Surfing + Sharks

by Mai Roper

Filmmaker & Wildlife Biology Student specialising in Chondrichthyes

As a fast-growing group of surf goers, we all have one certain thing in common being that we all undeniably love the ocean and what it provides for us. No matter how frequent you enter the water, may it be every day, maybe just on the weekends, or even the rare day off a month, when entering you automatically accept the responsibility to respect the precious ecosystem. 

We are all so lucky to be able to access such paradise along our Australian coastline, but we need to remember the importance of appropriately educating ourselves and those around us to ensure the upmost safety. Within the recent months there has been a higher than average rate of shark bite incidents, hence why I deemed it an important time to briefly familiarise you with some information regarding these ancient apex predators. 

Anyone that has had the privilege to encounter a shark of any species knows that they are more scared of humans then humans are of them. They are so far from the vicious monsters that mainstream media continue to portray them as, this representation is purely for publicity. Worldwide, sharks are responsible for a total of 5 fatal accidents a year (in comparison to the over 150 million sharks killed by humans annually). In the extremely rare accident a human die from a shark encounter, the cause of death is due to immense blood loss. Rarely are any human limbs removed as the intelligence within sharks cause them to instantly recognise when they have approached something that wasn’t their targeted prey. It is known that the silhouette of a surfer from below can look relatively similar to the silhouette of a seal, being the shark’s prey. This is why guidelines suggest the following to minimise shark accidents based on them being disorientated:

  • Do not enter the water during dawn (before 6am) or dusk (after 5pm)
  • Do not enter the water on days where bait balls or schooling fish are present. This can be recognised by large groups of seabirds above/ on the water or from constant water surface disturbance 
  • Do not enter the water if fishing vessels are present or if the water smells fishy. This means it is likely activities have taken place in which could have attracted large predators
  • Try and avoid entering the water on stormy/ gloomy days or when the water clarity is super poor

Just to name a few, please read Madison Stewart’s “Australian Guide to Surfing with Sharks” to learn more. 

https://www.surfingguidetosharks.com/

When it comes to mitigation strategies, the Shark Net and Drumline Program was installed by the Australian Government in 1935. First appearing in Sydney, they soon were installed along our entire East Coast with the first Gold Coast instalment in 1962. Today, a total of 383 drumlines and 27 nets line just our QLD coastline. A drumline is a long-submerged hook, commonly baited with shark meat, installed with the fictional idea any bypassing sharks will bite on instead of swimming into human populated shallow waters. This method is combined with a string of net, with a single string running horizontally along the surface for only 186 meters and only vertically submerged approximately 4 meters. The combination of these two tactics is what is known as the Australian Shark Control Program. Implemented along our coast to capture sharks with hopes to reduce the likelihood of negative encounters, stating to “target” specific species of shark thought to be the most dangerous such as bull, white or tiger shark. In reality, there is no real selection within marine victims that the shark control program claim. This sadly results in a larger percentage of entanglements being population vulnerable organisms such as green sea turtles, many species of rays and shark species registered on the list of endangerment/ require protection. For more of an insight into such topic, I highly recommend watching short film “The Shark Net Film” by Holly Richmond on vimeo. The most recent shark bite accident we have witnessed on the Gold Coast, unfortunately resulting in a fatality occurred off Greenmount Beach. This beach is a popular destination for surfers and swimmers and currently has 8 separate drumlines present with nearby nets not too far away. The fact that such an encounter can occur at a beach considered one of the Gold Coast’s most “protected” stretches of ocean goes to show how outdated the program is and how desperately and new method needs to replace it. For both the safety of our precious east coast marine life and our beach loving public. 

Educate yourself, take charge of your own safety in the water and know how to minimise your risk of negative shark encounters.

PC: @maddyclair.e
PC: @maddyclair.e