With the recent rise in Shark attacks both in Australia and other parts of the world Sarah Loughlin finds out just how Sharky it really is out there.
The most dangerous thing about surfing in Jersey was the chocolate milkshakes from El Tico’s. Those things were seriously addictive. Learning to surf in the UK seemed a tremendous feat at the time, but looking back the worst thing that could happen was you would get a weaver fish, or be washed up on the beach a bit battered and bruised.
Growing up in the England I had never given sharks much of a thought. But the recent move to Australia has bought these issues to the front of my mind. The week we moved over to the Gold Coast, a surfing mecca, was just after World Champion Surfer Mick Fanning was attacked by a shark in South Africa. Mick is from the Gold Coast, and can often be seen out on the water when he is in the area.
What I probably look like to a shark.
Just How Sharky Is It?
There have been record numbers of Shark attacks in the last few years on both the West coast and more recently the East coast of Australia. In 2015 there were 22 recorded shark attacks on humans in Australia, this is double the amount recorded in 2014, and higher than the yearly average of 13. Of the 22 attacks, only one was fatal, and seven of the shark attack victims were uninjured. NSW has the highest rate of attacks with 14 recorded in 2015. Experts have many theories about why this might be, and are equally unsure as to how to deal with the problem. From increased helicopter patrols and lifeguards on previously un-manned beaches, to more controversial solutions such as shark culling and shark nets. Some reports say that one of the most influential factors to the increase in attacks is the increase in population. The more people there are in Australia spending time in the water, the more chance that a shark attack could occur.
Facing My Fear
Before heading in to the water I wanted to find out exactly what I was up against so I caught up with Josh Fuller, a pro surfer who now runs his surf school from Kingscliff, NSW. One of the first things Josh explained is that is it a small selection of shark species that are normally involved in shark attacks; Tiger Sharks, Bull Sharks, and Great White Sharks. Most other species are completely harmless. Josh explained that there are risks involved with surfing, as there are with most sports, but if you take the time to learn about basic ocean safety you are more likely to enjoy surfing and stay safe in the water.
One of the first Aussie phrases I came across moving over here was ‘Sharky’. Not commonly used in other parts of the world, I still wasn’t quite sure what it meant. ‘It’s more of a feeling’, explains Josh, ‘when the sky is grey and overcast, and the water looks really dark, it just feels sharky’. One of the first points covered in Josh’s ocean safety run down is to avoid surfing at dusk and dawn, as this is feeding time for sharks. After our pep talk on the beach I was ready to hit the surf.
Heading out for a solo surf in Dbar, NSW. Sarah 1: Shark 0.
Splashing about in the shallows in the warm, clear waters it was hard to imagine that there were huge predators swimming probably not that far away. Josh explained that although sharks are often close by, the number of attacks on surfers compared to the number of surfers is very low. After picking up a few tips from Josh on my technique and spending time in the water with a local, I felt confident that I could take to the beach on my own, but I still couldn’t get the thought of sharks out of my head.
To get over my fear I wanted to see what was going on under the water, and get a feel of what might be lurking underneath me. I felt that if I could see one up close I wouldn’t be scared anymore. It’s more the fear of the unknown than anything else. Sort of like falling off your bike for the first time when your a kid, once you have done it, and it doesn’t hurt that bad, and you don’t have to be scared of it.
Swimming with Sea Turtles @ Cook Island, NSW.
Heading out on the boat to Cook Island, a local diving spot known for being a bit sharky, I had mixed feelings. I wanted to see a shark, but at the same time I felt like hunting them down was asking for trouble. Never the less I hopped into the water and sunk down with the dive instructor to have a look around. I will never tire of diving and seeing at the marine life going about their business, swimming about, its mesmerising. About 10 minutes in, almost forgetting why I was there, I saw one. Small, but most certainly a shark, it swam by in the distance, not giving us a second glance. After thinking of nothing but sharks for the last few weeks, it seemed almost an anti-climax to have the shark be so uninterested in us.
I blame my irrational fear of Australian wildlife on being addicted to Steve Erwin’s TV show. Before I moved here I imagined that everything in Australia would kill you as soon as look at you. But with one fatal shark attack per year in Australia you are far more likely to come to a sticky end using a vending machine!
To get out surfing on the Gold Coast visit in2surf.com.au and book your lesson!
Having caught approximately three waves in my surfing career so far, here is one of my terrific paddling.