Australia's shark danger: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

😃 The Good: Better shark bite mitigation measures

😔 The Bad: Warmer waters could see sharks move further south

😡 The Ugly: Shark bites are rising

As thermometers soar across the country this summer, incidents with sharks are likely to increase.

While Australia’s oceans are home to the three species responsible for the most shark bites, including the white, tiger and bull shark, experts warn that rising water temperatures from climate change will likely impact their distribution.

In the last decade, there have been 249 incidents involving sharks and humans, a 44 percent jump on the previous decade, according to Taronga Zoo’s Australian Shark Incident Database. Between 2013 and the end of this year, 25 people lost their lives to shark bites compared to 17 in the 10 years’ prior.

Growing number of measures to mitigate shark attacks

While controversy continues to surround the effectiveness of Australia’s shark nets, there are now more alternative methods than ever to mitigate shark bites without the need to kill them.

Professor Charlie Huveneers, Research Leader of the Southern Shark Ecology Group at Flinders University, told Yahoo News Australia that new technology is leading the charge.

"Many new shark bite mitigation measures have been integrated in shark control programs or are being developed and tested," he said.

"For example, drones used by Surf Life Saving Clubs can patrol beaches and alert people in the water when there is a shark in the area. While SMART drumlines alert authorities when a shark is caught, enabling tagging and biological samples to be collected and leading the shark to leave the area it was caught in. Real time listening stations can then detect when a tagged shark is around and send automatic notifications to the public."

Researchers are also looking into personal deterrence measures.

“We've tested several shark deterrents and found that electric deterrents can reduce shark bite risk," Professor Huveneers said, “even when the shark comes at speed in a predatory behaviour.”

A Great White Shark at Perth's Mullaloo Beach earlier this month.
A Great White Shark was spotted off Perth's Mullaloo Beach earlier this month, coming within metres of a young family. Source: Storyful


More sharks swimming south as waters get warmer

Climate change could impact the distribution of some shark species, resulting in sharks moving further south.

"As water gets warmer, shark suitable habitat will expand southward and lead to shark migrations extending to new locations," Professor Huveneers said. “Through time, for example, you might end up getting more tiger sharks in Western Australia’s southwest corner. While tiger sharks can already occur as far south as the Great Australian Bite, they are likely to occur more frequently."

But he warns the change in distribution will be slow and gradual as climate change leads to warmer waters and effects currents.

“It’s not something that’s going to happen in a year.” Professor Huveneers said. “Changes in species distribution will be gradual.”

Two hammerhead sharks inside the shark net at Bondi Beach.
Two hammerhead sharks were spotted inside nets at Bondi Beach at the start of December. Source: Instagram


Rise in shark bites and no one reason why

While an increase in shark sightings and bites should not be taken as evidence that there are more sharks in the water, Professor Huveneers says “there’s no doubt that there has been an increase in shark bites.”

But he admits the exact reasoning as to why this is happening is unclear.

“It's likely to be a combination of factors,” he says. “More people in the water, people spending more time in water, and people going to more remote locations where sharks are more likely to be found.”

He adds that any change in the distribution or number of sharks could also lead to a greater overlap between people and sharks, and to more shark bites.

“But shark population size is not the only factor driving changes in shark bites," Professor Huveneers said. "While sharks can bite people, only three species out of more than 500 are considered to be potentially dangerous. For any shark bite that occurs, there will be hundreds of times when sharks and humans are in close proximity without a bite occurring.”

A tiger shark.
Professor Charlie Huveneers says technology is getting more efficient at being able to monitor and deter sharks. Source: Getty


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