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Australia's spate of shark attacks takes center stage in and around Sydney

March 30, 2009 | 11:41 am

Shark1

At a time when alleged shark sightings are on the rise off Southern California -- it happens every spring -- swimmers and surfers appear to have far more reason to be concerned in Australia and particularly off New South Wales, which includes Sydney.

There have been 52 reported attacks on humans since 2000. Eight occurred in waters off Sydney or nearby, creating a mini-"Jaws"-like scenario but doing little to keep surfers out of the water, especially during the Australian summer.

A story in Friday's edition of the Daily Telegraph cited figures released last week by state officials reviewing a beach netting program designed to keep sharks at bay. Thankfully, rather than fueling hysteria, the panel concluded that the increased number of attacks -- they've soared 28% since the 1970s -- was simply because more people were venturing into the water.

(Since 1791, there have been 222 shark attacks logged in New South Wales waters, about one-third resulting in fatalities.)

The panel lacked data to calculate a possible increase in the actual threat of an attack.

But NSW faces a dilemma nonetheless. There has been a long-standing campaign against coastal nets because they imperil not only sharks but whales, dolphins and sea birds. Unfortunately for sharks, the state will consider using baited hooks beneath floating drums to try to minimize the threat of shark attacks. This is done in Queensland and South Africa.

Fortunately, off Southern California, where, according to the Shark Research Committee, there have been 13 shark attacks since 2000 (including the lone fatal assault on a swimmer last April off Solana Beach), there is no netting program and no talk of baited hooks.

As should be the case everywhere, swimmers and surfers must assume risk whenever and wherever they enter the sharks' realm.

-- Pete Thomas

Photo: David Fleetham / Discovery Channel

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