Do we no longer see them as a threat?
This year has been tragic in the shark attack world with over a dozen attacks in Australia so far, with some tragic consequences, but are we learning from what is happening in our ocean?
Does anyone bother to look at apps like Dorsal or Sharksmart anymore ?
An event on Monday has again raised what I see as a growing complacency to sharks while we use the ocean.
As a shark attack survivor and founder of a shark attack support group I hear a lot of what is happening in the surf, from members, from mates, from strangers and from the media. My life does not revolve around sharks, but my love of the ocean and the people affected by it is a large part of my leisure time, if there is an attack I hear about it, if someone in our group has a close encounter, I hear about it, if there are sightings, I hear about it, which brings me to Monday’s event.
The surf was small, there was a strong nor easter blowing, the water had chilled a little and the crowd was up. So rather than go out and grovel on my short board I grabbed my SUP and went out for a paddle while my partner took her Mal out. With the wind, the chop and a deceiving wash back off the rocks it was tough going, so after a dozen waves my old legs were saying enough. I went back to my van where my dog was stretched out on the bed awaiting the ok to hop out and have a swim, so I took him down and swam out with him for about 10 minutes. As we were walking up the rocks I noticed Deb my partner was paddling in, so I gave Mojo the ok to run back and meet her while I strolled down.
As she got out she was buzzing (something had spooked her) and asked me “did you see that?”, the look on her face telling me that something had scared her, to which I said “no”. She along with a mate of mine had witnessed a decent size white shark breach completely out of the water about 50 metres further out. She decided to get out straight away, the others in the surf didn’t. A few people overheard our conversation and started getting their kids out of the water, but others who asked what she had seen didn’t hesitate to go out for a surf.
This scenario is happening everywhere up the East Coast with surfers being bitten, circled, bumped and swam under, with very little other than the person involved leaving the water, and only rarely is somebody being notified (our beach is unpatrolled, so we spread the word among those who are there).
I recently had a conversation with a guy who had come down from Port Macquarie due to being circled in the morning who told me some of the guys up there are still very nervous after the recent attack at Shelly beach which ended up with a young lady with severe leg injuries that will affect her for the rest of her life. He said he had come to surf with us as he felt safer, until I mentioned how many bull sharks we encounter. Needless to say, when the two of us who were surfing when he paddled out got out, he also got the next wave in.
While I am not having a go at anyone for wanting to stay in the surf because of the perception that that the shark has moved on (which in most cases is probably true) or the risk of being attacked is relatively low. What I am saying is that I have seen the other side of the coin, the one that doesn’t end with a throw away comment of ‘Yes, we seen a shark, it’s where they live, it’s their ocean’, the one that ends with a lifelong scar, a missing limb or a funeral, all of which can leave a family devastated forever.
So on Monday, surfing was finished for us for the day, we cooked lunch out the back of the van, mentioned what had occurred to the rest of the crew and went on our way hoping to not get the call that the shark had not moved on and one of my mates is now in need of a club shirt. Please be careful guys, your attitude to ocean safety affects more than just you.