Shark expert: ‘Exceptionally bad luck’ surfer was killed
A GOLD Coast expert is playing down anecdotal claims of a "boom" in shark numbers after this week's fatal attack, saying there is no data to prove it.
Bond University shark expert Daryl McPhee said because there were no figures on how many great white sharks existed before they became a protected species, no one knows whether numbers have increased.
Commercial Fishing Industry spokesman Michael Thompson on Wednesday accused the Department of Agriculture and Fisheries of "ignoring" concerns of a shark population boom.
He said they had created an imbalance of biodiversity by protecting sharks, which are at the top end of the food chain, and allowing anglers to harvest the rest.
But Dr McPhee, an associate professor of environmental science, said when the recovery plan for the white shark was implemented, researchers did not know how many were in the water.
"When we protected white sharks, we didn't know how many were there so there was no baseline for recovery," Dr McPhee said. "When someone says 'Sharks are protected, therefore the numbers have gone up', we don't know whether they've gone up.
"Fishermen will tell you they've gone up, and I think it's plausible, but sometimes they're not necessarily seeing white sharks."
Dr McPhee said the fatal attack on surfer and popular Gold Coast real estate agent Nick Slater off Greenmount Beach on Tuesday was the result of several factors and also "exceptionally bad luck".
He said those factors included Mr Slater being at the edge of a line-up of surfers at dusk with a lot of bait fish in the water.
"Bites can occur any time during the day but you can expect an increase in shark activity at dusk and dawn,'' he said. "White sharks exert an extremely high bite force, which in lay terms means they apply lethal force in a single bite.
"They wound their prey, or a human, wait for them to bleed out and then come back to eat.''
He said in Mr Slater's case, there was "nothing more anybody could have done".
Charter fisherman and Gold Coast local Brad Smith said he believed shark numbers had increased but did not agree they should be culled.
The Boardriders Club president said no one had taken into account the growing population of surfers and swimmers in Gold Coast waters, making it more likely a shark attack would happen.
"No one is taking into account that we live in an area with a growing population," Mr Smith said.
"There's more and more people in the water every year.
"When I was first surfing at Kirra, there would be about five of us. Now when Kirra's breaking, there's probably 300 people in the water."
Veteran charter fisherman John Ede said there were "tonnes" of sharks off northern NSW beaches, including many resident white pointers.
The Reel Fishn charters owner said during one trip about four years ago, a 7m great white shark swam up to his 37-foot (11m) boat 15km off Cabarita Beach.
"It was the biggest fish I've ever seen, apart from whales," Mr Ede said.
"Customers who were on board still recall that day. The head was at the helm of the boat and his tail was at the back of the boat.
"I caught a mako shark at the back off Dbar (Duranbah Beach) and when you see the size of the teeth, you say, 'that's not a small shark'.
"We see sharks galore out there but it's their territory and it's just a matter of respecting that.
"Swimming at dusk or dawn is not advisable at all. My offsider is a champion surfer and he won't surf at dusk or dawn."
The Department of Agriculture and Fisheries has caught 298 sharks in Gold Coast waters since 2015, but only 21 were white sharks.
Capture numbers year on year have been up and down, with 47 in 2015, 46 in 2016, 59 in 2017, 50 in 2018, 60 in 2019 and 36 so far this year.
Originally published as Shark expert: 'Exceptionally bad luck' surfer was killed