Don’t Mention the “S Word”

The latest shark attack on the mid-north-coast town of Port Macquarie has amplified the issues facing communities further north. Over the weekend 38-year-old, Dale Carr was bitten on the left thigh and buttocks by a shark while bodyboarding at Lighthouse beach just after 5pm on Saturday. He remains in hospital in a stable condition.

Surf Life Saving New South Wales spokesperson, Donna Wishart said she hopes the attack was a “one off” incident and added that all beaches have since been reopened.

“We’ve not had any sightings or shark activity reported around that area at all, it’s all been much further north around Ballina,” she told the ABC.

However the anxiety felt further north shows no sign of abating. Towns Lennox Head and Ballina have experienced five shark attacks in the past four months and community opinion has been divided on what action to take. Meanwhile daily aerial patrols continue to discover sizeable, suspected Great White sharks close to shore, with large schools of baitfish hanging around and whales beginning their journey south.

There’s also been a blow to the information exchange that previously served to empower surfers and beachgoers. It was reported in The Australian that the Facebook page, Ballina Shark Reports, recently closed due to pressure from local businesses that believed the increased shark sightings would lead to bad publicity and affect tourism in the area.

The page founder and operator, Dan Webber, told Tracks his decision to close the page was a combination of enduring long volunteer hours and the increased necessity of a publically funded announcement service for the region along with pressure from local businesses.

“There were many reasons behind the decision. More than anything, I was worried about how difficult it would be to monitor the page day-in-day-out, month after month, without the support of a properly funded program, especially with summer approaching and the days getting longer.”

Despite the hours logged in front of a computer filtering through reported sightings to deliver genuine public announcements, the exercise had an overwhelmingly positive impact on surfers in the community.

“It was tremendously rewarding to see how quickly the eventual shark sightings were shared through Facebook. Hundreds of people were getting the news within a few minutes,” says Webber.

An incarnation of the page has since materialised simply titled, Shark Reports (click here), which offers information about shark sightings Australia wide.

Meanwhile the Department of Primary Industries along with CSIRO scientists arrived in Ballina last Monday to work with council on shark mitigation strategies, particularly focused on the tagging of Great White sharks in the region.

Ballina mayor today told ABC North Coast that he remains unsure why the area continues to be so attractive for sharks and that the issue needs to be resolved.

“There must be a reason why they’re so close – these sharks aren’t hundreds of metres out,” he said.

“The DPI brought their big vessel The Swan up last week and they were looking half a kilometre out.

“They saw nothing because the sharks are not out there, or there might be some out there but the others are right in on the rocks or right in on the beaches in the breakers and that’s virtually unheard of, maybe one shark but to have all these sharks is a really big problem.”

Mr Wright adds that sharks in the area have been in the four-metre range and at that size will be difficult to catch.

“They’ll try to capture the shark, turn it upside down and put these tags into its tummy and then release the shark and they’ll be able to follow that for up to 10 years with satellites and things like that,” he said.

“But they’ve never done anything like this before these guys, they’ve done two-and-a-half metre ones and two-metre ones down near Newcastle but I think this will be a learning curve for everybody.”

Watch: The Fatal Coast a Tracks Magazine special investigation.

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