On a remote and windswept stretch of beach on WA’s south coast, a group of the State’s top shark experts had hit their pay dirt.
Floating just offshore at Dillon Bay, a few kilometres west of the small holiday town of Bremer Bay, was a rotting humpback whale carcass that had washed in days earlier.
The carcass was proving a magnet for the ocean’s most elusive predator — the great white shark — several honing in on a cheap meal.
It was August 9 and over the course of the next eight days the Fisheries officers would catch and tag six of the sharks in the bay or just nearby.
The remarkable achievement was like striking gold for WA’s shark scientists, who up until that point had never managed to tag more than four great whites in one hit.
Fisheries’ principal research scientist Rory McAuley said there were striking similarities between the latest trip and an earlier one to Two Peoples Bay, east of Albany, four years ago.
The critical difference this time, however, was that they were able to surgically implant the tags into the sharks rather fix them externally, which dramatically increases the tags’ longevity.
Dr McAuley said this meant the Bremer sharks would provide valuable data for about 10 years and now it was a matter of “sitting back and waiting” for WA’s network of monitoring buoys to detect them.
“It was the best catch of white sharks we have had in that sort of time frame in such a small area,” Dr McAuley said.
“But the gold is going to come from the data these sharks will provide us.”
A shark is attracted during a tagging operation at Bremer Bay. Picture: Department of Fisheries
As if underlining the department’s recent fortune, Dr McAuley revealed another great white had been internally tagged off Garden Island on Thursday.
He described it as pure luck, saying Fisheries staff had gone there for an unrelated purpose and threw the shark catching gear into the water on a hunch.
It takes to 188 the number of great whites tagged as part of a research project between WA, Commonwealth and South Australian authorities.
With funding for WA’s three-year tagging component running out next year, Dr McAuley was hopeful they would be given more resources to continue the work.