Sharks were back in the news again recently. Our mainstream media loves a good shark attack. They come at it from all angles, lots of stock footage of huge sharks and nasty gashes. Sharks… we love talking about them, but hate having an encounter.
Sharks were in the news because two surfers near Margaret River were attacked on the same day while a few kilometres away the world’s best surfers were gathered for the Margaret River Pro.
After the first attack, they had a pause in proceedings then sent the surfers back out. After the second attack later in the day they called the entire contest off after a number of Brazilian surfers complained about the potential shark threat. Surfing social media went into meltdown…. should event organisers have stopped the event, should they have kept running? Kelly Slater came out supporting the event organisers, the WA Tourism Minister said that the surfers should just get back in the water and surf, and on and on it went.
Western Australia has a lot of sharks and a lot of shark attacks. Victoria also has a lot of sharks…. but has only seen one death from a shark attack in 150 years. Plenty of close encounters including sharks (and three in the one day recently… a mate of mine had a shark follow him to the rocks at Point Addis and there was a minor attack at Winki Pop).
Western Australia is the badlands of sharks. 15 deaths in 17 years makes this one of the riskiest places in the world to surf when it comes to encounters and attacks. Theories abound as to why the sharks in WA are more likely to attack then here in Victoria. There is much discussion about the correlation between the number of attacks and number of whales washed up/beached in Western Australia. Washed up whale carcasses are often left to rot on remote beaches or buried in the sand (and occasionally blown up with dynamite… but that’s another messy story). Fluids from the carcass leach out into the sand and end up in the ocean.
It has been documented that sharks will keep coming back to these beaches where whales have been buried for years, attracted by the seeping fluids (a common occurrence in Western Australia and parts of New South Wales).
So what’s the answer? The last two times I visited WA I didn’t hit the water. As much as I love a surf and the ocean, the idea of becoming victim number 16 just did not appeal to me. On the other hand, there is a theory that if authorities were to dispose of the dead whale carcasses in a more effective manner then the sharks wouldn’t be hanging around.
Either way… the rules are the same. Don’t surf near dead whales, don’t surf at dawn/dusk and don’t pee in your wetsuit… sharks can smell you from miles away!
Written by John Foss