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Great White Sharks. -

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NARRATION

Although more people are killed each year by pets or insects, it's the Great White Shark that fills
us with dread.

Bondi surfer

As I'm paddling out, guy shoots past me and a couple of other guys are behind him, going get out,
get out, there's a shark!

NARRATION

But what does science really know about how many great white sharks there are, how they behave, or
where they move?

Barry Bruce

We actually don't know how the populations of white sharks are doing around Australia. There's no
common metric to count them or see how they're doing.

NARRATION

To look for answers, there's no better place to be than Hawks Nest beach, just north of Port
Stephens in NSW.

Barry Bruce

This just happens to be prime juvenile white shark territory. We're in about three metres of water
and we're in the surf zone. Every juvenile white shark in Australia may well visit this site. Why
this site is so important is still a mystery to us.

NARRATION

So with the utmost care and respect, we want to get up close and personal with as many great white
sharks as we can.

Mark Horstman

Barry Bruce and his crack team of great white hunters have been working here for a couple of
seasons now and they've tagged twenty-two juvenile great white sharks. But it's no calm water
exercise. They do it in heaving swells, just inside the surf zone. They're cool, calm and collected
as they look for the next one. I've gotta tell ya, I'm practically jumping out of my skin.

Boat crew member

Hang on, wave!

NARRATION

There are just two places in the whole of eastern Australia where white sharks congregate. But this
one is unique because the sharks are so accessible.

Barry Bruce

This is one of the few places in Australia, if not the only place that we know of, where we may be
able to get a count of juvenile white sharks that will over time give us an idea of how their
populations are tracking.

Well spotted Russ! Shark!

NARRATION

Once a shark is spotted, we track it while dodging the breakers. In the shallows, when there's a
break between waves, the trick is to drop a tasty mullet on a barbless hook right in front of where
the shark is heading.

Boat crew member

go, go, go!

Barry Bruce

It's not a fight, What we're trying to do is get it tired enough so it's safe for us to handle it.
But not too tired that it won't swim away happily. The sharks here are usually between one year and
five years old depending on the size.

Mark Horstman

There's nothing about a great white shark though, that's ever small. Even when they're born,
they're up to one and a half metres in length, and that's a little bit shorter than I am.

Barry Bruce

This is going to be a hard one, got his pecs right down, lot of resistance,

NARRATION

But this is the one that got away.

Barry Bruce

Frustrating for us, first one we've ever lost next to the boat

NARRATION

There's no shortage of white sharks here - in just three weeks over the last three years, the team
has seen fifty.

Barry Bruce

Fortunately these juvenile white sharks don't seem to take much notice of people. We've gone past
people and there have been white sharks within a hundred metres of them, swimming away, thankfully.

Surfer:

seen any sharks?

Barry Bruce

one down south of the clubhouse...

NARRATION

Barry is always asked how many sharks there are - but it's not a question anyone can answer yet.

Barry Bruce

The key question need not be exactly how many sharks there are but how their populations are going.
How their populations are changing over time.

NARRATION

And until they tag them to figure out how far and where the sharks move during the year, they won't
know how to count them. The sharks show no reaction when a tracking tag is bolted to the dorsal
fin. It transmits data to satellites whenever the shark comes to the surface. Each one costs around
four thousand dollars. It informs the scientists about location, the depth the shark swims at, and
the temperature of the water.

Barry Bruce

We know the sharks that we tag here are highly mobile, we've tracked them as far north as Fraser
Island in Queensland. As far south as Eastern Bass Strait and Eastern Tasmania and we've even had
one go across the Tasman Sea to New Zealand in the process diving to over a thousand metres.

NARRATION

As well, an acoustic tag with batteries that last for ten years is implanted inside the shark.

Barry Bruce

Very small incision, couple of centimetres long, just down at the back of the belly area. And what
we're going to do is insert an acoustic tag, up underneath through that incision that Russ makes.

Tag's going in.

Bravo, well done!

NARRATION

Like an e-tag on a tollway, it sends a unique coded pulse that is picked up by underwater listening
stations around Australia. The data is downloaded from the receivers when scientists retrieve them.

Barry Bruce

The sharks aren't always in the surf zone in this area. They seem to cycle between the surf zone
and out to about the one hundred to one hundred and forty metre depth contour, which is about ten
to fifteen kilometres offshore.

NARRATION

Using the different tag technologies they can figure out the proportion of time spent in the surf
zone, and scale that up to estimate the population size here and eventually, around Australia.

Barry Bruce

We suspect that white sharks are born in Southern Australia, areas in the Western Great Australian
Bight and also in areas of Bass Strait.

Go, go, go!

That's a stroke of luck, straight back to the beach and straight onto another one.

NARRATION

This landing is a challenge as the shark has tangled itself up in the line. Time is of the essence
if the shark is not to drown. The team works together like a formula one pit crew. Once in the
specially designed sling, the activity is frenetic, their concentration intense. The key is to keep
the shark calm. An oxygen feed bubbles water over its gills as if it were swimming. It's
back-breaking work. Doing sutures like this could not be more difficult. Then it's time to roll the
shark over and fit the satellite tag.

Mark Horstman

It's an incredible experience being this close to a wild great white shark. This is a female, she
won't breed until she's about 18 years old, and at that stage she could be up to 6 metres in
length.

NARRATION

Although great white sharks have been protected in Australian waters since the 1990s, their
populations are not yet safe.

Barry Bruce

Because they're so slow to replenish their numbers, white sharks that were born with the benefit of
protection ten years ago still haven't reached an adult breeding age.

NARRATION

Hopefully, motherhood is the future for this one. After just ten minutes in the sling, she's on her
way.

Barry Bruce

I think that was a win that time.

Mark Horstman

In the last few days while I've been with the research team, they've caught eight great white
sharks just along this stretch of beach. Now that might sound frightening, especially for a popular
swimming beach like this one, but the good news is, there's never been any shark attacks here.

NARRATION

It takes painstaking research like this to learn how humans and sharks can minimise the impacts we
have on each other. As Barry is fond of saying, the sharks swim between the flags too.

Barry Bruce

Our best way to help white sharks is understanding the world from their perspective. And use that
information to protect the marine environment for sharks. And protect the areas that we like to go
to as well.

Topics: Nature

Reporter: Mark Horstman

Producer: Anja Taylor

Researcher: Anja Taylor

Camera: Kevin May

Mark Horstman

Anja Taylor

Vic Peddemors

Sound: Anthony Frisina

Editor: Andrew Hope