Long Read: On The Ethics Of Shark Control

Steve Shearer picture
Steve Shearer (freeride76)
Swellnet Dispatch

The 25th August near-fatal mauling of Toby Begg at Port Macquarie as well as the seasonal re-instatement of shark control nets at 51 beaches between Wollongong and Newcastle has once again raised the issue of shark control methods. Mostly, their effectiveness and the deleterious effects on other marine creatures. I wish to make a contribution to the debate, after giving the matter much thought and having personal experiences of the impacts of both white shark attacks amongst my surfing community and innovations in shark mitigation methods.

The aim is not to introduce anymore dogmatic thinking but to open up further avenues of debate, to show that surfers as the primary targets of shark attack are being poorly served by the media discourse and current orthodoxies around this issue and, finally, to aim for a pathway towards mutual co-existence with apex, oceanic predators whose populations are likely to rise under a regime of legislated protection.

These are very thorny issues so let's tread carefully.

Swimmers split a school of bait fish, as does a shark, at Bondi Beach, 2020 (Dronesharkapp)

First, a quick survey of shark control programs. The three largest and most well studied are the Queensland Shark Control Program (QSCP), New South Wales Shark Meshing Program (SMP) and the South African KwaZulu-Natal Shark Board program (KZNSB). The QSCP uses nets and drumlines at 86 beaches along the Queensland Coast and was instigated in 1962. The SMP was introduced in 1937 and currently nets 51 beaches between Wollongong and Newcastle between September and April. In addition, there are now 305 SMART Drumlines located along the NSW Coast. The KZNSB program consists of nets and drumlines and was introduced in 1952. It now covers 37 beaches along the KwaZulu coastline north and south of Durban.

The aim of all three programs is to reduce shark attacks and the method is very simple. It's called the fishing effect and relies on removing target sharks from selected beaches and thus reducing the potential for interactions. According to the fishing effect it doesn't matter whether a shark is caught on the ocean or landward side of a net. As an example of the fishing effect, 18 white sharks were caught by the SMP in the last netting season (2022/23).

The nets don't span a whole beach, nor reach from surface to ocean floor. They likely work as a deterrent, interrupting the shark's natural behaviour of cruising behind the surf zone where the nets are located, however the fishing effect is of primary importance. Some evidence exists there may be a chemical repellent effect from netted, decaying sharks and rays.

Our first question: Do shark control programs work?

The evidence for their effectiveness across all three domains is incredibly powerful. At Durban, from 1943 until the installation of nets in 1952, there were seven fatal attacks. Since the installation of nets there have been no fatalities at Durban and no incidents resulting in serious injury. At KwaZulu-Natal's other protected beaches, from 1940 until most of those beaches were first netted in the 1960s, there were 16 fatal attacks and 11 resulting in serious injury. In the three decades since nets were installed there were no fatal attacks at those beaches and only four resulting in serious injury. In the period 1990 to 1998 there were seven shark attacks (one fatal on a spearfisherman) in KwaZulu Natal's meshed beaches compared to 46 (five fatal) in South Africa’s Eastern and Western Cape provinces where no protective measures are in place.

In Queensland, before the program was put in place, there were 36 shark attacks, resulting in 19 fatalities from 1916 to 1962. Since the QSCP was implemented in 1962, there has only been two fatal shark attacks. One at Amity Point in 2007 via bullsharks and one white shark attack at Greenmount in September 2020.

The New South Wales SMP record is equally impressive. Across NSW's most heavily populated coastal area with beach visitations in the millions every year (4.3 million estimated in 2022/23), there's been one fatality since 1937, and 12 interactions with target sharks (11 white shark bites, 1 Tiger).

12 interactions in 86 years..? I can name 12 bites in 2 years within a 50 kilometre radius of my Northern Rivers home.

Overall, the reduction in shark interactions has been estimated to be in the vicinity of 90% across all three jurisdictions. Claims that shark control programs are not effective can only be justified by advocacy and motivated reasoning, not a sober scientific assessment of the evidence.

NSW North Coast beach warning (ABC North Coast)

Having established the proposition that it is possible to reduce the risk of shark attack (i.e it is a governable issue) it's incumbent on us as surfers to then ask a second question: Do we have the right to utilise shark control methods?

This is a much knottier ethical issue. Shark control is not a free pass to safe surfing. The cost is in marine life; in our fellow creatures with whom we share the ocean.

The bycatch is significant. 204 non-target animals were caught by the SMP last year, including 14 turtles, 8 dolphins and 2 seals.

The first year of a two-year net trial on the North Coast (Lennox to Evans Head) caught 266 non-target animals including 1 Grey Nurse shark, 1 Manta Ray, 11 turtles, 4 dolphins, and 4 longtail Tuna. The story is no different in Queensland or South Africa. Nets are non-selective fishing devices that will catch any and all animals of a sufficient size to become entangled. Efforts have been made to reduce this bycatch by setting the nets seasonally or less often, or removing them during whale migrations and sardine runs, but the fundamental problem of bycatch can never be overcome.

What do we owe other creatures? What do we owe the biosphere? Species extinction has been a fundamental property of all life on Earth but the human record, under any political system, is appalling. According to English philosopher John Gray in his book Straw Dogs: “The destruction of the natural world is not the result of global capitalism, industrialisation, ‘Western civilisation’ or any flaw in human institutions. It is a consequence of the evolutionary success of an exceptionally rapacious primate. Throughout all of history and prehistory, human advance has coincided with ecological devastation”.

The implications of that world view have been taken to their logical extremes by American philosopher Kristine Korsgaard who stated in her 2018 book Fellow Creatures: Our Obligations to Other Animals that “nothing has ever been as bad for the biotic community as unhindered human reproduction. Shouldn’t it follow that it is wrong for humans to reproduce, and right for us to stop reproducing and let ourselves go extinct?”

It's a seductive way of thinking and echoes of it appear in every iteration of the shark debate, especially in below the line comments. White shark attacks seen through that prism take on a peculiar type of moral certitude with the shark as avenging angel getting one back for Mother Nature against humanity.

I admit to falling under its sway myself. But my position has changed. Primarily from proximity to the attack clusters that occurred here from 2015 onwards and the media response to them.

Developed after a spate of attacks on Reunion Island, the SMART drumline targets sharks and sends a near-instant message to authorities

A lot of the media and even scientific discourse is just absolute gaslighting nonsense for us surfers. Chiefly, that shark attacks are vanishingly rare and we have more chance of drowning, or being killed by a cow, or hit by a falling coconut etc etc. The names of people attacked around here come straight to my mind: Jabez Reitman, Tadashi Nakahara (RIP), Matt Lee, Craig Ison, Cooper Allen, Jade Fitzpatrick, Sam Edwardes, Lee Johnson, Seneca Rus, Abe McGrath, Mani Hart-Deville (RIP). If not direct pals, work colleagues, or surfing buddies then friends of friends, sons or parents of my kid's friends in school.

Take the circle out to first responders and witnesses, and it expands by a factor of three at least. Add to that an almost uncountably high number of swoopings, bumpings, circlings. Social science research by the DPI around the aforementioned two-year net trial for Lennox-Ballina revealed 45% of respondents indicated they, a family member, or close friend had been involved in a shark/human interaction, including being bitten, approached or bumped by a shark, or being involved in the rescue and treatment of shark-bite victims.

Ignorance of this data and the actual risk profile makes reading most media reporting on the “shark issue” a forehead slapping exercise for North Coast surfers.

Having to reckon with this human suffering and trauma created a dissonance that persists to this day. On the one hand was fellowship with the community of marine animals we share the ocean with, and on the other was an increasing level of injury, death, and suffering amongst my surfing community from predation and attempted predation from a species of the marine community.

Again, media and academic discourse became a nonsense. As a counter to the perception disseminated by the movie Jaws, a story was crafted of white sharks as a gentle creature uninterested in human beings. This Disney-fication of shark behaviour was gobbled up and repeated ad nauseum, including by many academics who should have known better.

Science proceeds according to the falsifiable hypothesis. A hypothesis needs to have predictive power and accord with the empirical data. If the data is at odds with the hypothesis then the hypothesis needs to be altered or ditched. Hypotheses that sharks always have an “exploratory bite” then disappear or that human beings were never predated on were falsified a long time ago and should have been discarded by the weight of evidence. We still hear them repeated today. It seems a very hard truth to accept that white sharks are apex, opportunistic, ambush predators, and that occasionally human beings in the inshore zone will be subjected to that predation. No-one knows why but the answer may be as simple as it is an evolutionary advantage to investigate every item in their habitat as a potential food source.

The remains of a Nicholas Edwards' board after he was fatally attacked at Gracetown, 2010 (Reuters)

The story of nature is the story of predation; what behavioural ecologist Fred Provenza described as an “unending game of attack and counter-attack”. Even those prepared to countenance a nihilistic vision of humanity like Korsgaard believe we are basically entitled to preserve our species, presumably from predation. Like white sharks, we too are rooted in our place, our place in the marine ecology, and have been for millenia. The archaeological traces of the first human aquatic exploitation date back to over two million years ago, initially freshwater, then moving to coastal habitats. All the evidence shows that, after modern humans were birthed in Africa, we adaptated to the marine environments during our migration north to Europe and east to Asia. Food, tools, ornaments, all utilised in the coastal, marine environments. A fundamental part of our human story.

It follows from the evolutionary success of our species that the spectre of predation is now remote for vast sectors of the Earth's population. We are removed from food chains, by and large, other than our position as consumers. Most human/predator interactions occur well away from urban conglomerations, in places such as Africa (lions), India (tigers) and Northern Australia (crocodiles). Since the 1999 decision to protect white sharks, its range and potential recovery into heavily populated coastal areas of south-east Australia offers up unique ethical considerations absent from these less populous environs. A common response to the increasing shark attack rate is to simply stay out of the water because it's the shark's domain. There is reason to dismiss this based on our human history of coastal habitation as illustrated above. The stronger reason to reject it is because it does not work. We have a data set for that exact response in the case of Reunion Island.

As a consequence of several attacks on the French Island surfing was banned. The ban was ineffective and the attacks continued. Innovations in shark control methods were then trialed with much better results. We'll get to that in a moment.

Shark control of any variety will inevitably carry with it costs to marine life. The desire to enact it is fundamentally a question of values. Pioneer of the St-Leu water patrol on Reunion Island Christophe Mulquin frames it in stark terms. “In the end,” he says in a recent The Surfer's Journal article, “you're choosing the life of a fish, or you're choosing the life of a kid”. If I honestly reflect on whether I would be prepared to sacrifice the white sharks that fatally attacked Tadashi or Mani I would have to agree. Their lives mean more to me, to their friends and family and reflect what philosopher Roger Scruton termed "the great differences between creatures”. We all acknowledge the “hierarchy of mental capacities”. It's there for everyone, no matter where you draw the line: sharks, rats, bacteria, or ticks for example. At a certain point in that hierarchy you will privilege your own and your loved ones existence over that of the animal kingdom. Their dreams, hopes, relationships, and potentials will mean more.

(AAP)

What we owe to our fellow creatures and the biosphere under this viewpoint then is not fidelity to the individual but to their species, and to the health of the ecosystem as a whole. As the local shark contractor has explained to me regarding white sharks caught on the SMART drumlines, “they deserve their chance at life”. If human ingenuity can find a middle path where predation can be minimised (not eliminated, that would be impossible) while predators have their “chance at life” and fulfil their ecological function, that should be our very strong aim as participants in our marine communities.

There is no return to unspoiled nature or some kind of pre-human state of grace. According to Provenza, nature is changing “relentlessly, remorselessly, and stochastically”, with humans “co-creating nature's dynamism and unpredictability”. We encounter that every time we enter the ocean. Humans can only mitigate our impacts using the reason which separates us from the animal kingdom. It's a narrow path with no guarantees of success.

There have been advances. While the surfing ban on Reunion was a complete failure, the spate of shark attacks led to the development of the SMART drumline, which enabled contractors to be notified immediately by hooked animals. Importantly, that allows for the possibility of tagging and releasing the animal alive. NSW DPI trialed the SMART drumlines from December 2016 on the North Coast (Lennox-Ballina and Evans Head) before other trials across NSW. What is indisputable about SMART drumlines is the selectivity (almost no bycatch), their non-lethal nature (predators get their chance at life) and the enormous amounts of data it generates. There is a short-term fishing effect (target sharks are removed from the area) and there has been a reduction in shark attacks and shark encounters in the Lennox-Evans corridor.

SMART drumlines were set in Port Macquarie when Toby Begg was attacked which constitutes the first failure of the deterrence, but the system, like shark nets, can never be foolproof. For now, if we accept we have a moral right to protect ourselves and our fellow surfers while doing the least harm, it might be the best option we have.

// STEVE SHEARER

Conclusion:

  • Shark control programs work.
  • White sharks as opportunistic, apex, ambush predators that frequent inshore zones pose a risk, likely to increase, to surfers.
  • Human beings have a right to defend themselves from predation.
  • As primary ocean users, surfers have a moral obligation to minimise harm to other marine life when determining the method, if any, of shark mitigation.

Comments

Andrew P's picture
Andrew P's picture
Andrew P Wednesday, 13 Sep 2023 at 4:04pm

A well informed and sensible article - thanks Steve! As a scientist and water user, i've always struggled with the "you've got more chance of dying on the way to the beach" counter to the fear of unprovoked shark bite, nor the idyllic "sharks only bite people by mistake" BS. The chances of unprovoked shark bite are not the same for a 2 surf a day coastal resident as a land-lubber who dips their toes in on holiday once a year.

To continue the rational debate, are there species that are caught by the shark control programs whose populations are threatened or endangered? Whales? Dolphins? Turtles, Manta Rays? The only ones coming to mind are Great Hammerhead, Grey Nurse sharks; as well as the targeted Great White. So what is the impact on the population of interacting with a few of the other species, if there are no great threats to their populations? It is just because we are taught to love "charismatic megafauna".

Every risk management tool has an offset; saving lives costs the lives of some cute and cuddly marine animals, but shouldn't wipe them off the planet.

Garryh's picture
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Garryh Thursday, 14 Sep 2023 at 7:51pm

The population of large sharks varies in a fixed proportion to their main populations of prey. Put another way humans hunted whales almost to extinction by about 1978 (when that population had reduced about 95%)....and similarly the great white population also reduced...perhaps by a similar amount. Took quite awhile for the whale population to rebound (and great whites are likely lagging somewhat but are catching up). Perhaps this helps explain why great white encounters with humans were reduced during that time....but are now on the increase. Similarly we've wiped out many of the mullet and Australian salmon shoals (remember what they were like 30-40 years ago...beaches waters looking black due to huge shoals close to shore)...the reduction in these affected bull shark populations greatly perhaps.....and now with reduced fishing the bait fish shoals are starting to build again. (note I read about this somewhere but can't find the reference sorry....not sure if this is correct but it seems logical). I guess I'm trying to make the point that consideration of drum lines or shark protection devices perhaps needs a broader assessment including factors other than what's presented above

tubeshooter's picture
tubeshooter's picture
tubeshooter Thursday, 14 Sep 2023 at 8:14pm

I have to disagree with the wiping out of mullet and salmon schools and the previous decades catch rates.
And those big schools are still around, just need to be in the right place at the right time to see them.

"The eastern Australian biological stock has a long history of relatively stable commercial landings and catch rates for estuary and ocean fisheries in both New South Wales and Queensland. Length and age composition of catches is regularly monitored, and results suggest consistent recruitment and age composition during recent years. Sea Mullet are relatively fast-growing fish, with the majority of landings comprising fish between 2 and 5 years of age. This evidence indicates that the biomass of this biological stock is unlikely to be recruitment overfished. Recent commercial landings have been close to the long-term average catch, since the 1940s, of 4957 tonnes (t). This evidence indicates that the current level of fishing mortality is unlikely to cause the biological stock to become recruitment overfished."
https://www.fish.gov.au/2012-Reports/Sea_Mullet

Andrew P's picture
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Andrew P Thursday, 14 Sep 2023 at 8:21pm

Ha! Some of my best work

tubeshooter's picture
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tubeshooter Thursday, 14 Sep 2023 at 8:29pm

haha cheers

freeride76's picture
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freeride76 Thursday, 14 Sep 2023 at 8:38pm

Same story with Aus Salmon (arripus trutta), the prize food for juvenile white sharks.

Decreased, market based fishing effort and stable length/age compositions.

Australian fisheries, especially inshore, are some of the best studied in the world.

It's just not the case that we have wiped out food sources- highly likely we are seeing rebounds in biomass from reduced ocean hauling efforts.

Gilligan's picture
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Gilligan Wednesday, 20 Sep 2023 at 1:43pm

100% FR. No more canning, reduced east coast trawl effort, rec fishing havens. Have all contributed. Not that far back every east coast trawler would "lead aspirin" sharks every night there was effort and that practice alone had significantly diminished. There's now also the Stockton equivalent down south of Jervis Bay but DPI still hasn't deemed it necessary to study it yet. What we have now is likely a generational memory gap that has existed since the late 60's?

Andrew P's picture
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Andrew P Thursday, 14 Sep 2023 at 8:20pm

I’m not sure that statement about wiping out our mullet and salmon schools is accurate. Peak fishing effort on the beach occurred about 30 years ago on the east coast, and has reduced since. Perhaps 40-50 years ago there may have been higher stock levels. Great Whites change their food preferences from baitfish to small mammals as they transition from juveniles to subadults. So fish as prey are more likely tied to juvenile not subadult and adult shark abundance. Research has also shown that the correlation between white shark abundance and whale migration doesn’t exist. This is why we need research to address specific questions on shark ecology, movement and behaviour.

Having been protected for 25+ years on the east coast, it is no coincidence we are seeing more unprovoked bites as the juveniles develop into sub adults and practice hunting their prey in clear water and high light situations. George Greenough’s writings about this are pretty scientific observations; Steve S has had a few himself.

back beach's picture
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back beach Friday, 15 Sep 2023 at 3:14pm

Haven’t seen the stats Andrew but I’m led to believe turtle populations are in strife. Have you got info to the contrary?

blackers's picture
blackers's picture
blackers Wednesday, 13 Sep 2023 at 4:25pm

Nice work Steve. Thoughtful and measured.

frog's picture
frog's picture
frog Wednesday, 13 Sep 2023 at 4:40pm

Good outline of the success of netting. The statements from commentators but especially from some scientists that "nets don't work" is just disingenius and reflects poorly on their credibility.

I will repeat a past idea of mine. Set up dummy divers, swimmers and surfers moored to bouys off surf beaches with extra powerful electric repellent devices with long lasting batteries. The set up would be similar to existing divice on the market but with a higher shock level to make sure they got the message.

Sharks who cruise in to investigate would receive a very unpleasant shock and come to associate the human shape and surboards with bad experiences.

They would be trained to steer clear of such shapes and treat them with suspicion, caution and fear. They might also just avoid those beaches altogether. This behaviour modification would stay with them wherever they cruised.

Predators have very good memories for successful hunts AND unfortunate tangles with the wrong prey. When they lose their fear of potential prey they become doubly dangerous.

No hooks. No killing of sharks or bycatch with my concept.

The success of the devices could be measured by tracking existing tagged sharks. Pilot test programs could be run before a big roll out.

Millions gets spent on research but no-one seems to pursue what is an obvious, logical and practical idea.

Can any shark researchers explain why?

If not, get your grant application template out and apply for funding. It would be interesting and rewarding work. All the technology is there.

Johknee's picture
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Johknee Wednesday, 13 Sep 2023 at 7:05pm

Nice one, Pavlov's frog!

tubeshooter's picture
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tubeshooter Wednesday, 13 Sep 2023 at 7:55pm

The problem with that as I see it, is that the sharks would probably just learn to avoid that particular device. I'm not sure it would condition the sharks to avoid anything that resembled it or move them on from the area.
Your theory could probably be tested to some degree though with seal like devices placed near a seal colony where Whites hang out. Although it's probably not wise to interrupt their feeding behaviour around one of their natural food sources.

mugofsunshine's picture
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mugofsunshine Saturday, 16 Sep 2023 at 2:31pm

I remember watching a documentary a few years ago about conditioning crocodiles (I think it was Namibia). Villagers were being taken regularly on river banks collecting water and washing. The scientists (and a vet?) live wired the river bank and attached bells to the wire. Every time a croc touched the wire and got a shock the bell rang. Before long all they needed was the bell to stop the crocs.

mugofsunshine's picture
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mugofsunshine Saturday, 16 Sep 2023 at 3:06pm

Thank you Udo

udo's picture
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udo Saturday, 16 Sep 2023 at 3:27pm

A Fantastic watch

?si=XZKE8oVkHuevopyD

Shaun Hanson's picture
Shaun Hanson's picture
Shaun Hanson Monday, 18 Sep 2023 at 7:39am

Great comment Frog ..You would think this would already be happening or at least be looked at ..The technology is there ...

simba's picture
simba's picture
simba Wednesday, 13 Sep 2023 at 5:26pm

Well researched and explained Fr ,well done .

Komodo's picture
Komodo's picture
Komodo Wednesday, 13 Sep 2023 at 6:12pm

Well written FR,
We are in a new era,
More whales than I have ever seen in my life, great white’s protected.
Like any bio system in the time of plenty!
Predators/scavengers rule.

velocityjohnno's picture
velocityjohnno's picture
velocityjohnno Wednesday, 13 Sep 2023 at 7:55pm

Well reasoned FR. This debate has gone on for the best part of the last decade here, I think you've moved it forward.

It's been said that all Australian landscapes are man made, and seascapes now too. We get to pick the winners, by quotas, licences, land use permission and allocation - and in previous millennia by fire. Species are protected or selected for or against. It's always been a mystery as to why the GWS was protected with no scientific measured estimate of their numbers. We now have this, and a reasonable idea of their fecundity. Was the protection a mistake?

daltz's picture
daltz's picture
daltz Wednesday, 13 Sep 2023 at 8:15pm

It seems to me that at the bones of it, it comes down to how you are built, and your fight or flight feelings towards unpredictable environments involving predators.
Some are willing to accept that the world is populated with snakes, spiders, sharks and crocodiles, etc, along with the associated dangers, others have a different view. That's hunky dory, each to their own I suppose.
I get the theory of evolution and that humans have the ability and some feel a moral obligation to protect their own, that people have been forever damaged (physically and mentally) by encounters with predators, so whats a few dolphins here and there right?
It doesn't sit well with me and thats just me.
Do we discount the feelings of those who lost someone to an attack, when they feel the shark should not be destroyed, I can recall many of those from across the land and bravo to them. For in the midst of such anguish and pain, that is their thought process and presumably those of the victim.
We all know that data can be interpreted in a variety of ways, i.e. I'll bet my left nut shark boats are not jetting out to drumlines in half an hour, and there is no mention of how many whales were snagged (presumably in the other species categories, too political :-)), beach visits of 4million,,,,,of how many went deeper than waist high, etc.
Yeah I'm a sceptic, I see the data as flawed, but also respect your viewpoints.....though I feel it is just arrogant to think we are entitled to adjust the planet to suit our needs, particularly a leisure pursuit...fire in the hole :-)

Conclusion:

Shark control programs work.
White sharks as opportunistic, apex, ambush predators that frequent inshore zones pose a risk, likely to increase, to surfers.
Human beings have a right to defend themselves from predation.
As primary ocean users, surfers have a moral obligation to minimise harm to other marine life when determining the method, if any, of shark mitigation.

Dan K's picture
Dan K's picture
Dan K Thursday, 14 Sep 2023 at 11:56am

A great read FR with a lot to unpack depending on what side of the fence you sit on with various parts of your article. I'm also a sceptic of the data, but only because of how it was implemented in the first place.
For me, the conclusion is:
Shark control programs work (to a degree)
I said this in the last thread in response to your data regarding nets. My argument is that places like Bondi where they have nets isn't a great source of comfort when analysing the data as it's simply not a GWS hotspot. Until they trial nets off Tuncurry Beach, Lighthouse or up your way I find it a hard pill to swallow to say they are an effective deterrent. This is backed up by hardly any of the GWS I've filmed having been behind the break at all, but rather coming from the shore to head back out to deeper water. They certainly don't seem to deter the old Nurse Shark as the pic above shows one amongst fish and swimmers at Bondi, which is netted.
Also, the 'fishing effect relies on removing targeted sharks....."
Are these sharks dead?
"18 white sharks were caught in the last netting season".
If they're dead then that's not really a deterrent, but you can't argue it's interrupting their natural behaviour.
Regarding the Drum Line contractor time frames Daltz, I reckon benefit of the doubt, depending on their nearest port. The contractor at home can get to the drumlines at Tuncurry Beach in less than 5 minutes quite easily, however our furthest drum lines are off Janies Corner which could get upwards of 20 minutes (swell, seas, wind on the day etc). There's also the sharks removed from the area.....If towing one 200m from capture is removing them then I can't argue there. My mate assists the contractor down here and says the recapture of tagged sharks is common. Do we know if that particular data is readily available to compare between drum line locations?

lolo's picture
lolo's picture
lolo Saturday, 16 Sep 2023 at 10:15am

"My argument is that places like Bondi where they have nets isn't a great source of comfort when analysing the data as it's simply not a GWS hotspot"

That's entirely false though.

Sydney was a GWS hotspot on par with Ballina before the nets were introduced as a direct response to near annual fatalities. There were 8 documented fatal attacks on Sydney beaches in the 7 years prior to nets being introduced in 1937. 2 of them at Bondi a month apart in 1929. Hasn't been a fatal attack at a netted beach since.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_fatal_shark_attacks_in_Australia

No evaluation of the data can get you to a point where you can say the nets don't work. There may be other factors affecting the data and correlation may not equal causation, but until you can explain how the fatalities stopped ENTIRELY as soon as the nets were introduced, you're left with the distinct possibility that they do work.

southernraw's picture
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southernraw Wednesday, 13 Sep 2023 at 8:35pm

I think this is a great, thorough well informed piece FR and gives alot of insight to consider.
Something i've wondered is what happened to those 300 plus white pointers off South Africa that suddenly dissappeared once the Orcas showed up and started hunting them?
Thats a big population to vanish into thin air. Where did they go. Is there a possible correlation with the increased numbers turning up in oz?
Maybe their numbers haven't increased as much as we think, but theres just been a population shift. They can travel across oceans no problem

What needs to happen short term, is not my place to say, especially in areas where you live, where the problem is exaggerated.
I like that you're opening a considered and thoughtful discussion.
But longterm, I really hope we can come to terms with the fact that it's not the fact they attack us that's the problem, the problem is we can't see them coming.
We're a smart species. Our technology advances by the day.
Find a way to see them coming. We have fish finders to find fish. Surely, technology exists or can be developed to alert us of large animals cruising in our proximity. Or something. There's gotta be technology that can be developed to allow us to be aware of what's around us in one form or another.
I think we owe that to the sharks if we choose to play in their home, where they feed, through no fault of their own.
One more thing, it shits me to no end to hear a scientist or whomever say 'they don't like humans, they're not interested in us.' Shark psychologists that speak shark?
That's a copout to all those who've been attacked. Of course they can be.
There's punk sharks as much as there are hippy sharks.

mikehunt207's picture
mikehunt207's picture
mikehunt207 Wednesday, 13 Sep 2023 at 9:18pm

Well written and balanced take on the issue FR.
I was under the belief (read somewhere) that culling of the larger (enforcer type?) sharks may have led to the massive increase / abundance of smaller more aggressive bull sharks at Reunion that ended with the spate of attacks and subsequent surfing ban ?
Just another theory but maybe something to consider when it seems most of the attacks / interactions here in Aus are more often juvenile or mid size whites rather than 5meterys

Coaster's picture
Coaster's picture
Coaster Wednesday, 13 Sep 2023 at 9:40pm

Great article, well written.

I focus's picture
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I focus Wednesday, 13 Sep 2023 at 10:10pm

No mention of shark deterrents and their place or did I miss it?

freeride76's picture
freeride76's picture
freeride76 Thursday, 14 Sep 2023 at 9:14am

Fair point.

I made a judgement it was outside the remit of this article and deserved it's own article.

Which I would need to do a heap more research for.

Anecdotally, out of the maybe 15-20 people I know who used electrical deterrence, no one is still using them.
Mostly due to failure of the device over the medium/long term and the greater structural problem that electricity and water don't play well together.

I need to see whether that experience is common across other jursidictions.

Do you have any experience Ifocus?

I focus's picture
I focus's picture
I focus Thursday, 14 Sep 2023 at 10:04am

Yeah been using one since 2016 I'll just declare good friends with Dave Smith (Rpela) but that's not the reason I use one, but know all the details on research etc I have a tech background so understand the how and what.
Only myself and a couple of others that I know that use them in my area.

As an aside Dave has developed a fishing one works really well I know guys fishing areas they haven't been able to for years due to getting sharked.
https://www.rpelx.com/shop/p/rpelx-fishing-device

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brownie48 Friday, 15 Sep 2023 at 11:44am

After a few very really scary incidents where I thought my time was up I did a lot of research and I got into Rpela around 8 or so years ago I think.

I like to find out of the way breaks with no people so I find it reassuring to have it.

Like ifocus, I have also become friends with Dave and now buy his boards which after 50 years plus of shortboarding think they are the best boards I have ever ridden so for me its a double win

And a really well written article sheep, when are you going to put some effort into writing a book?

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udo Friday, 15 Sep 2023 at 2:17pm

In 2018 independent tests were carried out on five Shark Repellent technologies using Great white sharks. Only Shark Shield’s Ocean Guardian Freedom+ Surf showed measurable results, with encounters reduced from 96% to 40%.
Rpela (electrical repellent technology), SharkBanz bracelet & SharkBanz surf leash (magnetic shark repellent technology) and Chillax Wax (essential oils) showed no measurable effect on reducing shark attacks.[18]

I focus's picture
I focus's picture
I focus Friday, 15 Sep 2023 at 7:13pm

Udo there is a back story to that research but Dave has long since developed another version to address this haven't got the research at hand but it has been proven have a look at the fishing Rpelax plenty of vids there cheers

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udo Friday, 15 Sep 2023 at 9:07pm

Proof it Works vid on Rpela Site is Pissweak .

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I focus Friday, 15 Sep 2023 at 9:29pm

Och I'll let him know.... actually probably won't :-(

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udo Friday, 15 Sep 2023 at 9:40pm

?si=087D1lEsu56EJTnn

I focus's picture
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I focus Saturday, 16 Sep 2023 at 3:07pm

Yeah seen that bigger whites do behave different to smaller / juveniles.

Have a look at the fishing Rpelx vids shows how effective the method is holding off sharks from a live fish. TBH they know now what voltage is required to be seen and test in the ocean using oscilloscopes etc to check the output and adjust accordingly.

&t=24s

udo's picture
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udo Saturday, 16 Sep 2023 at 3:44pm

But guess what...were farkn Surfing not Fishing !

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Le_Reynard Wednesday, 13 Sep 2023 at 10:26pm

Wowee! Reason, nuance and empathy for both sides of a debate. Not what oft pervades the interwebs.

Of particular note to me is the acknowledgement of the ocean being "A fundamental part of our human story." The cliché line often touted of "it's their home, not ours.." has an almost Victorian puritanical undertone, a dismissal of the Sea; that it's foreign, forbidding and to indulge in it, indecent. It's...insensitive to numerous cultures to which the Ocean has played and continues to play a central role. Polynesian, for one, off the top of my head. Perhaps relevant to surfing.

Anyways. I believe there to be a greater moral and ethical imperative to preserve human lives than fish, but that's not a fashionable sentiment in these times.

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Standupgoleft Thursday, 14 Sep 2023 at 9:33am

The article we needed factual! Works a treat Thanks

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Solitude Thursday, 14 Sep 2023 at 9:43am

With regards to the Shark contractors who deploy the SMART drumlines. Is there any oversight or quality control with this?
ie. Are the lines being baited as described?
If a shark is hooked - how are we to know how long is the response is to release the shark?
Is there any data as to the death rates from 'caught sharks' or those released? (I suppose if they are tagged, you've got a fair idea they are out there swimming around).

If anyone has inside info on this would be interesting to share.

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Andrew P Thursday, 14 Sep 2023 at 9:53am

The contractor/scientists are alerted to a captured animal and are required to respond immediately. Obviously weather and conditions are limiting, and if they are responding to other alerts or duties at the time. Most shark control program contractors in Qld are on the water every day that conditions allow.

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Solitude Thursday, 14 Sep 2023 at 10:57am

I know they are supposed to respond immediately, but I wonder whether that happens in real life.

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freeride76 Thursday, 14 Sep 2023 at 12:23pm

The data is all on the DPI (shark smart) site including the amount of times observers were on board. It's very detailed.

I personally know the local contractor- you can quite easily observe him at work here along the Smart Drum array here with binocs from a local headland.

Not sure about the other regions but in this case I have a high level of confidence he is getting to the sharks in time to tag and release alive and that the data is robust.

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Dan K Thursday, 14 Sep 2023 at 1:48pm

I just checked the Shark Smart site. You're right it's got loads of data there, a lot which is super interesting too.
I couldn't find anything on the Smart Drum lines data from July 2022 onward, I'm assuming this still needs to be analysed before publishing, though just the data from July 2021 to June 2022 is pretty interesting.
Just some info:
- 389 target sharks captured (White, Bull, Tiger) and 559 non-target animals
- 237 whites captured with 23% of those being recaptures
- 61 drum lines failed to alert (one GWS found dead at end of a shift)
What I found most interesting was the frequency in captures/time of year. Forster's data showed white sharks were prevalent during the whole 8 months they were deployed (November - June) which IMO kind of debunks the whales migrating/elevated GWS theory, seeing as though by November our Whale tour operator shuts up shop coz they've already passed us back south by then.
Here's a link if anyone wants to see their neck of the woods:

https://www.sharksmart.nsw.gov.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/0005/1436720/NS...

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stunet Thursday, 14 Sep 2023 at 1:58pm

Just checked our region. Only three target species, all tigers, during the whole period which is somewhat heartening. It's not just south swells that dodge this stretch of coastline.

Far different numbers elsewhere, particularly your coast for whites, Dan.

Appreciate the link.

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Dan K Thursday, 14 Sep 2023 at 2:27pm

I noticed that too Stu, though if you go to the table which shows commencement date, you guys didn't start until March 2022 and ended June 2022 so you could argue we had an extra 4 months worth of data available. Even still another interesting take is that between Central Coast and Kiama its as if white sharks don't exist, then once you hit Merimbula its a dramatic spike again.
But yeah, it's unnerving to see our area is the highest (by a bit too) but then there's such a drastic reduction in Newcastle to the south of us and Port to the north....The Great White Bubble.

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spinafex Thursday, 14 Sep 2023 at 9:48am

It really looks like the effectiveness of the netting programs is due to sharks avoiding areas that smell like death. From the research FR cited:
"an unambiguous halt in feeding behavior was observed within 1 min after exposure of the necromone. For aerosol delivery, a 150 mL dose of the necromone from a single aerosol canister is able to halt all feeding activity in a combined population of C. perezi and C. acronotus. Shark necromones induced a spectacular alarm response in interacting sharks resulting in a temporary evacuation of an area containing feeding stimuli."
Could baited lines with necromone release devices be as effective as nets without the by catch problem?

gromnuggets's picture
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gromnuggets Thursday, 14 Sep 2023 at 12:23pm

Also, no habituation over a 5 year period seems pretty significant. Would be interesting to see similar studies done in an environment more representative of the places most of us are surfing.

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radiationrules Thursday, 14 Sep 2023 at 10:20am

FR > awesome research; and I appreciate the lack of shrill tone to an important debate; a few points of clarification, maybe points to explore for an updated version, as the science unfolds:

1. No mention of GW's natural prey being fished out; leading to more intensive explorations of alternative prey, like humans. IMO this is the real macro-problem for us to solve. My understanding of the Reunion Island situation is this is their cause~effect too, massive dragnets have sucked their ocean dry. I surfed there in 1987; I never heard anyone mention shark issues vs. being surfing over-road in South Africa where everyone seemed to know a shark attack survivor - something has radically changed in the Reunion Island eco-system in recent times.

2. Drum lines were tested and failed in SW WA after a spate of GW attacks - about 5 years ago? They canned the experiment 'coz they never caught any GW's, which was the target species. I'm sure someone knows where there's a more erudite summary. The point is, depending on the bathymetry etc - not all solutions fit - nets vs drumlines etc.

3. A bit more on the psychological perspective, AKA the human right to determine how our playground looks for us vs. for the other species? From their perspective, it's not a playground, they can't try living on the land as an alternative. In Moby Dick, one of the oldest seafaring tales in literature, there are "naturally" hundreds of sharks feeding on every page? Is that the natural order we should be reconciling to; as that is what shark numbers looked like in circa 1850?

Thank you.

RR

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freeride76 Thursday, 14 Sep 2023 at 12:18pm

"No mention of GW's natural prey being fished out; leading to more intensive explorations of alternative prey, like humans."

All the evidence points to the opposite conclusion RR.

Whale and pinniped populations have rebounded and are considered close to theoretical maxims in some places. Especially Humpbacks.

Predators need prey, they are correlated.

For Juvenile and sub-adult sharks the food sources are more varied and considered in relatively good shape, especially with the reduction in commercial fishing on the NSW Coast.
ie Aus Salmon, rays etc etc.

I think we can reject that hypothesis.

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radiationrules Thursday, 14 Sep 2023 at 12:53pm

FR > I'm sure you no more than me on the specifics; I accept the correction. Just wonder what that means for Reunion Island's bull sharks - are whales their main prey - why have their numbers exploded in such a short period of time? > RR

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freeride76 Thursday, 14 Sep 2023 at 1:05pm

There's differing hypotheses there RR.

It may have been over fishing of reef sharks which allowed bull sharks to colonise that habitat.

Some say the creation of marine parks created more food for them which attracted them.

Most likely a combination of factors.

I focus's picture
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I focus Thursday, 14 Sep 2023 at 11:17am

@radiationrules
"2. Drum lines were tested and failed in SW WA after a spate of GW attacks - about 5 years ago? They canned the experiment 'coz they never caught any GW's, which was the target species. I'm sure someone knows where there's a more erudite summary. The point is, depending on the bathymetry etc - not all solutions fit - nets vs drumlines etc."

Just on this one point is they ran the drum lines out of season for the whites, it help satisfy the baying for a cull also avoided actually impacting the white population.

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Troz Thursday, 14 Sep 2023 at 11:19am

We could take Great Whites off the endangered list, then the natural fishing of them would bring numbers back into 1980,s levels. Might even help Turtle populations. Is there any data showing they are (or were) endangered ? My cynical guess is they were put on endangered list at Greens request in a swap deal for Casino's.

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Ash Thursday, 14 Sep 2023 at 11:28am

Great balanced article Steve. Since the latest attack in Port Mac, and then reading the doctors account of his participation on the day, the story keeps reverberating in my mind. The price paid for a surf on a beautiful morning, is totally life changing, and if not for the others on the scene, life ending.

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FishFingered Thursday, 14 Sep 2023 at 11:59am

I had some correspondence with SharkSmart a few years back, i asked them in regards to all the data they have recorded via tags & tracking….. what is valuable in helping us ocean users to mitigate an attack.
I was told …. Tides, moons, water quality, even time of year …. All the old tales, nothing really added up.
However….. swell size, when swell up….. the beacons don’t ping anywhere near the same frequency as when swell is small. So those bluebird small swell days when kids are out in water etc etc are the days when your probability goes up.
Which makes sense (i have been referring to NSW north coast btw)….. GWS love chasing a ray, easier to do in small swell as the shark corners them against rocks or beach.
This data also matches my own experiences of sightings, which are numerous.
So think about that, the days you are way out, surf pumping …. U are probably safer.
Other points…. Some great drone vids showing dolphins not our saviour and in fact may very well be the opposite.
Also…. I think SharkSmart NSW as they are tax payer funded, should share data more. A yearly detailed report to beach users. Show us what you have.
Good information = good decisions.

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Andrew P Thursday, 14 Sep 2023 at 8:28pm

Brother has witnessed a white eat a dolphin off a north coast point. It’s a wonderful fantasy that dolphins protect humans from sharks. Beautiful in fact

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FishFingered Friday, 15 Sep 2023 at 1:47pm

100%
Much drone footage shows sharks trailing behind dolphins…. Probably opportunistic feeding.
Dolphins sited on many before or around attacks.

I remember a shark v dolphin meet up around the corner from Merewether a few years back.

Pops's picture
Pops's picture
Pops Wednesday, 20 Sep 2023 at 12:33pm

Saw a docco filmed off Jbay years ago... The dolphins were balling fish schools up and sharks hitting the balls from below.

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simba Thursday, 14 Sep 2023 at 12:00pm

Would love to know the exact number of whites that have been tagged since it started....they used to say but dont now .......on Dorsal the tagged number comes up after being pinged and i think they are well past the 1900 mark........and they are probably a small percentage of whats swimming around........also i read somewhere the growth rate per year is about a ft or so........so it wont take long before the breeding will excelorate a lot......

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loofy Thursday, 14 Sep 2023 at 12:10pm

" 204 non-target animals were caught by the SMP last year, including 14 turtles, 8 dolphins and 2 seals."

All by catch is undesired but really in the whole scheme of things thats pretty fucking low numbers.

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gromnuggets Thursday, 14 Sep 2023 at 12:40pm

Thanks for the article FR.

Growing up, I was always exposed to the ideas that shark attacks were extremely rare and, when they did occur, it was a case of 'mistaken identity'.

Over the last few years however, moving to SA, and observing more of the discussions on the website about shark interactions/behaviour, I feel increasingly uneasy about the risk we take by paddling out (especially at less crowded, open ocean breaks).

I don't think there's enough people having these serious discussions in the surf community (or at least those who I surf with). It's too easy to try not to think about it or believe that 'it wont happen to me'. Thanks for continuing to keep the conversation open and bringing forth these points.

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Mad Dog Thursday, 14 Sep 2023 at 1:32pm

Thanks Steve, awesome material as usual.

I have been getting the bottoms of my boards sprayed with alternating black and white bars for a few years now and I surf in your region. I know there's a large crew in South Australia that swear by this method too. I'm not certain that it works, but I "feel" safer if that's a thing and I've also had surfers paddle up and ask if it's okay to hang around my board when we've been sitting several hundred metres off a certain river mouth wall.

I know there is some very interesting data that has been generated when this method was used on towed Seal dummies in scientific trials in South Africa. I'm pretty sure some data also exists for Orca type dummies as well.

I believe the reasoning around it is that sharks see in tones of grey and that the stripes fool with their perception of the fish shaped outline of a surfboard. There is also an evolved predation deterrent in the natural world, of black and white bars being a general warning of a creature that is poisonous, e.g Clown Fish and Sea Snakes.

I would love you to do a piece should it pique your interest, on where we are at with this and other types of simple deterrents, as any cheap practical solutions that can mitigate an interaction would be valuable to all of us.

Thanks again mate.

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stuckinthe80s Sunday, 17 Sep 2023 at 12:34pm

Hey Mad Dog, do you have a pic of the bottom of one of your boards, or can you say what the thickness of each color is? Cheers

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Mad Dog Tuesday, 19 Sep 2023 at 10:28am

Hey Stuck,

Here you go mate, bit of a suntan on the old rascal, but you get the picture!

https://ibb.co/cXZkCbG

udo's picture
udo's picture
udo Sunday, 17 Sep 2023 at 2:10pm

https://www.swellnet.com/news/surfpolitik/2015/01/19/charge-and-stripes-...
Was the go for a time Stripes on Wetties and Boards Stripes on Leggies even

mcbain's picture
mcbain's picture
mcbain Thursday, 14 Sep 2023 at 2:27pm

Looking at that drumline data is interesting.
Big numbers for some places (more 'interactions' in these areas as more sharks?). Drops right off for other areas.

Ballina - 0.3 target sharks per fishing day
Evans Head - 0.25
Coffs - 0.23
Port Mac - 0.28
Foster - 0.4

Woolongong to Eurobodalla <0.1

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Distracted Thursday, 14 Sep 2023 at 2:40pm

@danK , thanks for the link, interesting read. I like how they caught a couple tailor on full size mullet… they really will have a go at anything.

For the sites north of Forster, June to November seems to be peak White catching season but that is probably partly sampling bias due to the time the baits are in the water?

The Whites caught in summer at Forster may reflect that there is a “nursery” there and there may be a permanent presence…. Wonder if you could drill down that data and show the June catches were bigger Whites, following the whales up the coast rather than the resident juveniles. Curious to see the 2023 data.

Freeride, do you think there is data out there now to show the White population is increasing and if so, there could there be an increasing risk of attacks on the North Coast?

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freeride76 Thursday, 14 Sep 2023 at 2:51pm

It's very hard to say Distracted.

But for our purposes, there is certainly a temporal and spatial abundance of juvenile/sub-adult white sharks across the MNC-North Coast.

No data from 23Aug-4 Sep (contacted DPI, they cannot explain it- glitch maybe?)
From 4 Sep until today 14 Sep there have been 30 white sharks caught on Smart Drumlines- most of them in the MNC-North Coast stretch.
2 Tigers and no bulls.

Would be very hard to argue that they aren't at least seasonally abundant across the MNC-North Coast area based on the SMART drum-line data.

mfrosty64's picture
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mfrosty64 Tuesday, 19 Sep 2023 at 5:56pm

G'day dank, mate a lot of our juvi whites come from the big nursery at Stockton bight.lots of research into this nursery over the years, well documented and the nursery is and has been a source of small whites frequently being seen and many years ago caught around seals and Forster.this was not such an issue when I was growing up here, as many local fishos where catching larger non juvi whites and this was not an uncommon occurrence around many areas where fishing was allowed and unregulated.. Forster has another issue , again like other ports..there is many thousands of tonnes every year of fish waste, recreational frames, skin and offal from the tables at ports all up and down the coast..before these tables where put in Jesus I never saw a ws whilst spearing around the bar entrance..we have bans in place for doing this in croc country, we have bans in place for this practice for stonefish congregating and I believe creates a huge feeding knowledge of our whites around tunners and Forster..since NSW fisheries made it illegal to gut, skin and dump the frames offshore there has been an increase in juvis and larger adult sharks within the area..now days nsw fisheries officers fight for fuel allocation, times at sea,because once the practice was bought to shore based inspection they can drive down to any ramp and inspect,meaning the need for officers to be in boats is downgraded and guess what...way cheaper on public purse....the way many other states enforce is fillet size and skin I'd an certainly nil dumping fish frames on our doorstep.

Shaun Hanson's picture
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Shaun Hanson Thursday, 14 Sep 2023 at 4:12pm

Werent personal shark repelants made compulsary in the reunion islands?..WA is offering $200 dollars refund for anybody who purchases legitamate independantly tested devices ..why arent these options more common knowledge and discussed more ?...The technology is there but is not accepted very well ..If i had kids surfing id encourage them to use them ...Theres no doubt populations on the east coast whites and bulls in particular have increased in the last ten yrs ...Also the areas that are netted are in areas where there has been a large population growth and coastal development , more human activity , boating, rec fishing , river polution which all make the area less atractive to fish stocks in general im not sure the netts are the reason for less attacks in these areas ...Most attacks seem to be in less populated areas or at least away from the most cocentrated human activity ..There fish ..you generally catch more of any species when you fish away from coastal development ..

Cookie1's picture
Cookie1's picture
Cookie1 Thursday, 14 Sep 2023 at 4:18pm

You will always get the extreme ends of the argument. One end won't accept the loss of one tuna to protect ocean users and the other will want every shark sighted to be destroyed. Thankfully, most swellnet users seem to be in the sensible centre. i.e. we agree with shark control measures and we would like to see bycatch reduced as much as possible by research and application of technology.

Can someone inform me if there has even been a trial of using recorded Orca "calls" underwater to deter sharks and what the outcome was? To my very limited knowledge the Orca is a predator of sharks and GWS in particular and surely if there was a hint of Orca's being around any shark would stay well clear.

udo's picture
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udo Thursday, 14 Sep 2023 at 4:37pm

WA tried underwater Orca Calls
Guarantee the best Repellant is Decaying White Shark Flesh

?si=PvKetxvB4GmZMcue

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Cookie1 Thursday, 14 Sep 2023 at 5:06pm

Thanks Udo. I am from Perth and don't remember this.....getting old. Must have been a failure because they never went back to it. Seems like a simple and logical solution but there must be a reason it is not being used.

southernraw's picture
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southernraw Thursday, 14 Sep 2023 at 8:55pm

"if successful there are plans to fit the sounds to divers, and surfers".
Ahh sliding doors. That could have got comical!
Imagine the Superbank with 400 out kitted up... it would sound like some kind of finding Nemo whale doof!

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ZakWheaton Friday, 15 Sep 2023 at 1:30pm

Most studies have found no evidence to suggest white shark flesh as an effective deterrent https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S2352485521002905. I've had anecdotal evidence expressed to me that when fisheries officers have baited the lines with Sharks previously caught they have been taken by something even bigger.

Solitude's picture
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Solitude Thursday, 14 Sep 2023 at 8:05pm

@ Freeride: since the introduction of the Smart Drumlines would you say (anecdotally) there has been a reduction in ‘interactions’ overall (sighting, bumps, drivebys)?

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Dan K Monday, 18 Sep 2023 at 10:11pm

I can't speak for Steve (particularly the North Coast drumlines up where he is) but I can tell you over the last 3 weeks there's been multiple close encounters at 7 Mile (Forster) that have been a real cause for concern. One more than one of those days the GWS's outnumbered the amount of surfers in the corner. This stretch has 3 permanent drum lines out the back. It really feels like it's only a matter of time here (opposite end of beach where Col Rowlands was hit in December 2016).

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lucky-al Friday, 15 Sep 2023 at 3:12am

There are seven billion humans on this planet, and every one of us has a name. Every single one of us. And every one of us has loved ones, friends, neighbours, colleagues, acquaintances. A community, a social life. Our children go to school, play sports. We love our children. We would do anything for them. Take them places, give them heaps of stuff. We have heaps of stuff,. We have surfboards, cars, bikes, sound systems, houses, property, money. We have heaps of money. Heaps of food. We farm, forest, mine, do business, invest, make profits, make plans. We have culture, history, science, technology. Helicopters, submarines, robots, rockets, satellites,. We have it all. And we're not even done yet. We got this. We're the best. We're number one. The most important,, the most knowledgeable, the most capable, the most powerful. You can't touch us. You'd better not touch us. We've been through hell and high water together, and we're not letting you get in our way. We could kill you. We could wipe you out. We'll round you up. We'll count you, tag you and keep our eye on you, control your numbers. So you'd better watch yourselves, stay in your place. Don't even think about eating us. There are seven billion of us on this planet. Seven billion. Now, what are our names?

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Lanky Dean Sunday, 17 Sep 2023 at 5:47am

I'm pretty sure we just hit 8.

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ZakWheaton Friday, 15 Sep 2023 at 1:47pm

Great though provoking article. And I agree the value of a human life will always be morally more valuable than that of any creature. However I don't think you can compare life for life with an issue like this. Shark Control measure negatively impacts the health of of the entire marine ecosystem they act within, there is no getting around that fact. I think the value of ecosystem and by extension planet health is understated in debates surrounding human vs natural interests.

It also seems weird to me the paradox that if the government was to lower the speed limit by 30kph, which would inarguably lower the road toll and make our roads safer there would be untold backlash. Just doesn't seem right that we suddenly place this high premium on human life when talking about sharks, but we'd rather get to the surf that little bit quicker than preserve a great deal more human life through the implementation road control measures, that would inconvenience us.

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wavie Friday, 15 Sep 2023 at 2:10pm

has there been any attacks ballina/ lennox/ byron area since the nets and drumlines put in late 2016 ? crazy to me that there is nothing put in place from newcastle to evans?

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udo Friday, 15 Sep 2023 at 4:52pm

Wavie - Nick Slater at Greemount also Rob Pedretti at Kingscliff and many more
https://www.sharksmart.nsw.gov.au/current-program

Dr Barry Bruce of CSRIO is dismissive of one widely held view that people clad in black wetsuits might appear to sharks like seals, a favourite food for great whites.

“Really, you think we look like a seal to a shark with some of the best senses on the planet?” he says. “If that’s the case, then it’s only the dumb ones who bite people.”

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Ray Shirlaw Friday, 15 Sep 2023 at 5:47pm

"Thats his opinion & hes entitled to it" .

udo's picture
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udo Friday, 15 Sep 2023 at 6:18pm

Yep def agree Ray.

southernraw's picture
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southernraw Friday, 15 Sep 2023 at 5:50pm

Interesting how there was that cluster of attacks at Ballina/Evans rivermouth's in that period (2016), and then they just stopped.
Maybe the Casino abattoir read the thread on Swellnet about them and quickly changed their 'unique' discharge methods.

udo's picture
udo's picture
udo Friday, 15 Sep 2023 at 6:20pm

Dorsalwatch - Evans Head Tag and Release Numbers 2016 -2020.. Plenty Caught.

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bonza Friday, 15 Sep 2023 at 8:07pm

very good article. the biggest take home for me so far has been the response or lack (limited) of from the usual vociferous "advocacy and motivated reasoning" crowd faced with a blunt logical assessment.
one point- "the bycatch is significant. 204 non-target animals were caught by the SMP last year, including 14 turtles, 8 dolphins and 2 seals". Are those numbers scientifically significant? I would avoid using that term "significant", because my uneducated guess is that they probably aren't? i will happily be corrected on that.
this article may (should) put SN on the map along with that "locals only" stink up in that new southern Kum ba yah candlestick energy resource of a point break Sydney suburb..... i.e well done - i hope it gets republished. it's a discussion we need around "sustainability". remember that buzz word?

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eat-your-vegies Saturday, 16 Sep 2023 at 1:39am

“Really, you think we look like a seal to a shark with some of the best senses on the planet?” he says. “If that’s the case, then it’s only the dumb ones who bite people.”

If sharks have the same percentage of dumb ones as humans then we better look out ha ha

Ray Shirlaw's picture
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Ray Shirlaw Saturday, 16 Sep 2023 at 9:39am

** with respect to Dr Bruce,i can see his point. Attacks are certainly Not always a case of Mistaken Identity,despite what many will say to anyone who will listen.

143 Degrees's picture
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143 Degrees Saturday, 16 Sep 2023 at 12:35pm

Thanks for a great article Steve.

My 2 cents on the topic from an existential viewpoint:

This is a much knottier ethical issue. Shark control is not a free pass to safe surfing. 'The cost is in marine life; in our fellow creatures with whom we share the ocean.'

Could it be that some of us declare a love for fellow creatures including sharks, or a need to co-exist in 'their environment', simply so that we are perceived as better people by our peers/ our tribe? Is this whole topic, at its very core, a direct function of the human ego?

In my opinion, humans are exceptionally good at ignoring the everyday cost our own existence has on the planet, including our impact on all creatures, big and small.

If you're born, you start having an impact.

If you start eating, you're instantly having more impact.

If you have kids, you're multiplying the impact exponentially.

If you live in a house, it's on partly or fully cleared land that wiped out some cute (or ugly) fauna at some previously so you could live there. Possums, wombats, kangaroos, birdlife etc almost certainly gave up their existence so you could have a roof over your head.

If you've ever purchased fish from a supermarket, then no matter how sustainable this fishery is that it came from, 100% chance some other marine life was also wiped out for your fish to get to the supermarket.

Unless you live very close to the beach or levitate there with your surfboard, there's no doubt that the fuel for your car, came from some process that destroyed some other creatures habitat, either now or at some point in the past.

By our very existence we all place our own lives above pretty much every other creature, for every second that we are on this planet.

So whether you agree with any type of shark mitigation or not, you're not better or worse than the next person. You're not right or wrong, good or bad. You simply have a different 'perception' of where you're own existence sits on the ladder of living creatures.

The reality is that we're all somewhere on the ladder, pushing other beings off. Are you a better person if you're further down the ladder? Does caring more about other sharks and other marine life than your neighbour mean you care as much about the planet as a whole, as you should? And how much should you actually care?

I say we're all guilty as hell. We just change our awareness of how guilty we are, when it suits us.

More ideas like Frogs sound like the solution. Hats off to anyone who has time/ energy/ money to pursue and test, any idea that could lead to a better outcome in the future.

Speaking of choosing one thing over another, I ponder if I could eradicate 1 thing forever: Northerlies, or Sharks, which one would I choose....

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peppa bluey Saturday, 16 Sep 2023 at 3:21pm

Excellent read thanks, FR. I found the standout point to be about considering the survival of species over the individual. I feel conflicted, however, because while I quite like this approach for sharks i think it inappropriate for fellow humanity, where the needs and survival of the individual must be addressed. But that is the point I think.

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DeanP Saturday, 16 Sep 2023 at 3:33pm

Very interesting read. I’ve read about how great whites have left certain areas of SA due to killer whales. I wonder whether any research has been done on using the calls of killer whales to scare off great whites.

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Ray Shirlaw Saturday, 16 Sep 2023 at 3:42pm

Wonder no more. Yes. And does it work? Sadly, no

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udo Saturday, 16 Sep 2023 at 3:42pm

Mate ...up the page a bit....

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carmo-dee Saturday, 16 Sep 2023 at 7:08pm

Very interesting read and magnificently written

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Lanky Dean Sunday, 17 Sep 2023 at 6:35am

What an essay!
I waited to read this one, made sure I had time to fully soak it in.
Where's all the shark huggers in the comments though?

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mfrosty64 Sunday, 17 Sep 2023 at 4:06pm

Thought provoking article, my son jack and I were living in Ballina well before the spate of bite and fatalities, we were friends and surf mates of most of the people affected, so it does not surprise me of how this issue has become so emotive, as an ex fisho, with many mates still within the industry I am very aware of the nuances of many fisheries, the mullet fishery is still one of the most sustainable, hundred of thousands of boxes go to sea as the fisho cannot work in much of the weather that the fish require to move, salmon stocks are increasing, pillies and white bait also, so I'm not sure if this is a neg or pos as bites or attacks increase, as surfers or free divers abalone fishermen etc the thought or the issue around living with these big animals has always been there and it is a thought that is very hard to quantity, how do we actually know if there is behavioural changes within these predators, are overfishing or increasing fish stocks part of the reason, can it be a correlation in the humpback numbers , it's just so non conclusive and cannot be quantified.
My feeling is, if we were losing a surfer a week or it was damaging to the tourist industries the government's would be throwing coin at research, particularly new immerging technology.but really surfers like you and I are a minority, and until we are able to look inside the animals brain unfortunately there will be more bites and more attacks.

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Shaun Hanson Sunday, 17 Sep 2023 at 7:18pm

Yep we need more uni educated experts to do some more research ..when they run out of funding the next lot of uni educated experts can do some more research ..and the next time theres an attack outbreak the next lot of uni educated experts can do some more research and check that the last lot of researches researched adequately ..Then we should tag some more put some more yellow shark boys in develop a few more apps so you know you have been surfing with sharks instead of assuming and then research why the the research hasnt stopped any attacks ..Then get some social scientists in to talk to the surfers about how the feel about sharks all on research money ...The main point is if your a researcher and there is any solution that effects your perpetual funding ignore it ..And dont talk to anybody outside of the funding bubble especially if they havnt been to uni ! How would they have learnt anything about sharks if the didnt research them at uni ..
Apoligies for the rant but getting a bit tired of non productive money wasting government frog shit ..

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mfrosty64 Sunday, 17 Sep 2023 at 7:40pm

Are you ok, you seem very angry mate, I don't think my conversation was any way suggesting that that we throw money at this issue shaun., quite the contrary ,what I was trying to say is exactly the opposite..we do not know about the recent evolutionary biology of these animals, sure we know the basics of most animals we share the space with but how can we possibly know if there has been changes to the way they hunt, source food or adaptations to the way they now see humans, we can't and many never.i did not say throw coin at research I said that will never happen because we surfers are a minority if you really do the numbers..shark bites,attacks and horribly fatalities will always be with us ...peace toya brother

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Shaun Hanson Monday, 18 Sep 2023 at 6:11am

Comment wasnt in direct response to you Myfrosty64 . Was directed more at the whole bueracratic mouse on wheel system ..

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Sheepdog Sunday, 17 Sep 2023 at 7:19pm

Steve , I got as far as "he evidence for their effectiveness across all three domains is incredibly powerful. At Durban, from 1943 until the installation of nets in 1952, there were seven fatal attacks. Since the installation of nets there have been no fatalities "

NOT TRUE.

What of the "black december" of 1957?
I ssume there are more holes in your story

https://www.imdb.com/title/tt2133253/

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freeride76 Monday, 18 Sep 2023 at 8:21am

Sorry to ruin your gotcha Sheepdog, but the Black December attacks happened at non-netted beaches south of Durban on the KZN coast.

In '62 the netting program was extended to these other beaches in KZN- no fatal attacks since.

I'm afraid Black December only reinforces how effective the shark control measures have been in KZN. It illustrates perfectly how the fishing effect works. Most of those attacks were in shallow water, some very shallow. The netting program reduces/d the number of sharks in the shallow, inshore zone and thus lowers the risk.

Not to mention the other very strong evidence from QLD and NSW.

To repeat the main point: the shark control programs aren't foolproof, but the evidence is overwhelming that they have dramatically reduced the risk of shark attack.

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batfink Monday, 18 Sep 2023 at 8:49am

Excellent, Steve.

Thanks for pointing out that shark nets work. Empirically. Undoubtedly.

Smart drum lines seem to work for what they are intended to do, but whether that results in reducing interactions may need more data. Using both where possible and particularly in high population areas is the best idea we have, so far.

Thank you pointing out the facile and ridiculous statement of the odds of shark attack. Here’s a factoid, if you never go in the water, you won’t get bitten by a shark. Thanks champ.

By-catch is a problem, but in sheer numbers works out to be the equivalent of a couple of domestic cats. Not comparable? Maybe, but just because something swims in the ocean doesn’t mean their existence is lesser. Many native animals are genuinely close to, or have become extinct, because people like to pat their cat.

The oceans are alive with fish, whales, dolphins, turtles and sharks in numbers that are unimaginable compared to the 1970’s. That’s good, and sort of puts the kybosh on arguments that netting will wipe out any species.

Wonderful article by a surfer from a surfer’s perspective.

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57 Monday, 18 Sep 2023 at 11:25am

if your local food bank closed, due to something lol..then your next food bank closed so 50 miles away..at what point do you realize its do or die. cod if we could only understand the flip side we would see with a flash lite

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Fyfedigity Tuesday, 19 Sep 2023 at 9:52am

Great article Steve - well articulated, balanced and informed opinions. Some of the articles on here deserve to be read by more than just other surfers. Acknowledging that this one could create passionate debate, have you thought about approaching well read media publications to see if they'd run certain articles? I feel that while most surfers are onboard with the information you are disseminating here, the people that really need to hear it are those who are ill-informed of the stats you have presented.

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radiationrules Wednesday, 20 Sep 2023 at 12:11pm

Hi FR,
Given the overwhelmingly positive response to your article, I'm curious as to "where to from here?"
My overall impression from your research is that you conclude that it is an irrefutable fact that shark nets and drumlines have led to fewer human interactions with sharks (and fewer deaths) - which I don't dispute.
Putting aside the politics of the unlikely prospect of our government giving a minority group (surfers) what they want vs. limited government funding and their generalized incompetence; if you had unlimited financial resources at your disposal would you be advocating for shark nets and drumlines at every surfable beach in Australia?
RR

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freeride76 Wednesday, 20 Sep 2023 at 12:22pm

Not at all RR.

The bycatch is way too significant and high for that (my personal opinion).

I think netting should be reduced as much as possible for that reason.

SMART drumlines may be the most effective "solution" we have for now, for most of the coast.

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radiationrules Wednesday, 20 Sep 2023 at 12:41pm

FR > Thanks for your clarification; it leads to me wanting to know more about why the SMART drumlines experiment in SW WA was abandoned. I think the only strategies in place here now are helicopters circling above you in the line-up; and "pings" from tagged sharks > to apps > to peeps reading apps > to peeps getting out of the water. IMO the latter is a fallacy of composition. > RR

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freeride76 Wednesday, 20 Sep 2023 at 12:45pm

I'd need to look into it more but my understanding is wrong bait and wrong season.

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radiationrules Wednesday, 20 Sep 2023 at 2:37pm

FR > Thanks > I'd be keen to read any conclusions the resultant data from the experiment might offer; unfortunately, I suspect it was simply a political stunt, which was abandoned once the woke crowd moved on to their next issue. > RR

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the-u-turn Tuesday, 26 Sep 2023 at 2:39pm

I've now read this twice.
Fabulous research and follow-through on the many questions put forward to you, Steve.

We are hugely emotive on this subject matter and seeing objective data is important.

I left South Australia 21 years ago on the back of a few too many GW encounters and notably, an attack on close friends. In the time since I've surfed NSW, predominately the Sydney Northern Beaches, I haven't felt at ease once.

Thanks, Steve, much appreciated.

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Island Bay Tuesday, 26 Sep 2023 at 5:14pm

Very good read, and the comments too.

With sharks attacks much less frequent over here, I tried to read it with Aussie eyes, and as a traveller to Aus and South Africa.

I very much enjoyed the complete absence of the Patagonia-style evangelism that often goes with any shark debate.

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Johan Wohlleben Saturday, 30 Sep 2023 at 10:26pm

I think Shaun Hanson has a very good point. The governments need to expand their sources of information to include ocean using people. But as mentioned by RR it’s all politics for them. Don’t forget a swimmer was munched in front of a boatload of kids in Fremantle less than 2 years ago I believe after the drum lines were pulled? Not to mention a girl eaten in the Swan River last summer. But I guess that’s a whole different story.

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Johan Wohlleben Sunday, 1 Oct 2023 at 1:03am

Excellent writing and journalism as well. Read it again

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Pop Down Monday, 16 Oct 2023 at 6:15pm

Surfed near Byron Bay from 72-8 .
Never saw a whale .
Perhaps , having a whaling station in Byron , made the old whales guide them wide of Australia's most Easterly Point ?
Now they jump around like mullet up there :)
The most impressive sight I have seen in the animal kingdom .
I am old and believe humans should be safe when swimming or surfing ( was a Life Saver ) .
If any animal , dog , cat , croc , koala or shark is a problem .
Kill it , eat it and /or wear it .
Great that nets seem to work ( they would never be moved anyway as people THINK they work ) .
Heard an old fisherman's tale that said if you drag a dead Great White up and down the coast for a day or 2 the others piss off for ages .
As we are not at last resort stage , yet , I like frog's idea , a lot .
Much cheaper than training Orca's !

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Pop Down Monday, 16 Oct 2023 at 6:45pm

I might explore the idea of ( trying to create ) the essence of Dead Great White ( or put in whatever human eater U want to get rid of ) burley .

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Pop Down Tuesday, 17 Oct 2023 at 10:09am

A great article Steve . Thank you !
Getting eaten by a shark is a risk we all take .
BUT , I love minimising risks .
The photo of the Bait Fish is perfect IMO !
The Bait fish ( mullet ? ) are VERY smart !!!
They can sense the real APEX predator !
They are giving a bigger berth to the white guy than something that wants to eat them , now !
The signs are out there haha .