Marine scientists in Australia say a change in water temperatures may be bringing sharks closer to the shore. That assessment comes as the number of fatal shark attacks has risen this year, compared to previous years. In the latest attack, a surfer was mauled by a shark of the shores of Queensland.
Nick Slater, a 46-year-old real estate agent, was bitten in early September on the leg at Greenmount beach, at Coolangatta, 100 kilometers south of Brisbane.
A large tooth left embedded in his surfboard suggests he was savaged by a 3.5-meter great white shark.
It is the first fatal attack on Queensland’s popular Gold Coast since 1958.
There are about 180 species of sharks in Australia. Only a few, including great white and bull sharks, pose a threat to swimmers, divers and surfers. Attacks are rare. There have been six fatalities in Australia from shark bites so far in 2020, which experts say is unusual. In 2019, there were no reported deaths, while a single fatality was recorded in both 2017 and 2018.
Because many attacks by such shark species as the great white shark take place in cooler waters, marine scientists believe that changes in water temperature could be driving such sharks closer to the coast in search of food.
This could be because naturally occurring ocean currents may have altered sea temperatures, bringing predators closer to the shore and populated beaches. Those currents can pull nutrient-rich cold water up from the deep towards the shore. That brings in fish, which, in turn, attracts sharks. Many attacks on surfers are believed to be mistaken identity, where predators are chasing larger fish.
A local surfer who declined to give his name said there is always the risk, albeit small, of an encounter with a shark.
“It is shocking, really sad for the local community and the family,” he said. “I think most surfers know that, you know, if you spend a lot of time in the water these days it is something you are going to come across sooner or later.”
Across Australia, various measures are taken to try to keep beaches safe, including nets that sit just below the surface of the water, and surveillance by drones and helicopter. Western Australia’s Sea Sense app provides near real-time information of shark activity for beachgoers.
Annastacia Palaszczuk, the Queensland premier, said baited hooks called drumlines are in use at Greenmount beach, where the surfer was killed this week.
She praised the efforts of other surfers who ran into the water to help.
“I am advised Greenmount has eight drumlines and a shark net,” she said. “The courage to run into the surf moments after a shark attacked is beyond admirable, and I think those people are worthy of nominations for bravery awards.”
Beaches in the area have now reopened.
Australians are far more likely to drown or be killed in a car accident than mauled by a shark. More than 85% of Australians live within 50 kilometers of the coast, and given their affinity with the ocean, fatal attacks do spread fear in the community.