09 September 2005

SharkTrust Article: Abalone divers see more sharks

ABALONE divers say they are seeing more great white sharks but are not yet calling for a widespread cull of the species.

The industry's own records show an unprecedented nine sharks were seen by the State's 32 divers in January alone, although this number quickly dropped off to less than one a month.

Debates about shark numbers and diver safety are hot topics in the abalone diving industry particularly following Sunday's shark attack on a surfer at Fisheries Bay.

Port Lincoln divers Bill Ford and Kym Penalurick each have a different approach to keeping safe from sharks.

Mr Ford like the majority of divers uses a combination of an electronic shark shield and aluminium cage to work the abalone grounds on the seafloor.

But Mr Penalurick prefers to swim free saying once he was on the bottom he felt relatively safe from attack.

"When you consider the industry has been going since the 60s and the thousands of man hours spent diving we have been fortunate that only one abalone diver has been taken," he said.

He said great whites had "visited" him on the seafloor about five times in his 19-year career including his most recent encounter off Ward Island on February 24.

Both divers said they were concerned by what appeared to be increasing encounters and while not calling for a cull, they would like Fisheries officers to take action against any individual shark hanging around populated areas such as Boston Bay.

Mr Penalurick also said since the scaling back of commercial shark fishing, there were fewer great white sharks getting caught and killed in nets.

Fisheries executive director Will Zacharin said removing a shark that was consistently posing a threat was Government policy, but tracking down and identifying sharks after an attack was often impossible.

In terms of shark numbers, Mr Zacharin said the advice from the CSIRO was that worldwide numbers if anything were declining but that seasonal variations or feeding patterns could account for more sharks being seen this year.

He also confirmed sightings forwarded to the State's 1800 065 522 Fishwatch hotline also increased dramatically on calm, sunny days when more people were on the water.

Local marine biologist Kate Rodda also keep records of shark sightings forwarded through Fishwatch and so far this year has recorded a sighting during Tunarama as well as two others from Port Lincoln's north shore around the end of January.

The next series of reportings came in June when sharks were seen around the freezer boats while in July a shark was seen at Waldegrave Island as well as in Port Lincoln.

"There have been rumours of more out there but we really need people to officially report them because only then we will get some idea of what's going on out there," she said.

SA Abalone Industry Association executive officer Michael Tokley said the nine sharks spotted in January could be accounted for by the fact that the month was the busiest for the divers.

Mr Tokley also acknowledged education about reporting sharks had increased following recent attacks including that of scallop diver Paul Buckland off Smoky Bay.

The industry had no formal position on sharks, only that the divers should take every effort to make use of new technology to avoid attack.

Source: www.sharktrust.org


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