Surfers in northern NSW have come under fire for apparently ignoring warnings after a group of at least 50 bull sharks were spotted offshore.
The school of sharks was spotted off Ballina’s Lighthouse Beach by Surf Life Saving NSW early on Monday morning, prompting authorities to abruptly close the beach.
A siren was sounded to clear the beach, which is notorious for shark attacks.
The Department of Primary Industries’ helicopter that spotted the bull sharks also returned hours later, hovering just beyond the surf break with its siren wailing and a crew member using a loud hailer, to tell those in the water that more sharks had been spotted, according to the ABC.
But many surfers were slow to leave the water. Ballina Mayor David Wright said on Tuesday he was concerned for dozens of surfers who did not react to the scare.
“They could still kill you or certainly take a very big bite out of your leg – they’re certainly very dangerous,” he said.
“We’ve had fatalities there on that beach with bull sharks.
“[The surfers] could be prosecuted because the beach was closed. But what do you do? I don’t have a police boat to go and take them out.”
The DPI said the unusually large group of bull sharks was probably attracted to the area by a huge mullet haul.
Surf life saving stalwart Garry Meredith told The Courier Mail newspaper he had “never seen anything like” the massive school of sharks, some up to two metres long, lurking just beyond the surf break.
Mr Meredith said a drone continued to monitor the sharks on Monday, but they did not move on.
Newrybar man Ryder Court, who was one of the surfers who stayed in the water, defended the lack of a response.
“It was definitely the numbers, you’re not too concerned when there are about 100 [surfers] out there with you,” he told the ABC.
“Obviously they’re [authorities are] doing their job – which is good and I appreciate the service – but when they’re only yelling out ‘bull sharks’ I’m not feeling too unsafe.”
🐟🐟🐟 MULLET AN "EASY FEED" FOR 60 BULL SHARKS AT BALLINA 🦈🦈🦈While the annual mullet run might have ended in some parts…
There have been two fatal shark attacks at Lighthouse Beach in the past decade, and three non-fatal but serious attacks.
In data released this week from a Surf Life Saving New South Wales drone trial, and reported by the ABC, Lighthouse Beach had 35 shark sightings in the 2018-2019 summer – one of NSW’s busiest locations for sightings.
The beach was re-opened on Tuesday morning, with aerial surveillance set to continue.
Mr Meredith told The Courier Mail that beaches were not actively being patrolled at the moment, but crews had been called in to monitor the situation and warn people of the danger.