Shark attacks and encounters off the coast of WA have more than doubled over summer and autumn, statistics show, with the state’s South West emerging as a hot spot for sharks.
While there have been no fatal attacks in WA since the start of summer, there has been a spike in the number of shark interactions — with 11 recorded since December 1 last year.
Eight of those were in the South West, compared to none in the region the previous year.
The figures include two recent attacks at Gracetown on April 16 which prompted the cancellation of the Margaret River Pro surfing competition, and an incident a week later in which a surfer was swiped by a shark in the same area.
Just days ago, another surfer was knocked off his board at Prevelly near Margaret River.
It is a significant increase on the previous year, when there were five shark encounters in WA during the six months from December 1, 2016 to May 30 2017, including the fatal attack on teenager Laeticia Brouwer at an Esperance beach on Easter Monday.
SHARK SCARE: “It’s just had a go at the motor!”🦈Check out this footage of what witnesses describe as a 4-metre great white shark, 2km off Dunsborough this morning. Credit: Sara Brown
Posted by ABC South West on Thursday, April 19, 2018
The data was collated by the Australian Shark Attack File (ASAF), a centralised database for shark attacks.
It includes encounters with large sharks, such as great whites and bull sharks, as well as other species, including small reef sharks and wobbegongs.
The criteria for determining an attack or encounter includes:
- a determined attempt by a shark to bite a person
- if injury is inflicted by a shark during an attempt to bite a person
- imminent contact was averted by diversionary action by the victim or others (no injury to the human occurs)
- the equipment worn or held by a person is bitten or damaged by a shark during an attempt to bite
- there is a shark bite to a small water craft where a person is in or on the craft such as a kayak, surfboard or small dinghy
Salmon, whale stranding blamed
The Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development (DPIRD) blamed the higher number of shark incidents on the annual salmon run and the stranding of more than 100 whales at Hamelin Bay.
DPIRD executive director of fisheries Rick Fletcher said the salmon run had attracted large marine predators.
“In late March, there was a mass whale standing, the largest stranding in almost 10 years, involving 105 long-finned pilot whales at Hamelin Bay, and in following weeks a further 25 whales washed ashore along the South West coast,” he said.
“The high number of injured whales or carcasses on or close to shore could provide an opportunistic food source or act as an attractant for range of large predators, including white sharks.”
Despite the recent spate of shark activity in the South West, the state government is not planning to extend helicopter patrols beyond Monday.
A spokesperson for Fisheries Minister Dave Kelly said the patrols began on September 2, three weeks earlier than the previous year.
The final few days of the patrols coincide with surfers taking advantage of good conditions in the South West and Perth this weekend.
In the South West on Saturday, surfers greeted the large swell with a little trepidation after an unnerving week of sightings and media reports of close encounters with sharks.
More than 20 individual sightings were recorded in the area between Dunsborough and Bunker Bay alone last week, with eight of those sharks sighted estimated to be larger than 3 metres.
— Charlotte Hamlyn (@charlottehamlyn) April 17, 2018
Surf photographer Russell Ord said he was clinging to the theory sharks did not enjoy big waves.
Fellow Margaret River surfer Robbie Bruce, who was “bumped” off of his board by a shark on Thursday, said while the incident had left him feeling like he had drunk five cups of really strong coffee, he was determined to not let it mess with his psyche too much.
Fallout from the cancellation of the Margaret River Pro has continued, with the decision by professional surfers Gabriel Medina and Italo Ferriera to speak out about their fears of sharks on social media coming under attack from many.
The pair drew international criticism after taking to Instagram with their fears — Medina later saying he thought Margaret River was “not safe” due to the presence of sharks in the area.
Author Tim Winton was among the critics, labelling the comments as “cowardly”.
“I just think if you want to go swimming in a dead ocean go to a pool, go to a wave pool,” Winton told Triple J.
“If you want to be part of something that’s alive, and that’s what surfing is to most of us, then you’ve got to be prepared, you’re doing that in a living ecosystem.”