Big sharks fall but more on Queensland horizon


Richard Ling

The Sunshine Coast is expecting the winter arrival of grey nurse sharks off Mooloolaba

A shark control program undertaken by the Queensland Department of Agriculture and Fisheries has shown a 48.35% decrease of sharks over 2m over five years.

While the same program found a 13.79% decrease on the Sunshine Coast between 2013-2018, the numbers increased from 2017 by 56.25%.

Coolum Beach Senior Lifeguard Michael Daly said while confirmed shark sightings in flagged patrol areas were much less common, he believed shark numbers have increased.

“Lifeguards and lifesavers are regularly spotting sharks whilst using helicopters, drones and jetskis,” Mr Daly said.

“I believe in this region shark numbers have increased dramatically in the last five years.”

Various methods have been put in place in an attempt to control the numbers of these apex predators at popular swimming locations, while also ensuring the conservation of the species.

Daly has been a lifeguard at Coolum Beach since 1991 and while the keen fisherman and spearfisherman has seen his fair share of sharks, he said that “two confirmed sightings in close proximity to the bathing area per year would be a fair average”.

“I regularly catch sharks on line while fishing and see sharks while diving, when it was more occasional in the past,” Mr Daly said.

Tony Isaacson is a shark conservation diver and the founder of Dive Care Dare, an educational platform where he advocates shark sustainability.

Mr Isaacson is passionate about his study of these creatures and said he believed shark numbers have increased in recent years.

“Shark numbers are slowly increasing on the Coast, with Wolf Rock off Double Island Point being the most significant breeding aggregation in Queensland,” Mr Isaacson said.

Mr Isaacson said that the colder months usually bring more shark sightings, but swimmers should not be deterred from entering the water.

“We are currently expecting the winter arrival of grey nurse sharks off Mooloolaba,” Mr Isaacson said.

“These sharks were first seen last year and will possibly begin to use breeding sites that were used when numbers were much higher.”

Mr Isaacson said he stresses the importance of sustaining shark numbers.

Mr Daly said from his observations, whale season and restrictions on shark fishing can be attributed to this increase.

“The sharks are definitely more prevalent in whale season and as the number of migrating whales have increased in recent years so have the number of sharks,” Mr Daly said.

“Recreational anglers are limited to size and bag limits of sharks which I also believe is helping to increase numbers.”

As an experienced lifeguard, Mr Daly said there were many ways people could share the ocean with these underwater predators without putting themselves in danger.

“The old warnings of don’t swim at dawn or dusk or in the dark, don’t swim near river mouths, near schools of bait fish are all sound advice,” Mr Daly said.

“Also add now near whales, near schools of bait fish, removing your catch from the water when spearfishing and swimming in the flagged patrol areas.”

With many shark control programs already in place, safety has been further enhanced with the Palaszczuk Government pledging $1 million a year on trialling new technologies, including drones, to monitor coastlines.

The Queensland Fisheries program saw a decline in the numbers of sharks caught in the program over five years at almost every location in the state, renewing calls for better shark control.

Mackay, Rainbow Beach and the Capricorn Coast showed the steepest declines with percentage decreases of 73.27, 79.25 and 66.67 respectively.

The search for alternative shark control methods has been an issue for many years, with the number of sharks and other marine life harmed or killed by nets and drumlines becoming problematic.

While many environmentalists believing culling is not the answer, Mr Daly said its application can be beneficial to all.

“From what I’ve seen, sharks are not declining in numbers, so I don’t have a problem with reducing the numbers of sharks in areas that are frequented by people,” Mr Daly said.

“Shark nets and drum lines have been used on Sunshine Coast beaches since the 60s.

“Personally, I see drum lines as more effective in targeting sharks, where netting can entangle any and all marine creatures.”

Mr Daly also said that sharks caught on these drum lines should be used commercially so the animal was not “wasted”.