Surfer Luke Allan lost a finger and suffered a thigh wound when he was attacked near Port Macquarie on December 28.
Two days later, off-duty life guard Danny Sheather narrowly escaped when a sharkleft a 30cm bite mark his surfboard at Dee Why. But as swimmers ditch their “yummy yellow” board shorts or take a dip with the dolphins, is there any science behind shark myths?
THEY BITE ONCE AND THEN LET GO:
The “one bite” mantra – that sharks make a taste test before moving on – is a favourite of conservationists. But Mr Allan says he was bitten three times and Glen Folkard suffered a sustained attack while surfing at Redhead Beach, Newcastle, in January last year. Some experts believe one lunge by a shark may feature multiple bites. Attacks by mature great whites can feature repeated bites. In some cases, the victim appears to have been eaten.
DOLPHINS MEAN NO SHARKS:
Not true. Dolphins will confront sharks when they threaten a member of the pod. But it’s much more common for sharks and dolphins to feed together – often they hunt the same prey. Dolphins may be a sign sharks are present rather than a comforting New Age human bodyguard.
BLACK WETSUITS MAKE SURFERS LOOK LIKE SEALS
“That is bollocks,” CSIRO great white shark expert Dr Barry Bruce said. “The typical white shark you will find in the surf zone in NSW is 2.5m or below, but white sharks feed on seals for only a very small part of the year and it does not become part of their diet until the shark is at least 3m long.”
In 2009 there were three serious attacks in Sydney in three weeks. Five people died in 10 months in WA last year. Clusters do happen. Dr Vic Peddemors, a leading shark attack investigator, said: “We have looked at everything: El Nino, La Nina, water, temps, food sources, the southern ocean oscillation index and nothing really adds up. It’s one of those things yet to be explained.”
SYDNEY HARBOUR IS A SHARK HOTSPOT:
The attack on navy diver Paul de Gelder in February 2009 – the first harbour attack in decades – focused attention on the waterway. Some of most horrific attacks in the 1950s and 1960s happened in its placid waters. Then overfishing and pollution cut fish numbers. But banning commercial fishing in the harbour and building of deep water sewage outfalls led to an explosion in marine life. More fish means more sharks. The last fatal harbour attack was in 1963.DON’T SWIM AT DAWN OR DUSK: Dr Bruce is sceptical about the theory that the risk of attack increases at dawn and dusk. “If you look at the shark attack statistics on a time-of-day basis there is a peak in mid-morning and a peak in mid-afternoon and a dip in the middle of the day and a low level of shark attack at dawn and dusk,” he said.
SHARK NETS MEAN I’M SAFE:
In the NSW shark meshing program, nets are moved among popular beaches. But several recent attacks have happened while the nets were in place. The nets aren’t a barrier across the entire beach, but a series of smaller nets in strategic locations.
SWIMMING DOGS ATTRACT SHARKS:
Dr Peddemors said: “There is not one recorded instance of dogs swimming with people and a dog rather than the person has been attacked.”
CERTAIN COLOURS ATTRACT SHARKS:
A US Navy report from the 1970s found “a standard yellow life vest occupied by a child dummy was repeatedly attacked by blue sharks. Strikes on a red infant flotation device were few, while a similar black flotation device suffered only two strikes.” This led to surfers and divers coining the term “yummy yellow”. But Professor Nathan Hart from the University of Western Australia found sharks had only one type of “cone cell” responsible for colour vision and are unlikely to be able to perceive a multicoloured world. Sharks are attracted to high contrast rather than colours.
URINE ATTRACTS SHARKS:
Despite many surfers now declining a morning coffee before hitting the waves, there’s no evidence peeing makes you a more likely target.