16 January 2006

Australia: Calls for shark patrols as experts predict more attacks

SHARK patrols must be urgently re-introduced, experts warned yesterday, as hotter than average summers and a plentiful supply of food leads to a surge in sightings of the man-eaters along the coast.

Experts believe it is only a matter of time before a fatal shark attack occurs in Sydney, with claims that the axing of funds for aerial shark patrols has increased the risk to swimmers.

At the same time the number of sharks sighted in coastal waters has increased, as warm currents and more fish swim closer to the coastline.

The warning comes as two hammerhead sharks were chased away from a popular Sydney swimming spot at the weekend.

Hammerhead sharks were also spotted feeding on baitfish at Port Kembla and Windang yesterday.

This follows the attack on Sarah Whiley, 21, who was fatally mauled by up to three bull sharks at Amity Point on Stradbroke Island in Queensland on Saturday.

McDonald's Aerial Patrol, which conducts shark patrols along the South Coast, ceased operations in Sydney two years ago after funding was cut from community sources in October 2004.

A funding plea to the State Government and councils was ignored.

Aerial patrol general manager Harry Mitchell said more than 100 sharks had been spotted along patrol routes between Stanwell Park and Mollymook over the past three weekends. "Most of those were close to the shore," he said.

"Over the last five years our records tell us we've seen increased numbers of sharks all along the coastline between November and March.

"Water temperatures and food supplies are bringing sharks closer to the coast.

"It's only a matter of time before something like the Amity attack happens here."

Mr Mitchell said a $100,000 grant would enable patrols to operate from this Saturday every weekend and public holiday until the end of summer. He called on the State Government and coastal councils to make up the shortfall.

"Let's give the community the safety they deserve," he said.

But Acting Premier John Watkins ruled out funding the patrols, saying the Government spent $700,000 a year maintaining shark nets around 51 beaches.

"There may be a role for aerial patrols but they are generally funded through other measures," Mr Watkins said.

"Our funding priority has to go to where it's very effective, which has been the meshing program."

Since meshing was introduced 69 years ago there has been one fatal attack on a protected beach in NSW.

But Mr Mitchell claimed about half the sharks caught in nets had already managed to get inside the perimeter.

Opposition Leader Peter Debnam backed Mr Mitchell's call for the Government to fund aerial shark patrols.

"As a swimmer every morning at Bondi, I'd like to see it done as quickly as possible," Mr Debnam said yesterday.

On Sunday at 11am, lifeguards at Clovelly spotted two 2m-long hammerhead sharks swimming into adjacent Gordon's Bay. The bay is popular with swimmers and snorkellers and is directly south of Clovelly.

Surf Life Saving Sydney rescue services manager Stephen Leahy said choppy conditions meant no swimmers were in the water at the time of the sighting. "A rescue boat spotted the two sharks cruising, they then shepherded them back out to sea," he said.

"You get lots of fish in there and lots of sharks.

"In any reef area where there are lots of fish you will find sharks."

He said there had been a number of sightings in recent weeks at Maroubra, Cronulla, Bondi and Tamarama beaches, with Elouera closed on Boxing Day because of a shark.

Bronze whalers measuring up to 4m were sighted off Maroubra.

The last Sydney death by a shark was recorded in 1963. Last year in April Simon Letch had his board bitten by a suspected 2m bronze whaler while surfing at Bronte.

Source: dailytelegraph.news.com.au


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