up in Wairarapa people were always saying you don't get sharks in New Zealand, but when I got out to the beach people were catching school sharks off the beach."

He advertised for sightings of great whites in the early 1990s when it was commonly thought that the species was an uncommon straggler to New Zealand waters from Australia – in recent years New Zealand has been recognised as a hot-spot for great whites. The newspaper ad was spotted by Chapman, a New Plymouth 20-year-old who later became a marine biologist like Duffy, and the pair started their shark hunting mission.

"Back in the 90s the thought was that they (great whites) were these great big clumsy sharks and they couldn't catch a seal unless it was dead," says Miami-based Chapman.

"But it has completely flipped, there's been a lot of research globally in the past 10 to 15 years."
Chapman (32) is a DNA expert – he works at the Pew Institute and discovered a shark identification test to help authorities stop the illegal fin trade – but it is Duffy who is in charge on the day we turn up.

"If I yell, don't be offended, but if something's going to happen it will happen fast," he warned, before the search started from Onehunga Wharf last weekend. Few people would argue with a man who scooped up a 1.7m blue shark from the sea off Port Taranaki last year and held it in the boat so Chapman could take a DNA sample for his research.

But even the modest expert maintains a healthy respect. Duffy would never knowingly swim with a great white, unless in a cage, nor will he watch the 1970s horror movie Jaws.

"I have swam with two seriously big bull sharks and they are just pussy cats compared to great whites. There's no other shark that compares with them."

They are relentless predators, he says, and will follow their prey after inflicting an incapacitating bite until it dies. They are curious too and will occasionally inspect novel objects such as a diver or a swimmer, but fatal attacks on humans are rare.

The only fatal attack in Taranaki, at Oakura beach, had all the characteristics of a great white despite wide-spread reports that a bronze whaler was responsible. During the January 1966 attack the shark followed its female victim to bite her a second time.

"The Taranaki fatal attack was a great white shark. I have seen the photograph of the tooth fragment removed from the victim. A bronze whaler wouldn't be capable of that bite, which severed the leg."

Early findings from their research suggests that juvenile great whites spend the majority of time in shallower waters around coastal New Zealand, particularly in the North Island. Areas such as Manukau Harbour could be a play pen for the sharks until they reach maturity. It was also where Duffy and Chapman used the first satellite tag on a great white from mainland New Zealand, last year.

The 2m-long baby was caught by Waiuku fisherman Wayne Hadley in 9m deep water and he handed over the exhausted shark.

"The fisherman didn't think it would survive," says Chapman, "so we revived the shark by tying it alongside the boat and moving slowly we pushed the water through it's gills.

"Slowly it became more feisty then we took a DNA sample and as soon as we popped the tag in that was it – it reared back up to bite my hand and missed and bit the boat."

The teeth marks remain indented along the side of the boat, not much lower than where a hand might rest.

"The shark was pretty small. The tag tracked it's movement for 24 days and during that time it mostly stayed in water 10m deep, the deepest it went was 40m."

It was a significant find in their mission to protect the rare species. Scientists say reported catches in Australia and North Atlantic have declined by up to 90 per cent, although the population in South Africa appears stable.

Survival of the young of the species is crucial to maintain the population in New Zealand which, Duffy suspects, has dwindled since the introduction of gill netting and trawling used in commercial fishing.

"It's a fairly small by-catch of great whites but it may be significant to their population."

And, says Chapman, "we may find out ways that fisherman can avoid catching them by knowing where they might be."

For now, though, they are still searching. That day on the Papakura Channel they failed to find a great white.

They say it takes about three trips before they come across one, hindered by New Zealand's vast waters. But, like their beloved great whites, the men are relentless in their hunt and will undoubtedly come back for another go.

Great white sharks feeding on whale carcass

The 16m whale's body washed up against the rocks on the north eastern tip of the island.
Great white sharks more than 6m long circled the area and had been feeding on the carcass.
Jess Condo, 34, of Penneshaw, said he saw about four great whites in the area yesterday morning.

"One big one was nearly as big as our (6.1m) boat," he said.
"They were circling around the whale.

"Then they came up to the side of the boat and brushed against it."

The SA Museum is expected to carry out DNA testing on the whale carcass to determine what type it is, how it died, and how long ago.

Joe Springall, 19, of Morphett Vale, said one of the sharks tried to attack his boat.

"All of a sudden this shark floated under the boat . . . he decided to have a go at the back of it," he said.

"He came up on the marlin board . . . and took a bite.

"Then it stuck its head up then went back under the boat."

Acting director of Fisheries Martin Smallridge has asked that people respect a 100m exclusion zone around the carcass.

"People's natural curiosity can turn to inappropriate behaviour, as was witnessed during similar previous events," he said.

"It is an offence under the Fisheries Act to interfere with a whale and this applies if the whale is dead or alive."

Mr Smallridge said fines of up to $100,000 or two years in prison could apply to anyone breaching the Act.

"It is also appropriate to remind the public that great white sharks are fully protected in SA," he said.