Theory connects two strange animal events at Bondi Beach

Two incredibly rare animal events involving a seal and a shark occurred on the same day. Could they be linked?

Left - A contractor boat with the great white shark filmed from above with a drone. Right - the seal on the beach.
Could the rare sighting of a great white shark (left) and a seal on the boardwalk (right) be linked? Source: DroneSharkApp/Supplied

An extremely rare occurrence has been filmed near one Australia’s most popular tourist sites. A 1.8-metre great white was discovered hooked just 500m from Sydney’s Bondi Beach on Monday.

On the same day, a second strange occurrence was documented. The suburb's resident seal, Alex, swam out of the ocean and took up temporary residence on the sand. Many locals have theorised the two events could be connected.

"Now I know why Alex the seal swam onto land," one local wrote after seeing video of the shark online. "The modern day shark alarm: when a seal is on land - Everyone swim to land y’all," another quipped.

While linking the two events is speculative, Humane Society International marine biologist Lawrence Chlebeck told Yahoo News it's "definitely conceivable" that Alex fled the water to avoid a shark.

"A seal's behaviour is very much dictated by predators in the area. They have very keen senses of smell and taste and are definitely better at detecting whether sharks are in the area than we are," he said.

"There's no way to tell for sure, but it's definitely conceivable."

Bondi's human population only became aware of the shark’s presence after drone footage was uploaded to social media.

While the apex predators are known to inhibit waters further out to sea, it’s rare to spot them so close to Bondi Beach where the ocean floor is sandy and there is a lack of fish. Although local man Jason Iggleton surveys the suburb’s waters most mornings, it’s the first time he has seen one since 2019.

“I'm assuming great whites are out there. They're just not seen. Maybe it was a really hungry little shark and it took the bait,” he told Yahoo News.

Related: Does being the furthest out to sea increase your risk of a shark attack?

Bondi's resident seal Alex was spotted walking on the beach. Two people with boards are stopping him enter the boardwalk.
Bondi's resident seal Alex was spotted on the boardwalk on Monday. Source: Supplied
Close-up picture of the great white shark off Bondi Beach.
The great white shark was released by fisheries contractors off Bondi Beach. Source: DroneSharkApp

Iggleton’s video shows the shark being released from a drum line which had hooked it near Mark’s Park on the southern end of Bondi Beach. Two men can be seen tethering the shark to the side of the boat and then setting it free.

The juvenile shark is visible for just seconds before it disappears under the cloudy waters. Great whites are known to swim large distances, and Iggleton believes it could have now deserted the area.

Drum lines are baited with mullet that’s designed to catch sharks venturing close to shore. But some believe rather than keep the beaches safe, they could actually lure them closer to shore. However, The Department of Primary Industries, which implements the NSW shark mitigation program argues there is no evidence to support this claim.

In the case of this great white shark, Iggleton believes it also could have been lured by a sudden influx of wild salmon spotted nearby.

DPI confirmed with Yahoo News that one great white was caught on a drum line in 2019. And since that year 14 others have been caught between Cronulla and Palm Beach.

"In addition to this, the tagged shark listening stations at Cronulla, Maroubra, Bondi, Manly, North Narrabeen and Palm Beach have all had white sharks detected on them," a DPI spokesperson said.

"These detections are then sent out in near real time to the public via the SharkSmart app and twitter feed. Eleven white sharks have also been caught in the shark nets at Bondi and nearby Bronte since 1991."

DPI warned beachgoers great whites can be present "anywhere along our coast at any time of the year" but noted juvenile sharks have been recorded migrating during the year.

"More than 1173 white sharks have been tagged by [DPI] since 2015, and researchers can now see a general pattern of movement thanks to the network of 37 satellite-linked tagged shark listening stations," a spokesperson added.

"Our tagging program has shown that most juvenile white sharks make their way north in late autumn for the winter, and then head south in late spring and early summer, back to the cooler waters of the southern states."

The population of great whites along Australia’s east coast and across to New Zealand is thought to number just 750 adults, according to the CSIRO.

Much is still to be learned about the species. Larger numbers of great whites do not equate to more attacks on humans.

In Florida, Australia and South Africa attacks occur on beaches where numbers are lower. But in California, surfers often swim alongside them without getting bitten, and that’s something he’s seen repeated on the NSW South Coast.

“I see a few whites down there and sharks go straight past surfers,” Iggleton claimed.

“I've seen a surfer fall off the wave and land almost on top of one. The shark just darted away. Some of the smaller ones can be quite timid.

“It’s the bigger one in deeper water you’ve got to worry about. But then the smaller ones are known to take a test bite out of a swimmer, and that can be fatal.”

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