Palm Beach is home to the Gold Coast’s largest and most diverse reef system, Palm Beach Reef. This hidden treasure recently made the news due to a so called “large monster shark” that was seen on a number of ocassions by boaties and swimmers. In response, the Queensland Government deployed additional drumlines and the media launched into its usual sensationalised scare campaign. Gold Coast Dive Adventures visits Palm Beach Reef up to 5 times per week but unfortunately our divers weren’t lucky enough to encounter such a beautiful creature yet. You may call us irresponsible for diving in reportedly “shark infested” waters hence here are 10 answers to frequently asked questions and myths regarding sharks from the perspective of a scuba diving enthusiast. We love sharks!
How many sharks are in Gold Coast waters?
There are about 50 species of sharks that call the East Coast their home. Actual population size can only be guessed but we do know that numbers of large sharks are on the decline if seen over a 50 year window. Looking at it from a scuba diving perspective, we commonly see harmless leopard sharks and wobbegong sharks (carpet sharks), shark rays, guitar sharks but large shark encounters around Gold Coast waters are very rare and remain bucket list dreams for most scuba divers. Gauged on social media posts, there have been only a handful sightings by scuba divers over the last 10 years within the area between Moreton Bay and Byron Bay.
What we can confirm is that there are as many great white sharks at Palm Beach as there are at Surfers Paradise, Broadbeach or Byron Bay. We also have great populations of whaler sharks, bull sharks and grey nurse sharks.
Are sharks dangerous?
Sharks are predators. Their behavior need to be understood and respected. Unlike crocodiles, sharks aren’t opportunistic hunters. A shark when fed, will preserve its energy for times when it needs to hunt again or defend itself. In a nut shell, encountering a shark is very rare to start with and encountering one that is actually hunting at the same time becomes even more unlikely. Most incidents between sharks and humans are related to mistaken identities where surfers or swimmers are bitten on the surface. These incidents often end with a single bite as the shark usually notices that it is attacking something outside its usual diet. Attacks on scuba divers are almost unheard of unless the circumstances involve bait in the water, spearfishing, shark feeding activities or provoking the shark.
In summary, the most dangerous part of your beach visit will be to cross the road on the way to get there and back home. Countless surfers paddle on their boards from the Spit to South Stradbroke Island every day, right over the top of a known bull shark hot spot on the northern rock wall and yet, there are no known incidents involving humans and sharks. This is just one example that proofs that humans aren’t the usual prey of sharks.
Is a great white shark more dangerous than other sharks?
No – Against common beliefs and media reporting, great white sharks are actually very shy sharks. They are one of the most difficult sharks to encounter naturally and closely. Some researchers and videographers therefore only film via freediving in order to get close to great white sharks as noisy scuba gear is likely to disturb and scare the shark.
If great whites aren’t dangerous, why are people diving in cages to see them?
People hear about cage diving all the time so the natural conclusion is that the cage is to protect the diver from the dangerous shark. This is kind of correct but needs some circumstantial context. As already mentioned before, a great white shark is a very shy shark that is difficult to encounter in its natural environment. In order for tourist operators to guarantee a shark encounter, the water is heavily baited to make sure great whites are attracted in numbers and closely. With hundreds of kilo of bait and fish blood in the water, the smartest thing someone could do is to be in a cage. If you were to encounter a great white shark naturally while scuba diving, you would have very little to worry about.
How likely is it to be attacked by a shark?
Everyone has heard it before that it is more likely to get hit by lightning than being attacked by a shark. In actual fact, this statement is absolutely true. The statistical likelihood is 1 in 3.75 Million! Your average day will have at least 10 things that are more likely to injure or kill you than a shark.
Why are there more shark attacks than in previous years?
This statement is actually incorrect. Whilst the actual number of recorded shark attacks has slightly increased over the last 20 years, at the same time, the Australian population has increased by more than 30% along with a huge spike in overseas visitors. If we take the additional amount of beach goers into account then shark incidents actually are on the decline. On average, there are 3 to 4 shark incidents per year (30 year period) around Australia with only 10% of them being fatal. As such, shark attacks are very rare events, however each single one of them attracts an enormous media attention and they are reported on over several days if not weeks.
Do drumlines and shark nets keep beachgoers safe?
There is no scientific evidence that the shark control program makes any difference in regards to beach safety. In fact baited hooks, close to shore as well as by-catch in the nets are likely to attract larger sharks. A shark net is only about 3m deep and 186m long. Against common beliefs, these nets are random traps rather than a continues barrier. The extent of the shark nets in respect to the coast line means that any shark has a more than 90% chance to make it to the beach. Many of them are actually caught on the inside of the net. If you like to find out more about the shark control program and its devastating impact on our marine life, watch the Shark Net Film by Holly Richmond. Holly and her supporters monitored the Gold Coast shark nets over a period of 2 years. https://youtu.be/Jjh2Kb9R1-8
Why is the government sticking to shark nets and drumlines?
The highest courts have already ordered that cruel drumlines are to be removed within the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park. The shark control program consists of outdated methods from the 60’s that need to be replaced with new technology, and informed by the latest science. The real problem is that the media keeps our government in head-lock. Shark attacks are rare but a very welcomed event for our news reporting. Headlines like “man-eaters” and “monster sharks” spread fear and uncertainty to the uneducated average citizen and guarantee the highest level of public attention. As such, the government is concerned about its tourism economy and maintaining the so called shark control program creates a placebo effect for our tourists.
Are there alternatives to shark nets?
We already know that shark nets do not provide protection so instead, the media should help to educate the people and tourists about the science of sharks and their true behaviors, turning their fears into excitement for one of the most fascinating ocean predators on the planet. Effective ways to improve beach safety and provide a piece of mind to visitors include the use of drones or smart drumlines. Other states including Western Australia and New South Whales are already on the front foot, trialling these new technologies.
How can I be shark smart?
There are a number of things that may attract a sharks attention including;
- feeding activities and baiting
- swimming and surfing at dusk and dawn
- swimming in canals
- Excessive surface splashing such as play-fighting
- Avoid swimming or diving in known feeding grounds
When visiting the beach, swim between the flags and with as many people around you as possible.