16 January 2006

Australia: Lack of coordinated shark studies putting swimmers at risk

A LACK of co-ordinated studies may be putting swimmers at risk, according to a leading shark expert.

Despite the State Government and other agencies, like the McDonald's aerial patrol, collecting shark data, there is no combined effort, CSIRO expert Barry Bruce said yesterday.

"Everybody wants to fix it by taking the sharks out or reducing the risk," he said. "Maybe the simple answer is to better understand the nature of sharks and their movement plans and minimise their contact with people."

He said while it may be true that there were more sharks swimming along the coast, without access to the combined data or dedicated research there was no way of knowing for certain where they swam or how many there were.

Figures show the McDonald's Aerial Patrol, operating between Stanwell Park and Mollymook, responded to more than 38 shark sightings between now and January last year, spotting up to 20 sharks at a time.

According to NSW Fisheries, about 500 sharks have been caught in beach protection nets in the last five financial years, an average of 100 each year.

In the last financial year 132 were caught, but a spokeswoman could not confirm whether the above average number was unusually high.

This comes amid continued calls to establish a Sydney aerial patrol, with the University of NSW also volunteering to establish a low cost surveillance operation using graduate pilots.

Surf Life Saving NSW also called for a surveillance helicopter, working in co-ordination with beach based life savers.

Spokesman Stephen Leahy said land based life savers already undertook an observer role on beaches, with a helicopter better equipped than a plane to spot sharks at low altitude and remain stationary to shepherd them away from beaches when sighted.

The helicopter could also be called on to assist in rescue operations or monitor the coastline at a low level.

He said in the last four weeks there have been 12 shark alarms after sightings by life savers.

McDonald's Aerial patrol general manager Harry Mitchell said a fixed wing patrol was more cost effective than helicopter services and could also be used in search and rescue and police operations.

NSW primary industries minister Ian Macdonald said he was happy to look at all research options, including sharing data. He also said he remained committed to meeting with the aerial patrol and Surf Life Saving NSW, however the beach meshing program remained extremely effective.

Randwick mayor Ted Seng said the council was willing to fund a Sydney aerial patrol, in co-ordination with other councils and the Government.

Yachtsman John Andrew-Artha said he had sighted up to eight sharks, some believed to be white pointers, swimming between Brush Island and Ulladulla on Monday.

The report coincides with the sighting of a suspected white pointer off Hyams Beach, Jervis Bay.

Source: dailytelegraph.news.com.au


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