Artical written by Tanya Nolan – Link
Aerial shark spotters say the latest attack on a surfer on the New South Wales mid-north coast is not surprising, given the number of sharks they are seeing this summer.
It is the second reported shark attack on a NSW beach in a week.
Harry Mitchell is the general manager of Australian Aerial Patrol. The familiar red and yellow aeroplanes have been patrolling about 300 kilometres of the NSW coast since 1957.
Mr Mitchell says it is common this time of year to see sharks heading to warmer waters all around Australia, but with ocean temperatures unusually high in NSW since November, there have been more shark sightings than normal.
“If I can go back over the last three weekends, we’re probably looking at sightings of around about 70 sharks,” he said.
He says that figure is a lot – and it’s only for patrols on Saturdays and Sundays.
Steve Bazic tells a similar story. He’s the chief pilot for Heli Services Newcastle & Hunter.
“In one day we’ve counted as many as 26, I think. That was only about a month ago,” he said.
He says the number of sharks deters him from swimming at the beach, as he’s “not prepared to tempt fate”.
“The only water I get into is a bathtub with a shower around here,” he said.
‘Increasing every year
Mr Bazic says people need to be aware that the sharks are there.
“I’ve just never seen the amount that we’ve got, and they seem to increase every year,” he said.
“We’ve got juveniles there, they’re a bit skinnier, but then we’ve got what we call the mums and the dads, and some of those are… about three to four foot across the head.
“That’s a big fish in anyone’s book.”
The two aerial patrol operators suggest different reasons for the rise in the number of sharks they have spotted.
Mr Bazic says the protection of great white sharks has increased their numbers over the last decade, and the mid-north coast provides a great breeding ground for the species.
Mr Mitchell says the consistent rainfall over recent weeks has provided a rich food source, particularly in estuaries.
Accuracy in doubt
NSW Department of Primary Industries senior research scientist Dr Nick Otway has been studying sharks for over a decade. He says he doubts the accuracy of aerial shark spotting.
“If you’ve got waves breaking because of onshore winds, such as a north-easterly sea breeze, or when you have the southerly changes that come through, all that white water makes it much, much harder to see down through the water column and to observe anything in the water column,” he said.
“A dark shape that could be a shark could also be a dolphin, and we certainly know that we have large numbers of dolphins in our waters as well.”
And Dr Otway provides this sobering analysis: you are still more likely to die from a falling coconut or from being hit by a bus than from being attacked by a shark.