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Recent Sydney shark attacks come under questi -

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Recent Sydney shark attacks come under question

Broadcast: 02/03/2009

Reporter: Kirstin Murray

After three shark attacks in as many weeks around Sydney, there has been plenty of talk about
increased shark numbers. But some experts say that the rate of shark attacks in Australian waters
has remained consistent for more than 50 years, and that shark numbers are actually down. So what
is behind the recent spate of attacks?

Transcript

KERRY O'BRIEN, PRESENTER: That other force of nature, the shark, is back in the headlines in east
coast waters where people have been lulled into some sense of security after decades of netting at
the most popular beaches.

And after three maulings in as many weeks around Sydney, there's been plenty of talk about
increased shark numbers. But some experts say that the rate of shark attacks in Australian waters
has remained consistent for more than 50 years, and that shark numbers are actually down. So what's
behind the recent spate of attacks? Kristin Murray reports.

KIRSTIN MURRAY, REPORTER: It's the sound no swimmer ever wants to hear. But after three shark
attacks in as many weeks, and many more sightings, Sydney's beach-goers are treating this warning
siren with new respect.

MICHAEL BROWN, SURFWATCH: Three years ago we recorded one great white off Sydney beaches. Last year
we recorded seven great whites off Sydney beaches, and unbelievably this year we're up to 27 great
whites already.

VOLKER KLEMM, AVALON SURF LIFE SAVER: It's definitely the busiest time of the year. The water's the
warmest it's ever going to get, and so there's a lot of swimmers out there.

KIRSTIN MURRAY: There was no time to sound the alarm yesterday. Andrew Lindop was catching waves
with his father off Avalon Beach just before dawn, the most popular time for surfers. But under the
dimly lit sky, the 15-year-old couldn't see the shark approach.

VOLKER KLEMM: His dad is a very experienced surf lifesaver in our club and he already had the boy
stabilised. He already had the leg rope of his surfboard wrapped around his upper thigh as a
tourniquet and stopped the blood flow.

KIRSTIN MURRAY: The Avalon attack is the latest in a series on Sydney's shores, and waters long
considered safe are now being viewed in a new light.

Less than three weeks ago a navy diver lost an arm and a leg after he was attacked in a training
exercise in Sydney Harbour, the first such incident in more than a decade.

At dusk the following day a great white struck a surfer off the city's most popular tourist beach.
It was the first shark attack at Bondi in more than 80 years. Experts say there's no obvious reason
for the spate of attacks, but are adamant the shark population hasn't increased.

BARRY BRUCE, RESEARCH SCIENTIST, CSIRO: Statistics are thrown out the door when it comes to shark
attack. Shark attack is high profile, low risk and low frequency, but often with high consequence.
So it does grab our attention.

KIRSTIN MURRAY: The most common theory as to why Sydney's become a favoured destination for these
large predators centres on an increase in their feed.

BEN WOTTON, MANLY SURF LIFESAVING CLUB: There's less pollution in the water, that means there's
more for the small bait fish to eat, particularly close in to cities. The small bait finish bring
in the fish that feed on them and obviously the larger predators follow those in.

VIC PEDDEMORS, SHARK BIOLOGIST: Be that as it may, the shark numbers are still very slow. You can't
walk from one side of the harbour to the other on the backs of sharks, although some people would
believe that is the case.

KIRSTIN MURRAY: CSIRO scientist Barry Bruce agrees. After three decades tracking great whites along
the coastline, he says there's no simple explanation for their movements.

BARRY BRUCE: At the moment we see no evidence of any dramatic change in the environmental signals
that would indicate that something has definitely changed for this particular year.

KIRSTIN MURRAY: What has surprised many is that the latest attacks occurred inside shark nets.
During the past 50 years there's only been one recorded fatality on NSW beaches protected by nets,
and many more attacks prevented.

VIC PEDDEMORS: Unfortunately at this stage we don't have any alternative to shark nets. We believe
shark nets are the most effective way to protect beach users.

KIRSTIN MURRAY: Ben Wotton's a lifelong member of the Manly Life Saving Club, and remembers the
days of shark watch towers.

BEN WOTTON: You may not need to go to the cost of building a specific mannable tower, that you
could put a decent high res webcam on a local building - and most beaches would have that - or on a
pole of the appropriate height, which would give you at least the ability to view in all lighting
conditions.

KIRSTIN MURRAY: Michael Brown runs a voluntary aerial patrol and says the Government should do away
with shark nets and invest in new technologies

MICHAEL BROWN: There are sonar based systems that can detect a shark before it gets within one
kilometre of a beach, giving lifesavers the opportunity to get out, inspect whether it is a threat
or not and then make an educated decision whether they want to evacuate a beach.

VIC PEDDEMORS: We've looked at various alternatives, we've looked at using electrical barriers, for
example, unfortunately that technology isn't quite ready yet.

KIRSTIN MURRAY: Despite the headlines, it seems swimmers and surfers won't be deterred.

BEN WOTTON: You've got more probability of being hit by a bus crossing the road on your way to work
or home than you do of being bitten by a shark. The odds are massively against you being bitten by
a shark anywhere in Australia.

KERRY O'BRIEN: That report from Kirstin Murray.