What can be done to prevent more shark attacks?
Airdate: 
Tuesday, September 29, 2015 - 20:30
Channel: 
SBS
“I was going to keep punching him ‘til I was dead. I was going to go down fighting” – Craig Ison.

 

With two fatalities in the last year, several seriously injured and countless other reports of sightings, bumps and other interactions, the north coast communities of NSW are all talking about one thing: sharks.

So why are there more shark encounters in this particular area now? And how much do we actually know about sharks?

This week, Insight visits the NSW far north coast, which takes in popular surfing and tourist destinations Byron Bay, Ballina, and Lennox Head.

The NSW Premier Mike Baird has promised $250,000 for water and air surveillance of the northern NSW coastline, as well as a shark tagging program that's underway and an independent review of existing shark deterrent technologies.

Can wetsuits and striped boards make surfers appear less attractive to sharks? And why are some colours to be avoided in the water – like 'yum yum yellow'?

In this episode, filmed at the Lennox Head Hotel, Insight brings together scientists, marine ecologists, surfers, fishermen, and concerned local community members.

Heading into summer, what might actually work to keep people safe in the water?

Credits

Join the discussion by using the #insightsbs hashtag on Twitter, or posting on our Facebook page.

Jebez's story

Jebez Reitman grew up surfing - he got his first board at age four - and knows the ocean well. On February 8, 2015, he had a bloody meeting with one of the locals - a shark. Read Jebez's encounter here.

Darren's story

Darren Rogers tried to save a fellow surfer Tadashi Nakahara who'd been attacked by a shark. This is his recount on what he did to try and save 41-year-old who was 'sort of half gone'. Read Darren's experience here.  

Web Extra

SBS Dateline reporter David O'Shea looks at the effect the attacks have had on the people living in the French island of La Réunion, and he follows the complex operation to tame the might of the sharks. Watch report here.

SBS2's The Feed spoke to residents on the New South Wales north coast have called for a cull of sharks in the region and the introduction of baited drumlines to protect surfers and the local industry. Link to story. 

Map: where have sharks attacked people in Australian waters?
The North Coast of NSW has had nine unprovoked shark attacks this year, more than half of all attacks in Australia. Where else have shark attacks occurred?

How many people do sharks kill in Australia each year?
Shark attacks receive plenty of media attention, but figures show they kill very few people each year.

Episode Recap: Your Say

Scroll to read a selection of your comments on this episode. 

Transcript

JENNY BROCKIE:   Hi. I am Jenny Brockie and this week, we are on the NSW far north coast. There have been seven shark attacks here in the past year, two of them fatal. These are some of the most beautiful surfing beaches in the country, but people are now scared to use them. So, why are there more shark attacks and what can be done about it?

Hello everyone and thanks so much for welcoming us to this beautiful part of the world. Craig, I want to start with you, you've been a surfer for 47 years, now about six weeks ago you went for a surf at Evans Head, just south of here? Tell us what happened?

 

CRAIG ISON:  Well my friend Jeff and I were paddling out Main Beach Evans Head we were about forty metres from shore, so we were facing like a westerly direction and I looked over and I saw a fin came up in between Jeff and I and this fin was shaped like that and I've seen a dolphin with a fin chopped off at the top before but I wasn't sure, and then the tail thing came up and that's when I knew that it was definitely a shark.

 

JENNY BROCKIE:   Now it was about 6 o'clock in the morning?

 

CRAIG ISON:  Yeah, 10 past, yes.

 

JENNY BROCKIE:   What were the conditions like?

 

CRAIG ISON:  Oh, calm, beautiful, beautiful morning.  No, no birds diving into the water to bait fish, there was, there was no activity, there was no bait fishing, no activity in the water, it was just dead calm really.

 

JENNY BROCKIE:   And what went through your mind when you    realised what it was?

 

CRAIG ISON:  We're in trouble, big trouble because I've never seen a fin like this before.  Like a tail fin on a shark or that.

 

JENNY BROCKIE:   And what happened then?

 

CRAIG ISON:  We started paddling in and I looked at the shore,    looked at Jeffrey, said yeah, you're going alright, we might make it, turned around to keep an eye on the shark and his tail thing was starting to swing around so he's obviously turned around to come and chase us. I checked how far we were and I thought we've got a good chance of making this. Then I turned back around to keep an eye on the shark and I couldn't see the fin, the tail fin any more, you know, so I automatically stopped paddling and sat up on the board and turning around, keeping an eye on the shark at surface level of the water and I couldn't see its fin. And I looked up in the air and here is six foot up in the air and he's actually twisting like that.  I just couldn't take my eyes off him.  That's when time just went toot, slowed right down like frame by frame, and then next frame was him straightening up and used his tail and straightened up and he was just heading like a missile straight for me.

 

JENNY BROCKIE:   What did you do?

 

CRAIG ISON:  I was just amazed but what the shark was doing in the air.  I've never seen a shark do this before and he was just, all I could see was his teeth. He had his mouth open, he was like smiling, showing his pearly whites and…

 

JENNY BROCKIE:   This is just sounding so awful.

 

CRAIG ISON: That was the last frame of him coming straight for me showing his teeth, so that's a nice little one to remember. But yeah, so next thing time clicks straight back into normal time so it was like bang, bang, next thing I know I've got his head on me left lap, my left leg.

 

JENNY BROCKIE:   What, grabbing onto you?

           

CRAIG ISON:  Yeah, he's onto me but he's already sheared my hand because my hand got caught in his mouth on the way through. So it's like bang, bang.  So time just sort of snapped in real quick like that. Next thing I know me hand's just all in pieces, blood pissing out and then there's the sharks head on top of me and he's starting to swim sideways with the head and his whole body's, his tail's going from side to side like a metre apart and his head's only moving about, you know, a few inches, about eight, ten centimetres at the most. First thought was I'm stuffed because even though I do manage to get this shark off me, he's probably going to come back and finish me off anyhow because I never come across a white pointer before and as far as I'm concerned you've got all the other sharks down here and they're way up here. And so I thought no, bugger it, I'm going to go down fighting so I gave him a really good hit.

 

JENNY BROCKIE:   So he's right in front of you here on your leg?

 

CRAIG ISON:  Yeah, he's in the perfect spot for me to hit him in the head, like in the brain.  I hit him once and that's it, didn't do anything. It just like made him a little bit angrier so I hit him again and he's still thrashing around. I'm thinking well, times running out, I haven't got much, you know, like I'm 99, I was gone for all money.  It was just one slight chance left and I thought, well, I'll just visualise my hand going right through his head, right, and got up and gave it everything I had, everything I had left and I went down and I hit him and then I hit him again because I was going to keep punching him till I was dead.  I was going to go down fighting but then he stopped after the third punch. I hit him the fourth time but I didn't really need to. He stopped shaking, he went dead still, his head stopped still, his body went still, he went all limp and I'm looking down the tail.  He's yeah, dead still, up the head, dead still, and by that stage…

 

JENNY BROCKIE:   Still got hold of you?

 

CRAIG ISON:  No, he just released me.

 

JENNY BROCKIE:   Okay.

 

CRAIG ISON:  Because his muscles went all relaxed and all that, his bottom jaw dropped out. Like he just, hold that there for a minute, I go back to the surf board.

 

JENNY BROCKIE:   So you've got your surf board here?

 

CRAIG ISON:  Yeah.

 

JENNY BROCKIE:   That you were on, let's have a look. That's his jaw?

 

CRAIG ISON:  That's his bottom jaw - his top jaw is on top of my leg chewing it off, right? He's already bit me once on the leg but he's gone for the bigger kill, the kill bite with open jaw, they open their jaw wide, well this one did anyway obviously, but it took me a while to work out what actually happened. He went to chop me leg off and that  wouldn't have taken much because I've only got skinny legs so he wouldn't have - but anyway, he got caught underneath me board.

 

JENNY BROCKIE:   He got caught under the board?

 

CRAIG ISON:  He got caught and that's why he was going sideways.

 

JENNY BROCKIE:   And his teeth got caught?

 

CRAIG ISON:  Yeah, his teeth got caught.

 

JENNY BROCKIE:  Okay, so he let go - at that point did you feel I've got time to get away?

           

CRAIG ISON:  Well no, I just kept on watching him and his mouth stayed open and just before he went under the water his teeth just made a little bit of a shudder like that and I had a good look at his teeth and man, you don't want to see those teeth. I tell you, they're awesome and he just slid into the water like a ship sinking out in the ocean, he just fell in.  I'm not hanging around to see what happens because they could bust, snap straight out of it and come back out and I paddled in on a paddle from hell.

 

JENNY BROCKIE:   What injuries did you have?

 

CRAIG ISON:  Oh well, I've got - my hand got chewed apart as he was coming, when he first hit.  I've got a huge gash…

 

JENNY BROCKIE:   And you've got big scars on your hand there?

 

CRAIG ISON:  Yeah, I've got huge scars. I've got scars, that's skin graft there, this finger was torn up like that, that was torn over like that, it's like I couldn't believe I woke up in ICU with my finger still on, let alone me arm and me leg for that matter.

 

JENNY BROCKIE:   Has what happened sunk in?

 

CRAIG ISON: Only just.  I mean when I say sunk in, I relate that to was, like I'm a real sucker for the truth Jenny.  I wasn't happy until I came to what I thought was the truth of what happened on that day and I just went over and over and over in my mind and every time I    was thinking about it I come up with something, thought of something else because I couldn't work out why this shark still didn't release when I…

 

JENNY BROCKIE:   Are you still going over and over it in your mind?

 

CRAIG ISON:  No, no, I've come to the conclusion, as I've just spoken, that's what I reckon happened so I'm happy with that right or wrong.

 

JENNY BROCKIE:   Darren, you were surfing at Shelley Beach just around the corner when Tadashi Nakahara was killed by a shark in February. When did you first realise something was wrong that day?

 

DARREN ROGERS:  I was paddling out, I was about three quarters of the way out in the surf. It was my first surf back, I'd had about six months out of the water from previous neck injuries so it was a perfect day, nice little three feet waves, blue sky, blue water, white sand, board shorts, you know, it was nice and warm, it was February. And, and then I was almost out, maybe about five metres from actually being sitting out the back, and then I heard a lot of commotion and yelling and then I sort of looked up and it wasn't too many guys out. It was, you know, five or six over here, two or three here and a couple of over here, and all of a sudden pretty much everyone was belly boarding the same white water in. And every surfer knows sort of looking at that that it's a shark.

           

JENNY BROCKIE:   Something's wrong, yeah?

 

DARREN ROGERS:  Yeah.  So it just went from, all of a sudden it just went from perfect to…

           

JENNY BROCKIE:   Calm and peace and everyone enjoying themselves?

 

DARREN ROGERS:  Beautiful, to within the next couple of minutes it turned into your worst, you know, worst nightmare.

 

JENNY BROCKIE:   When did you realise Tadashi had been attacked?

 

DARREN ROGERS:  I saw, I spun around and came in, like everybody else, and I saw a couple of guys struggling and just didn't look right. So at that point I took my leg rope off and ran up onto the rocks and jumped off the rocks and sort of struggled and waded and got out to those guys which, they were still about halfway out and at that point I saw Tadashi.  I already knew, we all knew there was a shark, I saw his injuries straight away.

 

JENNY BROCKIE:   And what were his injuries?

 

DARREN ROGERS:  Um, I'll only say this because I've already told this to his parents so they know this story, so otherwise I wouldn't talk about it overly graphically but his both legs were removed, not very far below his hips in pretty, from my memory, in a pretty straight line.  So he was sort of half gone. At that point, because I didn't have a board and the other two, I think there was two, they were struggling to hold him up and paddle in. So I was able to help them pick him up and then we struggled back to the rocks and then we clambered up the rocks with him and then everything went into over drive.   So we ran to the sand carrying him, you know, actually onto the white part of the beach, put him down and then it was at that point things just were going, like Craig said, like flashes in a film. So anyway, we put him down, I jumped down and rolled his head to the left to get some water out. The other two guys were attempting to put leg ropes around his injuries and then I started, I gave him a couple of breaths…

 

JENNY BROCKIE:   CPR?

 

DARREN ROGERS: Yes, and then yelled for someone to help me on his chest with the compressions. So then we started doing that and it seemed like an eternity and you know, I'm not a soldier, you're just so unprepared for something like this. It was so, I didn't realise how intimate CPR is, especially with someone who has, he was          unconscious the whole time and in fact he had probably passed by the time I got to him, his injuries were that big.  I don't believe he would have felt any pain. In fact I'm quite sure of it. I mean I said the same thing to his parents.

 

JENNY BROCKIE:   How long was it before you knew that he'd died?

 

DARREN ROGERS:  In the back of my head I knew it when I saw him. However, during the resuscitation at one point I thought, and his parents know this, I thought that I got a breath. The other two, and there was a bit of a crowd around by this time and they had lifted, lifted him up from his waist to try and keep blood in his heart and head and I yelled at everyone to be quiet and I put my ear on his, on his mouth and I thought I heard a breath and then I looked at his eyes and I thought I saw his eyes move, but the paramedics later told me that was really just his brain shutting down, doing the final, final, you know, stages of passing away. So that was a really tough part too because I thought we had him, you know, and we didn't.

 

JENNY BROCKIE:  Did you find out what kind of shark it had been that had attacked him?

 

DARREN ROGERS:  I almost knew immediately.  Just because his injuries were so big, it was, there's not many sharks, bull sharks don't grow that big.  Well, they might but the severity of his injuries pretty much pointed to great white and also we all know about great whites, they're the horror story, you know?

 

JENNY BROCKIE:   So the same kind of shark as your attack?

 

CRAIG ISON:  It was exactly the same size by the sounds of it and yeah, the most aggressive, like I said all the other sharks are down here and these guys are up here, they're just apex predator.

 

JENNY BROCKIE:   Garry Meredith, you were the duty officer with Surf Life Saving that day, with Tadashi.  When did you arrive?

           

GARRY MEREDITH: I arrived just as Tadashi was being placed in the back of the ambulance.

           

JENNY BROCKIE:   So he'd already passed away at that point?

 

GARRY MEREDITH:  Yeah.

 

JENNY BROCKIE:   And five months later there was another attack at the next beach south?

 

GARRY MEREDITH: Yeah. That was Matt Lee, that was around, I think, 10 o'clock in the morning. I got there pretty well just after the first paramedic and I thought he was gone on the beach. Paramedics started giving me some orders so like I had to put the oxygen on him first and then deal with his leg injuries. So…

 

JENNY BROCKIE:   And was that a great white as well?

 

GARRY MEREDITH:  Yeah.

 

JENNY BROCKIE:   And he survived?

 

GARRY MEREDITH:  Yeah.

 

JENNY BROCKIE:   So what's it like for you what's going on at the moment?

 

GARRY MEREDITH:  Personally, I haven't seen it like this - I grew up at Shelley Beach and surfed morning and afternoon and I have never, never experienced anything like we are experiencing at the moment. I haven't been in the water since Tadashi's attack. I was going to go surfing again the day before Matt's attack and then that has put me back now so I haven't been in. I will go out in a boat or a jet ski or a rescue board if I have to, but that is just something that I have got to deal with.

 

JENNY BROCKIE:   Yeah. Darren, have you been in the water since?

 

DARREN ROGERS:  Since 9th February I've had four attempts all of which were about 15 minutes. One was about 20 minutes. I just can't last out in the water. So, for me, that is less than a week. I have surfed for my whole life, it’s less than a surf really. The last one was just a few days ago just here and I ended up there was a crowd at North Wall and a crowd at another beach and I don't like crowds and I thought, "I have got to do this." There were a few waves and there was nobody out and I ended up in the middle of a big bait ball. A huge school of small fish that when seen it looks like a big black ball moving.

 

JENNY BROCKIE:   And they are huge.

 

DARREN ROGERS:  Huge, so I ended up absolutely in the middle of one with the cormorants bomb diving the water all around me alone and in deep green water and I'm having a real lot of trouble because every time I go underwater and open my eyes I'm waiting for a shark to hit.

 

JENNY BROCKIE:   David Wright, you're the Ballina mayor, how many shark attacks have there been in this region in the past year?

 

CR DAVID WRIGHT, BALLINA SHIRE MAYOR: Four attacks this year. I have lived in Byron Bay or in this shire all of my life and not been a great surfer, but a body boarder and I have never worried about sharks, never even thought about sharks, but since February it is in everyone's mind. It is in my mind and my gear is still sitting in the garage.

 

JENNY BROCKIE:   Who usually surfs here? Like, before the shark attacks? So most of you! How many of you are surfing now? Okay, quite a few, are you surfing the same way and doing the same things that you always do?

 

MALE 2: You tend to spread out, you see surfers sort of surf really close to each other in certain spots.

 

MALE 3:  Safety in numbers.

 

JENNY BROCKIE:   Safety in numbers, yeah?  Everybody else?

 

DON MUNRO: There's no real enjoyment even when we are surfing because the only thing we're thinking about at the time is, is there a shark under us or is there one going to be in the area? So you're not really enjoying surfing as you would normally, you know? A lot of times of late I've just not, I've gone down to go out and not gone out because I've talked myself out of it, you know?

 

JENNY BROCKIE:   Have you changed the way you surf, yes over here?

 

MALE 4: Yes, I only go out when it's better than average.  If it's ordinary I don't go out. I check conditions, bait balls, murky water.

 

JENNY BROCKIE:   Okay, yes?

           

MALE 5: I have two teenage boys, 13 and 15, Max here, and we haven't been surfing for about four weeks or something like that

 

JENNY BROCKIE:   So it’s really changed the way...

 

MALE 5:  I was going on the shark report. I said, "Boys five days without a shark I’m near the beach, mate, we are in there, we will hit it." We haven't even gone close you know.

 

JENNY BROCKIE:   Georgie, you're a local helicopter pilot here, you've been doing daily aerial surveillance of the coast. Are you seeing more sharks?

 

GEORGIE LATIMER, AIR T&G:  Yeah, definitely, well particularly since Matt's attack when we've been up daily specifically having a look, yeah, a lot, it's quite unusual, there's been sharks daily.

 

JENNY BROCKIE:   What are you seeing, what sort of numbers,  what size, what types?

 

GEORGIE LATIMER:  Anywhere from one to three or four sharks, quite in close to the beaches, like just behind the breakers, quite in close to the surfers and they do get bigger.

 

JENNY BROCKIE:   Big ones?

 

GEORGIE LATIMER:  Yeah, like you know, I'm not a shark expert but as I said, we've done the coast line for years and you do see in the past like smaller sharks that head north or head south, but nothing like this where they're kind of hovering around people and it's daily and they are in very close.

 

JENNY BROCKIE:   And how does everyone else feel seeing that helicopter going up and down every day?  What's that doing to the community?

 

MALE: It's reassuring.

 

MALE: It's safe.

           

JENNY BROCKIE:   Jann, you're a local marine ecologist.  Are there more great white sharks around at the moment than there have been before?

 

JANN GILBERT, MARINE ECOLOGIST:  The short answer is probably not. The long answer is we don't have any population estimates on juvenile white sharks. The Fisheries catch records shark measuring program records, suggests quite the opposite, that there are less white sharks and less sharks generally and that's a worldwide trend that populations of sharks have declined, not increased.

 

JENNY BROCKIE:   But could there just be more of them here?

 

JANN GILBERT:  Unlikely. I think it's probably not what people want to hear but they have always been here. This is an annual pattern of migration.

 

JENNY BROCKIE:   So why are there more attacks this year then?

 

JANN GILBERT:  Well, the incident of shark encounters or bites has increased worldwide and that's directly related to the number of people in the ocean, not the number of sharks. There are also more people out looking for sharks.

 

JENNY BROCKIE:  Cliff, what do you think, you're a fisherman?

 

CLIFF CORBETT:  The sharks that everybody sees I've been seeing them for years.  They fluctuate, some years you have a good season, sometimes you have a bad season.  They're like little blow flies, they come in, they eat what they can and they move away. You feed a young juvenile shark, it will just shake, it'll shiver, it's just a normal thing for them to do and then they'll swim away and they'll come back and they'll have another bite maybe if they feel that they like it. But sharks don't eat humans.

 

JENNY BROCKIE:   Georgie, how close into shore are the sharks you're seeing from that chopper?

 

GEORGIE LATIMER:  Like literally just sometimes right behind the main breakers, sorry, I'm not a surfer.

 

PAUL BUTCHER, NSW DEPT OF PRIMARY INDUSTRIES:  From the thirty hours we've done of aerial surveys so far, the Air T&G guys were part of our Fisheries research, we've seen the animals in close as thirty metres out to 150 metres offshore. And in that typical size range from one and a half up to 3.22, 3.3 metres, and we're seeing them with these guys on a daily basis from, all the way from Evans Head to Belongil we're flying and we do admit it's an unusual year up here. They do move up and down the coast, there is excess numbers here, we've tagged eight already and those guys range in distances already from being up at Fraser Island to being all the way back down to Port Stephens already.

 

JENNY BROCKIE:   And do you have any sense of why?

 

PAUL BUTCHER:  There's a lot of bait here, there's brooder whales, there's lots of dolphins, there's lot of fish and it's just a trophic thing. It will turn around but that doesn't help the surfers and the local community.  And those sharks we've tagged already, those eight have already moved out of the area but we're still seeing other sharks along the coast here and we're going to continue those surveys because we think once that bait is gone, that the sharks will move with it. But we want to come up with a precursor if it happens next year at Port Macquarie or Coffs or back up at Ballina again.

 

JENNY BROCKIE:  Phil, do you have a theory about why there might be more sharks hanging and here?

 

PHIL HILLIARD, BALLINA FISHERMEN’S CO-OP:  It is common knowledge that the river systems that we have are sick. So the Richmond River, the Clarence River go all the way down the coast. So we have seen the water come off the catchment, go into the river and the bait fish arrive. Of course with the bait fish, that is the theory this we have, the bait fish are attracting the fish and the sharks are following them.

 

JENNY BROCKIE:   Really everyone is kind of guessing, aren't they? We don't actually know.

 

JANN GILBERT:  But that is quite a normal function of the ocean that you get areas of productivity at various different times and they could be seasonal, annual, bye yearly.

 

JENNY BROCKIE:   But people are being attacked and people have died. I mean, that is why we are here. That is why we are having a conversation, I guess, is trying to understand why it is that that has been happening more than normal.

 

DARREN ROGERS: It also has broached two seasons and Tadashi was right - still in summer. Warm water, clear water and now it is still happening in winter. So the whales weren't here in summer. So it is not just…

 

JENNY BROCKIE:   You can't isolate it to those types of conditions.

 

DARREN ROGERS: It has gone across the board.

 

JENNY BROCKIE:   And different times of day as well.

 

DARREN ROGERS: Yes, absolutely.

 

JENNY BROCKIE:   Sometimes at dawn, sometimes in the dark, sometimes at ten or eleven o’clock in the morning.

 

DARREN ROGERS: Tadashi was late morning.

 

JENNY BROCKIE:   Craig, yeah?

 

CRAIG ISON:  Can I say that I really honestly, you can get all the data, all the facts you like, but when it comes down to it, it's really up to that shark when it wants to do something, what it wants to do, where it wants to go. 

 

JENNY BROCKIE:   Do you still go surfing?

 

CRAIG ISON:  No, I'm not game, I'm not even able to.

 

JENNY BROCKIE:   Yeah, I know you're not able now.

 

CRAIG ISON:  But if I was…

 

JENNY BROCKIE:  Would you?

 

CRAIG ISON:  No, I'm not going out till I think it's safe to do so, when a shark's got six foot up in the air and he's coming at you with his teeth like that, he's not looking to suss you out, he's going to kill you. There are sharks that shoot first and asks questions later.

 

JENNY BROCKIE:   What is the protocol if there is a shark sighting?

 

DAVID WRIGHT:  The protocol is that... If a shark is seen and there’s nobody is around, it is noted. They just note the presence of it and we have got those records kept with the police. If there are people nearby, the police will usually come and assess the situation with life guards. If we shut the beaches, which we normally used to do for 24 hours after you see a shark, the beaches wouldn't have been open.

 

JENNY BROCKIE:   If you close the beach every time there was a sighting, the beaches would never be open. That is the situation at the moment?

 

DAVID WRIGHT: We used to close all the beaches for 24 hours, but now the helicopter goes over and sees a shark, we will get the people out of the water at that beach and that beach is closed for a couple of hours and if they go back again and the shark is not there, we will open the beach back up. We have got a shark app that is being developed and should be available in the next week or so.

 

JENNY BROCKIE:   A shark app?

 

DAVID WRIGHT: There are already shark apps exist. I have it on my phone. This one will actually be dedicated to our local beaches and that should help, but we are also looking at a system - we were talking about it this morning - if there is a beach closure, 73 places that a council has to put up signs. That is an impossibility, so what we are looking at is modern technology - large screens with information that can be fed in live. "The beach is closed", we just have the make sure that the technology will stand up to the weather. The other thing we are looking at doing is putting automatic sirens on each of the headlands. If we know it is there we can activate from a control centre activate the shark alarms. We have had over 20 incidents where people have reported their boards have been hit.

 

JENNY BROCKIE:   Bumped.

 

DAVID WRIGHT: Bumped, I know that happened before and people didn't report it, but that is pretty frightening when that many occurrences are happening, so there has definitely been interplay between surfers and sharks.

 

JENNY BROCKIE:   So this has changed the whole community in a really significant way?

 

DAVID WRIGHT: Like I said, I had never thought about it in over 60 years and now my gear is hanging in the garage.

 

JENNY BROCKIE:    Jabez, you're a regular surfer, you live in Byron Bay, now you were attacked by a shark in February. Tell us what happened?

 

JABEZ REITMAN:  Yeah, I got in the water about ten to six. The sun hadn't come up. There was a bit of an orange tinge on the horizon as the sun was starting to come up. Best time of the day to be in the water. There were dolphins everywhere, like I had never seen - there was a frenzy of dolphins.

 

JENNY BROCKIE:   What did you think when you saw that?

 

JABEZ REITMAN:  I was at peace. I always thought when dolphins are around you are pretty safe and so...

 

JENNY BROCKIE:   Nathan, you are a shark biologist. We hear this all the time about dawn and dusk and keep out of the water at these times. Is that true, that that is that the time that sharks are most likely to attack?

 

ASSOCIATE PROFESSOR NATHAN HART, MACQUARIE UNIVERSITY:  Well no, I mean the evidence would suggest that sharks can attack at any time of the day.  Like most big predators they're opportunistic and so this correlation between dawn and dusk really comes from the fact that they tend to be more active.

 

PAUL BUTCHER: Yeah, it's also well known that the white sharks feed throughout the day on seal colonies and in clear water and at night as well. So for white sharks it's out of the norm but for other sharks which are dangerous, being our bull sharks and tiger sharks, then traditionally they're more active around that dawn and dusk and that's what we promote.

 

JENNY BROCKIE:   Jabez, the shark had one go at you, but just tell us what happened, how it sort of attacked you, how it approached you?

 

JABEZ REITMAN:  Well, I didn't really see how it approached me, I looked to my right because I had my arm extended out to my nose on my surf board and I looked to my right and this thing hit me in the face and I turned away from it thinking it was a frisky dolphin and I just got what I thought was pushed under the water and it didn't, I didn't feel a bite, when I was surfacing I felt this, I guess I could describe it as a winded feeling, as a hollow pain.  Like something I'd never felt before and just by chance I put my hand around my back just to see if everything was okay and that's when I felt my ribs and there was no flesh there and I was just, that's when I realised that it was a shark attack. As you can see in the wound it only just got me because I was, I changed my position as it was striking. So I was very lucky in that sense that it only just, just took what it did.

 

JENNY BROCKIE:   Why do you think it didn't come back? I mean did you, you must have been terrified it was going to come back?

 

JABEZ REITMAN:  I was petrified, yeah.  When I saw the blood and the person I was surfing with, it wasn't until I paddled past her and started screaming at her like paddle and I looked back at her and saw her eyes and she's noticed it. And I was expecting any second there, it was just going to go whack and just get me again.

 

JENNY BROCKIE:  And this was a bull shark?

 

JABEZ REITMAN:  Yeah.

 

JENNY BROCKIE:   Unlike the others we've been talking about?

 

JABEZ REITMAN:  That's the conclusion that he came to.

 

JENNY BROCKIE:   Nathan, what's the difference between a bull shark and a great white?  Let's look at the bull shark first, tell us what the characteristics of a bull shark are?

 

ASSOC. PROFESSOR NATHAN HART:  It's a different type of shark all together, it’s a different family.  They have different behaviour, the white shark is much more of an ocean going shark; the bull shark is capable of tolerating freshwater so often goes into rivers. So they'll feed on different prey and they'll certainly feed at different times of the day.

 

JENNY BROCKIE:   Different teeth to a great white?

 

ASSOC. PROFESSOR NATHAN HART:  Yes, so obviously a great white, it starts off eating fish and then as it gets older it takes larger prey, marine mammals. The bull sharks generally eat fish rather than mammals so there'd be a difference in dentition there which is related to lifestyle.

 

JENNY BROCKIE:  And what do we know about great whites?

 

ASSOC. PROFESSOR NATHAN HART:  Well great whites are a very complex animal. They're migratory, one of the interesting things about white sharks is the shift in diet as they get older and there's some suggestion that sharks of this intermediate size, about two to three metres, may be starting to make that transition in diet from predominantly fish to marine mammals and maybe this gives rise to some of the attacks. It could be mistaken identity with the prey that they're eventually going to end up feeding on.

           

JENNY BROCKIE:  There's a lot of maybes in all of this, there's a lot of maybes about sharks?

 

ASSOC. PROFESSOR NATHAN HART:  Exactly.  We understand so little about sharks in general  especially what it is about an object that would make them attack. Much more research needs to be done. Sharks are very complex animals and understanding any complex animal takes a long time.

 

JENNY BROCKIE:  How do they use their senses?

 

ASSOC. PROFESSOR NATHAN HART:  Well they have an extremely complex range of senses, probably better than most animals.  They can see, they can hear, they can taste, they can smell, they can detect very small electric fields, they can also detect vibrations in the water and maybe even magnetic fields.  So they have wonderful array of senses and they integrate all of that information in any encounter.

 

JENNY BROCKIE:   How far away can they smell blood, do we know?

 

ASSOC. PROFESSOR NATHAN HART:  They have a very sensitive smell, sense of smell. You know, they are able to hone in on very strong smells from a long way away, possibly…

 

JENNY BROCKIE:   How far away?

 

ASSOC. PROFESSOR NATHAN HART:  Well possibly up to a kilometre or more.

 

JENNY BROCKIE:  A kilometre away?

 

ASSOC. PROFESSOR NATHAN HART: Depending on the currents. 

 

MALE: Is there a defined colour were those people on a yellow surf board…?

 

ASSOC. PROFESSOR NATHAN HART:  It turns out that sharks are probably colour blind so it's just that…

 

MALE: Black and white?

 

ASSOC. PROFESSOR NATHAN HART:  Exactly right. So it's just like watching a black and white television to them, us watching a black and white television. So everything is all about brightness contrast. They're actually attracted to high contrast objects, it's not the colour. So if it's something that's black or green or dark blue, sharks tend to investigate those sorts of objects less. Now if you dress yourself in black and go swimming around obviously there's the risk you're going to make yourself look a lot more like a seal.  But the colour itself doesn't matter, it's contrast. So Mick Fanning's decision to give up his yellow board, it may work but it's not because it's yellow.

 

MALE 2: Could I ask about the balance of the food chain and whether that's been researched? Because on one hand we're protecting the white sharks and for fifteen or so years and on the other hand there's been generations and decades of commercial fishing for food supply of humans of wildlife. Are we making a more desperate shark because there's not enough food supply for them so therefore they're motivated by desperation?

 

JENNY BROCKIE:   Yeah, comment up here? Yeah?

 

DANIEL BUTCHER, SOUTHERN CROSS UNIVERSITY: I think if you go to any place that is very heavily fished, the thing, the first thing you don't see is sharks. I think that sharks is an apex predator tend to be very sensitive to losses of food supply.

 

MALE: And therefore they'll move to an area where there's more fish such as a marine reserve.

 

DANIEL BUTCHER:  Well, look I think marine reserves have been well documented, they're migratory species moving over a large area. A marine park might be, you know, a little stop off point but it's not going to be that reliable constant food source.

 

JENNY BROCKIE:  Jabez, you actually drove yourself to hospital because the person you were with didn't have a licence or something which is in itself extraordinary, but it wasn't the first time that you'd had a shark encounter.  What happened two weeks earlier?

 

JABEZ REITMAN:  Oh, that was exciting actually. I was, I was surfing South Wall in Ballina and there was I'd say about forty, maybe fifty people from the wall stretching down south of the beach and I was nestled in amongst it. Then we saw the fin and we saw this dark big fish swimming around erratically.  It wasn't coming in, it could have been chasing a stingray or something, who knows, I had my board wedged in front of me and I had my anti-shark device on.

 

JENNY BROCKIE:   What's your anti-shark device?

 

JABEZ REITMAN:  It's called a shark bands, it's a rare earth magnet, it just disrupts the electromagnetic sensory on the shark's nose.  I grabbed my board and put it in front of me as a barrier and it got to about one and a half metres from me and it just go did a big tail slap and just took off.  And so did I with my friend, we went straight in and just thought…

 

JENNY BROCKIE:   And you've now become some sort of ambassador for this particular device? Why weren't you wearing it on the day you were attacked then?

 

JABEZ REITMAN:  I left it at home. I was really excited, I knew what the surf was doing.

 

JENNY BROCKIE:   Okay, Nathan, how proven is this sort of technology I mean because there are lots of things around at the moment that people are trying out to keep sharks at bay.

 

ASSOC. PROFESSOR NATHAN HART:  I believe the manufacturers may have done some testing but I'm not quite sure how much independent testing has been done on the device. It is a very small device and what we've seen with some of the electric deterrents is that the smaller electric deterrents are certainly less effective than the ones which have a large aerial going out the back which give off a very large voltage.

 

JENNY BROCKIE:   So the shark has to get very close to you to pick the thing?

 

ASSOC. PROFESSOR NATHAN HART:  Very close indeed.

 

JENNY BROCKIE:   How close?

 

ASSOC. PROFESSOR NATHAN HART:  Even for the strongest devices on the market, the distance at which they're effective at deterring a shark from taking a bait is only about a metre. So once you significantly reduce the size or the strength…

 

JENNY BROCKIE:   That's very, very close?

 

ASSOC. PROFESSOR NATHAN HART:  For a big shark coming in at speed that's very close. Now it may be enough to save your life.

 

JENNY BROCKIE:   Yeah.  Any difference with the effect of these sort of electromagnetic things on different types of sharks or is it all the same?

 

ASSOC. PROFESSOR NATHAN HART:  Look, I think there's definitely difference between shark species in their ability to detect the electric fields and their overall sensitivity. In our testing we've certainly seen differences. We have examples when there are multiple sharks around that they're just not deterred by things like the electric deterrents, you know, they'll quite happily come in and almost fight each other to get at this device.

 

JENNY BROCKIE:  But I wonder Paul, are you looking at this sort of stuff? I mean is the New South Wales government interested in looking at these sort of technologies to see whether they work or not?

 

PAUL BUTCHER:  We're actually going through an independent review at the moment looking at all the new technologies or existing technologies that surround this sort of thing.

 

JENNY BROCKIE:   Nathan, you've been working on wet suits that are designed to make people look less attractive to sharks. Tell us about the black and white striped one?

 

ASSOC. PROFESSOR NATHAN HART:  So we've gone down two routes, this one is to design a camouflage wetsuit which some people might be familiar with, a lot of free divers use camouflage wet suits for example. But the banded pattern goes sort of the other way which is trying to tap into a fundamental signal that some sharks might be afraid of. There are some banded sea snakes which are poisonous and there are some species, not all some species of sharks which are thought to avoid that banding pattern.

 

JENNY BROCKIE:   Okay, and the board is stripy too, anyone here got a stripy board? Yes, is that yours?

 

MALE: I did it about a month ago, quite a few of us have done it. One of my friends John did it.

 

JENNY BROCKIE:   Does it make you feel safer?

 

MALE:  I don't know, I really don't, I mean I'm working on the theory that it might, only because, there was, I think in America there was somewhere where they did some tests, where they burlied up three boards, two without stripes and one with stripes and it didn't go for the one with the stripes. I don't know how true that is.

 

ASSOC. PROFESSOR NATHAN HART:  There are several issues with this. One of the problems with anything floating on the surface is as seen from below the contrast of any pattern is very, very low. Something we're doing at the moment is actually to try and change that, we're not testing with surf boards yet but that's obviously the future application and what we're doing by putting lights on the bottom of boards is to try and get rid of the silhouette all together so that…

 

JENNY BROCKIE:   So when the shark looks up?

 

ASSOC. PROFESSOR NATHAN HART:  Exactly.

 

JENNY BROCKIE:   They don't see anything on the surface?

 

ASSOC. PROFESSOR NATHAN HART:  That's right.

 

JENNY BROCKIE:  Okay, Paul, you work for the New South Wales Department of Primary Industries and you're currently in the process of catching and tagging sharks in this area.  Why?  What are you hoping to achieve?

 

PAUL BUTCHER:  Our aim is to get those tracking of individual sharks up on the web for community to see and that's going to happen.

           

MALE: Paul, is that done in real time or after they've tracked?

 

PAUL BUTCHER:  So we put satellite tags on them. So every time they surface, if there's a satellite over top, which there generally is these days it sends a signal to the satellite, we get a recording of where that animal is.  It's being done on a big scale across Australia over many years now.  So our aim was to look at this local population and we've also got ten year acoustic tags which are placed surgically inside them. So they're picked up by receivers, I explain a receiver, if the shark swims within 500 metres of these receivers which there's 17 from Coffs Harbour upwards and every fad down the New South Wales coast has them on, it relays a time stamp of what shark it is and that sort of thing.

 

JENNY BROCKIE:   Don, you've started a shark action group.   What do you want?  What does the group want?

 

DON MUNRO:  We want protection.

 

JENNY BROCKIE:   But what sort of protection?

 

DON MUNRO:  Well, whatever protection that is available. Now there isn't a lot. People go cull, no, that's not going to stop the thing, you know, the fish. At the moment we've got nets and drum lines. We're in agreement, it's an interim measure but have them put in.

           

JENNY BROCKIE:   Are there nets at the moment on this stretch of the coast?

 

DON MUNRO: No, there's not, there's not.

 

JENNY BROCKIE:  Do the surfers agree with you about netting? No, no.  Okay, hang on a second I just want a show of hands first.  How many people don't want netting of the beach, of the beaches here?  That's interesting. That's really interesting.

 

FEMALE: And you know, you guys talk about the great whites and the white pointers and stuff but there's actually a lot of other sharks which come into the area. Julian Rocks, it's a nursing ground for the grey nurse sharks out there. Daily I get to go out on a dive, I see them face to face.  We get leopard sharks that come in the summer time which go in there, we get manta rays, there's three kinds of turtles out there, there's so much more going on in that marine park that, you know, we can't put ourselves at the top and put ourselves more important.  You know, they were there before us and it's their home.

 

MALE: I don't expect everyone to agree with me saying let's go and kill sharks, I don't think that's the way to do it.

 

FEMALE: That's the drum lines and stuff, there's line catching.

 

MALE: I think we just want to be, just to be seen to be going forward. I definitely don't want to be put nets in, I don't want to kill sharks.

 

JENNY BROCKIE:   What about a cull? Is there any mood for a cull, no?

 

DANIEL BUTCHER: I think there needs to be a clarification there that nets aren't a barrier to sharks and they're not there to deter sharks.  They are there to kill sharks, they are a culling device.   So when you talk about nets you are talking about culling, you are talking about killing sharks.

           

JENNY BROCKIE:  Does it mean that really the work should be going into these individual devices or ways of making people safer in the water, what do you think Nathan? 

           

ASSOC. PROFESSOR NATHAN HART:  I think, so there's lots of research to be done, it's a very complex issue but for people who don't just want to swim between the flags, within a barrier or a netted area, there are devices that you can go out and buy now.

 

JENNY BROCKIE:   Which ones?

 

ASSOC. PROFESSOR NATHAN HART:  Can I say brand names?

 

JENNY BROCKIE:  Yeah, go, anything.

 

ASSOC. PROFESSOR NATHAN HART:  So the Shark Shield which was developed in South Africa in the '80's and is available for purchase in Australia has now received three independent tests by three different scientific bodies, including ourselves and this is trying to deter sharks from coming in and taking bait.

 

JENNY BROCKIE:   And how does it work Trevor, you've got one   here, show us.

 

ASSOC. PROFESSOR NATHAN HART:  Yes, so this works, it's an electric deterrent, it puts a large pulse, 70 to 80 volts when you're up close to it into the water and this is very unpleasant to an animal that's sensitive to minute electric fields.

 

JENNY BROCKIE:   Trevor, that’s very bulky.

 

TREVOR BURNS:  It is bulky.

 

JENNY BROCKIE:   And does that thing just hang in the water?

 

TREVOR BURNS:  It just floats in the water and if you're moving    along, right, if you've got fins on or something you don't even notice it behind you.

 

ASSOC. PROFESSOR NATHAN HART: Now nothing is 100 percent effective, the company admits that but it's currently the best thing that you can just go and get off the shelf to protect yourself with and it's far better than trying to cull sharks which really in the long run has been shown not to work.

 

JENNY BROCKIE:   Trevor, you saved somebody who was..

 

TREVOR BURNS:  I did, I wrestled a great  white shark off a young girl over in Western Australia.

 

JENNY BROCKIE:   How?

 

TREVOR BURNS:  She had it on but she physically hadn't turned it on. She was a young girl, she's admitted that due to having bare feet, it touches her feet, gives you a shock, she had it turned off. The sharks followed her up from the bottom, latched on, I've wrestled the shark, she's punched the shark, between the two of us it let go. The last thing she remembers doing was turning it back done. Now I didn't know that at the time but that potentially scared the shark off out the area.

 

JENNY BROCKIE:  I'm just wondering what it's like beyond just the fact that you're not going in the water, you know, what is it like to not be surfing if you're used to surfing regularly? Yeah?

 

MALE: Get lots of jobs done around the house. 

 

JENNY BROCKIE:   What impact is it having on you Darren?

 

DARREN ROGERS:  The impacts have been quite devastating really, we all have our different coping mechanisms, I've struggled with a lot of images when I swim.

 

JENNY BROCKIE:   Images of that day or?

 

DARREN ROGERS:  Images of the day and of the injuries and I struggle with, for example, my first swim, I swam in a protected beach just here, there's no access to the ocean, but it's salt water called Shores Bay and once when I got into the water and looked down and it was quite hard to get into the water, I couldn't see my own legs but I could see Tadashi's injuries. So the mind, you know, plays tricks. And also there's a lot of, an incredible amount of sleepless nights thinking about his eyes and all, you know, the things that you see in an event like that, quite devastating.

 

JENNY BROCKIE:   And what about the beach that you love so much?

 

DARREN ROGERS:  It's hard. I come here, I come to the beach every day to where Tadashi got taken.

 

JENNY BROCKIE:   To that spot?

 

DARREN ROGERS:  Yeah, to that spot, yes, religious unless I've gone to the Gold Coast or something, and it's really hard because it's your favourite pastime.

 

JENNY BROCKIE:   Are you seeing anyone or talking to anyone, getting any professional help to deal with it?

 

DARREN ROGERS:  I am actually. It's worthwhile I think, I don't    think there's anything wrong with that.

 

JENNY BROCKIE:   Jude, I know that it's affected you to some degree too when you go in the water.

 

JUDE:  Yeah, you always think about it. You can’t help but think about it but I’m still surfing nearly every day and the way I rationalise the situation is that the local roads are still much more dangerous.

           

JENNY BROCKIE:   Monica, you're a psychologist here, what impact are you seeing, or in Ballina, what impact are you seeing?

 

MONICA SCHWEICKLE, PSYCHOLOGIST:  I think a lot of people have become really hyper vigilant, it's a really normal response to trauma, being exposed to actual or just hearing of events where people are close to being eaten or having their lives threatened. Becoming really anxious, sleeping problems, wanting to avoid things that perhaps are really meaningful and important to you and I think surfing is so important to all of our mental health, I think it's a big reason why a lot of people surf.

 

JENNY BROCKIE:   Well it's not just the exercise either is it?  It's the whole experience and the beauty of this place.

 

MONICA SCHWEICKLE:  Absolutely.

 

JENNY BROCKIE:  Dave, you were attacked in 2011 at Crowdy Head a few hundred Ks south. Now you've started a group called Bite Club?

 

DAVE PEARSON: Bite Club, yeah.

 

JENNY BROCKIE:  Who's in it and how does it work?

 

DAVE PEARSON: We've currently got up to forty shark attack survivors, as in physical shark attack survivors, but we have up to 250 members. Now the way we consider it is the guys who dragged us out of the water, you know, them sort of heroes, they're all survivors of our attacks as well. There's people who have helped us on the beach, the paramedics, there’s all them people who are involved and we've got PTSD and hyper vigilance and we've got, you know, we do our own diagnosis because one thing that nobody's mentioned so far is the sharks attack very expensive. We've got good medical cover, we get dragged to hospital, they stitch us up and send us and then after that you're basically, as Craig will tell you, you're let on your own.  Most of us in our group say straight afterwards we don't want sharks hunted, but what we do want is the CSIRO started a great white recovery plan and part of that plan was actually a shark mitigation program and other shark deterrents and things like that.

 

JENNY BROCKIE:   Craig, how are you coping now?

 

CRAIG ISON:  Fine, but I can understand, I've been down that psychological hell hole due to other reasons and even, it's like just there beside you all the time and could sneak in it any time it likes and if it gets, if you let it in it will get in and then you're in trouble and you really do need to talk to someone about it and get help. Because it will suck you down further and further and further.

 

JENNY BROCKIE:   David, how are you feeling about the approaching summer?

 

DAVID WRIGHT:  Trepidation. I've given so many interviews over the last six months, well over 300, and it's the same.  I'm trying to put out a very, because our shire is a beautiful place, it's got beautiful hinterlands and so many great businesses and things like that, and it is having an impact, but the thing I want to reinforce is that for the first time, I've been on council a long time and the State Government has really reacted to this. We couldn't have got more help from DPI and CSIRO, from the Premier, from the Minister, people now have expectations because the Premier's virtually promised a solution if he can get it.

 

JENNY BROCKIE:   And what do you do in the meantime, until those solutions are found, what do you do?

 

DAVE PEARSON: Well, I'm not that religious but pray, well in my fashion I pray because I don't know what else we can do.

 

JENNY BROCKIE:   Okay, we have to leave it there. Thank you so much for welcoming us to your community. It's been really good to talk to you all, really appreciate your involvement tonight and very interesting discussion and that is all we have time for tonight. But you can keep talking about this on-line and I'm sure there will be plenty of people on the coast who will want to talk on Twitter and Facebook about this.