Shark or toadfish? The finger of blame for a biting attack on a young girl at Hamilton Island is being pointed in two very different directions.
Experts are divided, but tourism operators are keen to blame the toadfish and restore confidence in the holiday hotspot.
The nine-year-old girl remains in hospital in a stable condition following the attack – but what creature caused her holiday nightmare?
“The size shape of what had happened .. the type of bite, it looks to be similar to a toadfish,” Tourism Whitsundays’ Natassia Wheeler said.
Initial reports suggested the Sydney girl and her grandmother were bitten by a shark at Hamilton Island’s Catseye Beach.
Many were quick to link the shallow water incident with three recent attacks at nearby Cid Harbour, one of which was fatal.
“The reports yesterday referring to another shark attack – it’s pretty damning for the tourist industry,” Whitsundays Deputy Mayor John Collins said.
The Hamilton Island resort, local council and tourism body all now point the blame at the angry puffer fish, which is known to bite and is found in waters off the Whitsundays.
“Toadfish are a very obvious species of fish if you know what you’re looking for … but it’s quite small,” Dr Nathan Waltham of James Cook University said.
However, Queensland Ambulance countered this claim, confirming the bites were made by a shark.
The girl’s family also remain convinced a more menacing marine animal was the assailant, but in a statement avoided the debate.
“We’d like to thank everyone who has looked after our daughter and mother, from the care provided on the beach through to our arrival in hospital,” they said.
Predator or puffer fish – the warning remains the same.
“Wherever you travel around the world you need to be aware of your environment,” Natassia Wheeler warned.