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Surfing on: Little to fear from shark catches

Peter Huggins, at Bondi, sees no cause for alarm over sharks. Photo: Peter Rae Peter Huggins, at Bondi, sees no cause for alarm over sharks. Photo: Peter Rae

Peter Huggins, at Bondi, sees no cause for alarm over sharks. Photo: Peter Rae

Peter Huggins, at Bondi, sees no cause for alarm over sharks. Photo: Peter Rae

Peter Huggins, one of only a couple of surfers braving Bondi waves early one morning this week, says he isn’t spooked by recent sightings of sharks or the discovery of a couple of great whites in nets off the popular beach.

“I’m sure there are plenty of sharks out there,” Mr Huggins, a regular surfer at Bondi, said. “If I did see one, it would probably give me a bit of a shock.”

Another remarkably warm spring has drawn beachgoers to the state’s coast earlier than usual. Sydneysiders can expect another few balmy days after Saturday’s forecast top of 25 degrees – with a trio of days of about 30 degrees to follow.

The Bureau of Meteorology says odds also favour a hotter than normal summer for virtually the whole country, with the eastern two-thirds also likely to be relatively dry.

As summer beckons, though, expect regular bouts of media frenzy stirred by images of great whites and beach-clearing episodes when a shark is spotted.

The recent discovery of two great whites in Bondi nets was “a complete coincidence”, said Vic Peddemors, a shark biologist with the Department of Primary Industries, adding, “the chance of encountering a shark is extremely slim.”

Five or six great whites are caught each year in what Dr Peddemors calls “fishery forts”, protecting parts of beaches from Stockton, north of Newcastle, down to Wollongong.

“The shark net catch is only about 100 sharks of all species per year and a commercial fisher catches that in a night,” he said. “The white shark catch this year is no higher than any other year.”

Great white sharks have been protected off NSW since the mid-1990s as numbers dived.

“You’d expect to see some recovery but the jury’s still out,” Dr Peddemors said. “These animals are long-lived, slow reproducing, so it takes a long time for shark populations to recover from over-exploitation.”

Little is known about the movements and abundance of many marine species. The use of new tagging devices, including for sharks, will give researchers a better grasp of how changing oceanic conditions, including from global warming, are affecting marine life, Dr Peddemors said.

Immediate conditions are certainly on the warm side. Almost the entire east Australian coast is at least 0.5 degrees above normal, with waters off Sydney 1-2 degrees balmier.

“At 21-22 degrees, it’s almost as warm as Sydney gets on average,” said Ed Couriel, principal engineer at Manly Hydraulics Laboratory.

Mr Couriel, as it happens, is also a regular surfer at Manly, with a keen interest in sharks of late.

Two months ago, his 13 year-old daughter Katelyn was bitten on the hand by a shark while surfing at Town Beach at Port Macquarie.

The bite, possibly by a whaler or a wobbegong, required five stitches. It hasn’t put Katelyn off surfing, even if the family is more wary than before.

“We put it down to a rare event, and she bought it,” Mr Couriel said.

This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net.

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