Great White shark season!
THE shadow appeared 150m from shore. A dark stain to the right of the surf ski. Then it disappeared.For a second Linda Whitehurst questioned her judgment. The ominous presence so swift and silent it didn't seem real.
"But then I looked over my shoulder and saw it was back," the Byron Bay nurse said.
"It turned around so quickly my stomach flipped. I knew right then it was coming for me."
The 52-year-old mother-of-two likened the impact of the 3m great white to a head-on collision. She was launched into the water when the shark struck her ski off crowded Byron Bay beach The Pass.
Mrs Whitehurst can't remember what happened next. According to her husband, Glen, who was paddling a second ski behind her, Mrs Whitehurst and the shark went down and surfaced twice.
"I think my brain's blocked it out," she said.
"The shark may have knocked me me under the water because my left upper thigh and right knee are so sore I'm having trouble walking.
"But I do remember what happened next. I don't think I'll ever forget."
Mrs Whitehurst came up for air. Still holding her paddle and determined to fight, she looked down and saw the shark slowly rising, jaws open and gums a terrible pink.
"I looked right into its eye and there was nothing there," she said.
"No sign of life. It was so strong and mechanical and the neck and underside were so white.
"I knew then that I'd lose a limb, if not my life, because you don't get out of something like that."
For several seconds she and the shark were face to face. Eye to eye at 11.30am on Monday.
"I don't know how to explain it except it was like a scene from Jaws. It was just exactly like that. One minute it's all sunshine and blue water and the next minute I'm looking a great white shark right in the eye."
Mrs Whitehurst attacked the shark – she kicked, punched and lashed out with her paddle – then swam to her ski several metres away.
"Then it was like I had this super-human strength and I just paddled and paddled. Glen was screaming, 'Don't put your feet down until you hit sand'," she said.
"Then we were on the beach and yelling to people to get out of the water."
Queensland shark authorities have warned beachgoers to prepare for a busy summer season with large numbers of great white sharks and breeding predators offshore.
Shark experts said packs of great whites followed migrating whales in October and November while bull and tiger sharks bred close to shore.
Department of Primary Industries shark-control program manager Tony Ham said many sharks became aggressive in summer and swimmers needed to heed shark warnings.
"It's warm, there's plenty of food around and, yes, sharks are more active and aggressive," Mr Ham said. "Many sharks are moving into the rivers to breed and generally moving around a lot more.
"This obviously coincides with the busiest time of year at the beach."
He advised swimmers to avoid dirty water, river mouths, creeks and canals.
The danger signs are already appearing. Last week a great white, believed to be the same shark that attacked Mrs Whitehurst, menaced a kayaker at Wategos Beach, the bay beside The Pass where the first attack occurred.
And last Saturday, Brisbane civil construction supervisor and keen spearfisher Adam Wood was attacked by a bronze whaler 240km east of Cairns at noon.
The shark latched on to the 31-year-old's leg during a spearfishing trip at remote Holmes Reef.
Two divers helped fight off the shark which tore a 30cm chunk from Mr Wood's right calf. He was recovering in Cairns Base Hospital yesterday.
In previous years, others have not been so lucky. Sarah Whiley, 21 of Brisbane, died after she was attacked by one or more bull sharks at Amity Beach on North Stradbroke Island. Ms Whiley died from her injuries soon after the attack in January 2006.
Ms Whiley's mother, Dorothy Whiley, who lives just minutes from the beach on the Sunshine Coast, said she wasn't ready to discuss the incident.
"It's not something we're willing or ready to talk about," Mrs Whiley said.
The families and friends of those killed by sharks receive little closure. The attacks are random, largely unpreventable and fast.
In a spate of horror attacks, two people died in 54 days on the Gold Coast in 2002 and 2003. The deaths, in man-made waterways near family homes, shocked residents and angered authorities.
Mr Ham said the waterways were popular with bull sharks – aggressive animals that attack more humans than any other species do. He said shark experts had warned residents to stay out of ocean-fed canals and lakes.
"You go swimming in there at night and you'd be hard pressed to find a more perfect place for a shark attack.
"The sharks go up the river, into the canals and populate the lakes. Not a good place to swim."
In February 2003, Gold Coast lawn bowls legend Bob Purcell was attacked and killed in Burleigh Lake. The 84-year-old regularly swam the brown body of water which connects to the Nerang River, Tallebudgera Creek and the South Pacific Ocean.
"I believe Bob was badly bitten on the leg and bled out," Mr Ham said.
"We believe it was a bull shark."
In December 2002, 21-year-old Beau Martin disappeared while swimming across Burleigh Lake at 2.20am. His badly bitten body was found two days later.
At least seven shark attacks have occurred in Gold Coast inland waterways since 1988.
"Don't do it," Mr Ham said. "Do not swim in the canals and lakes."
There have been other attacks this year. On April 26, a 13-year-old suffered serious leg injuries when attacked while swimming near a jetty at Mornington Island in the Gulf of Carpentaria.
On March 12, 59-year-old Mary Ryan was bitten on the leg as she swam at Moore Park beach north of Bundaberg. She was in chest-deep water when a bull shark hit.
On February 3, 26-year-old Matthew McIntosh was badly bitten on the foot and leg while boogie boarding off Shelly Beach near Ballina on the New South Wales north coast.
On January 23, 41-year-old abalone diver Eric Nerhus miraculously escaped after a great white half-swallowed him head-first off Eden in southern NSW.
In December 2006, 15-year-old Zac Golebiowski lost his right leg and part of his left calf during a shark attack at Wharton Beach in Western Australia.
According to the US-based International Shark Attack File there were six Australian shark attacks and 62 world wide in 2006.