NSW Govt Stumps Up $500,000 For Shark Response Training

Stu Nettle picture
Stu Nettle (stunet)
Swellnet Dispatch

It's been seventeen years since Brad Smith was taken by a shark while surfing at Gracetown, Western Australia. Smith's death precipitated a flurry of attacks in WA that catalysed into a new understanding of shark behaviour. No longer was South Australia our 'shark capital', surfers elsewhere also had to beware.

A few years later and surfers on the north coast of NSW were equally unsettled when the statistics began accruing in their region. Since a bodyboarder was taken at Port Macquarie in 2008 there's been eight more fatalities and 62 non-fatal 'interactions'.

In most instances, both in WA and NSW, the victims were surfers, which made a nonsense of platitudes about the chances of a shark attack being as likely as being struck by lightning. Probablity is meaningless when the risk isn't equally shared.

Authorities have been slow to reposnd to the 'new normal', hindered by an emotive debate and a seeming lack of data to base policy upon. In some regions - Esperance and Ballina for instance - the public has been proactive, not waiting for state intervention.

In Esperance, ocean users formed the Ocean Safety and Support Group to gather their own data and take to government, while Lennox/Ballina surfers reached out to surfer paramedic Dr Jon Cohen who held information sessions on responding to shark attack victims. Cohen has also created the Shark Attack Slam Pack which was used by Surfing WA and Yallingup Boardriders in a joint intitative that saw permanent placement of the kits around Yallingup.

Following these leads, the NSW State Government yesterday announced a $500,000 plan to arm more surfers with first responder kits and training. Over 160 boardrider clubs, surf schools, and high-performance coaches, will receive shark incident response kits.

Minister for Agriculture Adam Marshall made the announcement: “Sadly, most recent shark attack victims have been surfers, so this investment is about doing everything we can to ensure they get help quickly."

“Every surfer in NSW will now have access to first-aid training through Surfing NSW’s Surfers Rescue 24/7 program, while customised medical kits and training will be supplied to more than 110 NSW boardrider clubs and 55 surf schools."

Unlike Surfing WA, which used the Shark Bite First Aid Slam Pack, Surfing NSW will deploy kits designed by TacMed Paramedics and Military Medics. They includes trauma/bleeding control equipment, multiple hypothermia blankets and equipment for fracture management, basic first aid dressing, and a compact evacuation platform.

TacMed CEO Jeremy Holder believes the kits could be the major difference between life and death.

“A shark attack on a regional or unpatrolled beach can lead to a life-threatening bleed and quickly become fatal,” says Holder. “Oftentimes, you have three to five minutes to stop the bleed and with ambulance response time being an average of eleven minutes, these kits provide simple tools that are backed by years of successful battlefield medicine data and can ultimately assist in saving a life. The trauma first aid kits are small, lightweight, clearly labelled and designed to be deployed in the critical first few minutes after a major incident.”

The financial package includes twenty more drones to patrol Surfing NSW events, which operate in addition to an existing fleet of shark-spotting drones already delivered by Surf Life Saving NSW.

Keep up to date with the program through surfingnsw.com.au


radiationrules's picture
radiationrules's picture
radiationrules Tuesday, 16 Nov 2021 at 10:21am

great idea - know the risks, prepare for the improbable, act logically under pressure, knowledge is power > ticks a lot of boxes for me.

stunet's picture
stunet's picture
stunet Tuesday, 16 Nov 2021 at 10:26am

Yeah, it's taken a while to get to this point. Seems the 'on land' debate had to exhaust itself: cull, no cull, sharks' protected status, drum lines, the whole box and dice, and it's come right around to this point, an acceptance that nothing else is going to change so surfers have to look after ourselves.

thermalben's picture
thermalben's picture
thermalben Tuesday, 16 Nov 2021 at 10:28am

"SMART drumlines are set every morning (weather dependent) approximately 500m offshore at a depth between 8-15m of water. They are collected at the end of each day and are not left overnight."


That's a staggering amount of ongoing work required to keep the system operational.

freeride76's picture
freeride76's picture
freeride76 Tuesday, 16 Nov 2021 at 11:40am

It is.

Workable though.

the Ballina-Lennox drum-line array is managed by a local fisherman/contractor.

He sets the gear in the morning- usually around 7am and then stands-by, pulls it again around 4pm.

Doesn't set the gear if the Bar can't be crossed, so it's not every day.

So, one contractor deals with the Ballina-Lennox array, another with the Evans array, one for Coffs etc etc.

It's manageable in terms of labour required.

frog's picture
frog's picture
frog Tuesday, 16 Nov 2021 at 1:19pm

Perhaps there is an alternative to Smart?? Drumlines which only teach some sharks to avoid approaching big baited hooks:

Moor a dummy surfer 500 metres offshore with a 10 x normal strength shark shield type electric current device with large long life battery in it. Swap dummies with a swimmer / snorkeler dummy and a new battery at battery life charge end (mini solar panels might extend this).

Habituate sharks to substantial shocks when they approach human like objects too closely.

On land many predators are super wary of humans through learned behaviour (some genetic memory, however that works, and from their upbringing). Tigers in India are watching humans all the time but only occasionally attack. Big cats and wolves in the US mostly just hide and watch.

Scatter this set up along the coast in place of the big baited hooks and teach sharks to be very wary of approaching humans. Over time this would build up a shark population with far greater wariness than seems to case at the moment. Hesitancy in the approach phase of investigations and attacks is a major factor protecting us. It needs to be enhanced substantially. Increasing the likelihood of sharks avoiding popular beach areas is also important. At the moment they just cruise on by carefree and close.

Logical if you ask me. I have suggested it before but it never seems to get discussed by scientists.

Great research project to trial. Tagged sharks could be tracked and their change in behaviour around the dummies over time monitored before a wider roll out.

Come on shark researchers, I know you read these forums. Think of the grant money you could win, the joys of the planning phase, the deployment trips to the coast, the serious data crunching and graphs and statistical analysis, the research papers you can publish and the lives you could save.

It is about the only idea left unexplored I think might work well aside from netting and culling.

What a project. Start writing your grant proposals today.

Lanky Dean's picture
Lanky Dean's picture
Lanky Dean Tuesday, 30 Nov 2021 at 11:19pm

According to scientist, this theory was asked about kangaroos vs road users.
Thinking it will take 200 years before the kangaroos understand what cars with lights are.
They just don't have our cognitive functions.

back beach's picture
back beach's picture
back beach Tuesday, 16 Nov 2021 at 1:56pm

I fully support the WA subsidies for independent tested and evidence based personal shark deterrent devices. Puts the onus of responsibility on the individual much like a bike helmet or seatbelt.

Klevliend's picture
Klevliend's picture
Klevliend Tuesday, 16 Nov 2021 at 2:57pm

Theres probably a better article detailing this but, are shark attacks on surfers actually becoming more common? Is this what the statistics are showing?
And if so, is this due to shark behaviour changing or is it because there are there more surfers in the water than ever before?

Tooold2bakook's picture
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Tooold2bakook Friday, 19 Nov 2021 at 8:10am

Mate, this type of scientific thinking doesn't belong in these forums.

This here is more about "yes but in my personal experience..."

thermalben's picture
thermalben's picture
thermalben Friday, 19 Nov 2021 at 8:59am

A recent paper looked into the 'mistaken identity theory'.


Short version: from below, white sharks can't really tell the diff between humans and seals.

nextswell's picture
nextswell's picture
nextswell Tuesday, 16 Nov 2021 at 7:12pm

5 fatal attacks between Coolangatta and Forster in 15 months during 2020-21. This does not include the 2 non fatal attacks at Port Mac and crescent. All attacks between May-Sept. From all reports all were white sharks.
I live in the Coffs region and I appreciate they are attempting to find a solution to minimise the chance of further tragedies.

roondog's picture
roondog's picture
roondog Tuesday, 16 Nov 2021 at 9:27pm

Hardly addresses the issue, the act protecting GWS needs to be revised, challenged and amended.

bluediamond's picture
bluediamond's picture
bluediamond Tuesday, 16 Nov 2021 at 9:47pm

If this results in a friend or one of you crew on here surviving then i'm a fan. So much depends on the response.

Distracted's picture
Distracted's picture
Distracted Wednesday, 17 Nov 2021 at 6:36am

@Freeride, manageable for a couple Smart drum lines sites but would start to add up if there are additional locations where there has been more recent shark attacks eg Port Macquarie, Forster, Cabarita etc.

Be interesting to see over time whether the Smart Drum line catch rate and shark sizes at Ballina change.

Doesn’t appear to be as many shark encounters up that way being reported recently? Could be that some of the larger sharks that were being caught there are being displaced up/ down the coast and the risk relocated.

freeride76's picture
freeride76's picture
freeride76 Wednesday, 17 Nov 2021 at 6:47am

I guess it depends, but I see it manageable based on river/harbour set-ups.

ie it could easily be managed and budgeted for if there were set-ups and contractors in: Ballina, Evans, Yamba, Coffs, Forster Port Mac for eg.

Thats just based on my observations of how the Ballina/Evans guys do it.

It's actually not rocket science and when you see how they manage the entire drum line set-up in QLD, totally doable using existing infrastructure/expertise.

Sure, it costs money.
So does everything.

The other side of the coin is that it provides local employment and the money/sense of security feeds back into regional economies.

Not to mention the incredible amounts of real-time, ongoing data it provides for the increased scientific understanding of white shark seasonal movements/aggregations.
That is priceless in my books.

As for the sharks tagged here being "displaced".......not sure that is a useful term.
There's nothing to stop white sharks roaming freely up and down the coast.
Tagging doesn't prevent them from entering one area and placing them into another.

I think the more useful question is : does tagging have a general deterrent effect on white shark behaviour? ie do they become more cautious, less likely to enter the surf zone, less likely to hang around areas of human activity/boat traffic?

DPI does claim a deterrent effect but whether that is persistent or temporary remains an open question in my estimation.

Solitude's picture
Solitude's picture
Solitude Wednesday, 17 Nov 2021 at 9:34pm

@ Freeride, a couple of questions for you mate (as I know you’re across this stuff):

a) I recall you saying the Leba drums were baited with stingray or similar, current dpi site says sea mullet, any difference?

b) so every zone they put these new drum lines they are being pulled in every night? Obviously this is because they couldn’t respond to a line going off after hours?

c) looking at previous data on their website around specific shark movements I notice they seem to only able to track certain sharks for a short time - what do you think he happened to the signal of those they fail to track ongoing?

Appears the lines are set on Tweed coast - caught a tiger off Casuarina the other day.

freeride76's picture
freeride76's picture
freeride76 Thursday, 18 Nov 2021 at 8:21am

A: not sure. Will ask the local contractor when I see him. It's an interesting question: whether catch rates for white sharks are determined by the bait used.

B: yes. gear is set in the morning and pulled in the a'noon. If too rough, then gear is not set.

C: Not sure. I would like to know that.

Solitude's picture
Solitude's picture
Solitude Thursday, 18 Nov 2021 at 1:37pm

Cheers mate. If you find out anything new would be interested to know.

I’d imagine the tracking issue must be either faulty tracker or it’s fallen off?

calk's picture
calk's picture
calk Thursday, 18 Nov 2021 at 4:52pm

I'm pretty sure the trackers have a battery life and when it runs out they fall off the shark. See this post from Shark Smart:

In the past the tag from a bull shark came off, a member of the public came across it, picked it up and the DPI could see it in a carpark.

Edit: Link here

Shaun Hanson's picture
Shaun Hanson's picture
Shaun Hanson Thursday, 18 Nov 2021 at 10:25am

...there is a huge increase in shark numbers along the eastcoast over the last 5 to 10 yrs and it doesnt look like stopping anytime soon ...great to have training and response gear available and it may save a life ...you can tag as many as you like it certainly doesn't deter tagged sharks swimming past receivers ...there is only 2 ways to deal with it ..a personal deterrant that works maybe some of the money spent on feelgood bullshit should be allocated towards deterrant development ....or you reduce shark numbers

Tooold2bakook's picture
Tooold2bakook's picture
Tooold2bakook Friday, 19 Nov 2021 at 9:47am

"huge increase in shark numbers" sources please

Solitude's picture
Solitude's picture
Solitude Friday, 19 Nov 2021 at 11:14am

It’s funny most of us are super concerned about other environmental issues: deforestation, koala threat, coral bleaching, etc.....
......yet here we have an ecosystem that at some levels or respects appears to be thriving (read: increase in humpback population, ? active shark populations) and we still feel we need to ‘control’ it.

Sharks are scary for surfers, swimmers and divers yes, but the cynic in me feels most of these mitigation attempts are largely political and superficial.

However, if more for science - learning their patterns / better understanding of populations to applying effective post attack treatment than I think the program has it’s merits.

Shaun Hanson's picture
Shaun Hanson's picture
Shaun Hanson Sunday, 21 Nov 2021 at 2:00pm

Visual from long term comercial fisherman poeple who have spent most of there lives on the ocean interacting with shark populations ..you notice changes its part of the job and it affects the way and where you fish ..
You notice when bullsharks are attacking fenders hanging of the side of your boat frequently in the swains threw townville area 10 yrs ago you hardly saw a bull shark ..Bull sharks making it impossible to land spanish mackeral as they are oblturated second after you hook them ...interactions with GW east of fraser island and bottom end of bunker group where you never saw one in the past ..huge increase in size and numbers following trawlers ...recreational fisherman complaining about the amount of sharks eating hooked fish ...poeple being attacked around whitsundays ...the poeple with government shark netting programs ...or do the sources have to be from researches and uni educated phd holders who ocassionaly get out from behind there desks before there accepted as credible ?