By Chris O’Connor
Several years ago I went on an adventure fishing tour off the coast of northern West Australia. This is one of the most beautiful places in the world to explore but swim at your peril. Not being a sailor I was terribly seasick and after several hours could take it no more.
With the boat anchored in a bay I prepared to jump in the ocean. People yelled at me not to go in the water yelling about the area being home to hammerhead sharks. Now hammerheads are not mad on human flesh but if cornered they will rip you apart before you know it. I ignored all the advice and jumped in. The warm water and the chance of meeting a shark was far more enticing than the rocking on the boat.
Obviously I survived and didn’t even see one – mind you my eyes were darting all over the place the entire time I was in the water. Why do I mention sharks? Australia’s has a new and unwanted world record: Shark attacks on the rise as predators bask in warm ocean currents.
Australia’s latest horrific shark death has underlined an emerging reputation as the worst country on earth for fatal attacks, as experts say warm waters and a surge in the number of great whites is fuelling the incidents.
When a swimmer was killed by a suspected great white shark at Little Bay, Sydney, recently the first such death in Australia’s biggest city for 59 years, it was the sixth shark attack in Australia in barely six weeks of 2022. That number of shark attacks in 2022 is already far ahead of any other country this year, as well as being half of the total number of shark attacks in Australia in 2021.
In 2020 it was estimated there could be up to 12,802 great white sharks – including juveniles – active around eastern Australia. But your risk of being bitten by a shark in a year is less than one in a million, far less than the risk of drowning when you swim with no sharks involved. But even that’s not much comfort when a fatal shark attack happens at a well-known beach, and comes just days after another horror attack.
The deadly scenes at Little Bay in Sydney came 10 days after a young woman survived an attack by a 3.3 metre monster in Western Australia. The death at Little Bay was the second fatality in the world this year, after Victor Estrellos, 56, died after being bitten while diving in Mexico.
Overall shark attacks were on the rise in 2021 after people spent the last few years away from beaches during the pandemic.
In 2021 there were 73 unprovoked shark attacks worldwide compared to 52 in 2020. The most common activity of shark attack victims was surfing or board sports (51 per cent), while 39 per cent were swimming or wading.
The recent attack saw a swimmer being mauled by a four and a half metre long great white shark, as terrified witnesses were forced to listen to the man’s ear-piercing screams as blood was seen rising from the water. Emergency services rushed to Buchan Point near Little Bay Beach in Sydney’s east just after 4.30pm following reports of a shark attack.
Horrifying video from the scene shows local fishermen watching on helplessly as the swimmer is attacked by the monster shark, which they saw ‘swallow parts of his body’ after ripping it in two.
I think for the time being I’ll stick to the warm sand and take a tentative paddle. At least it feels safer.