A surge in shark sightings during the festive season is a source of concern for Capes region beachgoers, including parents of children participating in VacSwim.
Twenty-three sightings from Busselton to Augusta were reported by Surf Life Saving WA in the 10 days between Christmas Eve and January 3, more than half of the total sightings for the month of December in 2011.
Most of the sightings occurred to the north of the Capes region, with Bunker Bay proving to be a hotspot with 15 sharks sighted in six days.
While hammerhead sharks were the most common species spotted, six sightings related to white sharks in Busselton, Old Dunsborough, Bunker Bay and the Honeycombs and Three Bears surf breaks.
Surf Life Saving WA lifesaving operations co-ordinator Matt Du Plessis said water visibility had been perfect for shark identification.
“The shark activity was definitely there . . . there was a lot of bait fish around the coastline, which we often see smaller sharks feeding on,” he said.
The Department of Fisheries said the number of sightings was not unusual given the weather conditions and the wide area the helicopter was patrolling in the South West.
VacSwim programs across the region started this week, with close to 1000 children participating at indoor and beach locations.
Mother-of-four Laura Bascombe has previously enrolled her children in classes at Meelup, but has enrolled them at the Old Dunsborough location this year.
“It’s partly because of the shark sightings, you can’t ignore it anymore … it would be naïve not to be aware,” she said.
“But we don’t want to stop the kids going into the ocean because it’s an important part of living down here.”
Busselton resident Jane Reynolds also chose to move her children from classes in Meelup to Busselton.
“It’s not that the shark sightings would deter me from enrolling my children, but its definitely a consideration when it wasn’t one before,” she said.
Both mothers said the decision to change locations were also based on the belief that more people at both the Dunsborough and Busselton beaches would mean a higher chance of a shark being sighted quickly.
In addition, Mrs Bascombe and Mrs Reynolds said they had not had any communication from VacSwim organisers about additional precautions.
Department of Education swimming and water safety manager Les Lazarakis said VacSwim had a comprehensive risk management plan in place for emergency situations.
“Each centre has a tailored emergency response procedure which is practised before and during the program and larger outdoor centres have a beach patrol to keep watch over VacSwim classes,” he said.
“If the beach is closed or a shark has been sighted, classes are cancelled for the day or until the beach is reopened, and parents are notified.”