A small coastal NSW town is at the centre of an investigation into the deaths of critically endangered grey nurse sharks.
The sharks have been found close to Blacksmiths Beach, south of Newcastle. The most recent victim had a hook “embedded deep in its gut” and two metres of heavy wire “extending from its mouth”.
The Department of Primary Industries (DPI) and Fisheries confirmed with Yahoo News Australia it’s the fourth report of a grey nurse death in the region in 12 months.
Where and when the sharks were found dead:
3 August 2022, Blacksmiths Beach in front of Swansea Belmont Surf Club
6 October 2021, Lucy’s Wall Swansea Heads, 1km south of Swansea Belmont Surf Club
17 October 2021, Nine Mile Beach, 1-2km north of Swansea Belmont Surf Club
25 October 2021, Birdie Beach, 15 km south of Blacksmiths Beach
Authorities issue protected shark species warning
The deaths have not been isolated to Swansea, with the body of a juvenile found at Shell Cove Marina, in the Illawarra, whose demise was also determined to be fishing-related.
The cause of death in a sixth incident, which occurred on the south coast near Culburra, could not be determined although authorities suspect it was not fishing-related.
With roughly 400 breeding individuals surviving along Australia’s east coast, it’s led the department to warn anglers against catching protected species.
“Intentionally targeting, interfering with or harming protected species of shark such as grey nurse shark, white shark, great hammerhead, scalloped hammerhead and sandtiger shark is prohibited and carries large penalties and / or prosecution,” they said.
Grey nurse population mysteriously disappears
Adult grey nurse sharks have the ability to swim hundreds of kilometres, with individuals found on the NSW Mid North Coast able to swim as far as Queensland.
Grey nurse sharks are usually not threatening to humans and commonly referred to by experts as “Labradors of the sea”.
In May, a colony of the sharks suddenly vanished from an ocean stronghold at Seal Rocks, 100km north of Blacksmiths Beach.
Experts suggested the disappearance was likely linked to them fleeing overzealous divers who had ventured too close to them to take photos for Instagram.
A week after Yahoo News Australia reported on the issue, a number of grey nurse sharks returned to the area in “very low levels”, but they were believed by local researcher Dr Keith Bishop to be different individuals.
Anyone with information about the Blacksmiths Beach shark deaths is urged to contact Hunter Fisheries Office on 4980 9200 or FishersWatch Hotline on 1800 043 536.
Do you have a story tip? Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.