16.3 C
Byron Shire
May 8, 2021

Shark apps and deterrents set to roll out this summer

Latest News

Join Clarkes Beach paddle out this weekend to stop massive oil and gas field project

Hundreds of local surfers and water-lovers will paddle out at Clarke’s Beach over the weekend to protest against a massive oil and gas field proposed for the NSW coast.

Other News

Byron Bay’s first ever matured spirit wins gold medal at London Spirit Competition

While the Northern Rivers region is well known for its environment and lifestyle, it is also becoming known for...

Honouring midwives on their International day

Many of us have a midwife to thank for our safe arrival from the womb, these specialised 'catching' hands are a blessing to both mum and bub in hospitals and in the home.

The top non-invasive skin treatments for glowing skin

With all the time we spend in the sun, our skin can start to show signs of aging sooner than we’d like. But the idea of an invasive treatment to fix skin problems is likely not the first choice for many people.

Dam doesn’t give a damn about koalas

The proposed Dunoon Dam is still a possibility, though it has been voted against twice by the members of Rous County Council. Now information has emerged which presents another reason to shut down the threat of the dam once and for all.

Greater Sydney under COVID related restrictions

NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian has just announced that greater Sydney area will go into lockdown until next Monday.

Editorial: The beef about meat

Firstly, let me declare an interest: I have been a vegetarian for 49 years, so tasty cow parts are not high on my agenda.

A Bronze Whaler Shark. Photo Planet Deadly

Paul Bibby

A high-pitched siren rings out across the beach, sending a flock of seagulls into the air in a flurry of wings and indignant squawking.

The shrill alarm is coming from a bright red-and-yellow drone hovering over the water out past the breakers.

Using carefully designed shark-recognition software, the fully automated drone has detected a juvenile great white cruising past about a cricket pitch-and-a-half away from a group of surfers.

The boardriders look at each other wearily.

‘Third time this afternoon,’ one says to another as the group begin to paddle back towards to shore.

Further in, dozens of swimmers follow suit – trudging back to their towels where their smartphones ping with further warnings that include the size and species of the shark and its prior history.

Unconcerned with the commotion, the young shark continues on its way – scanning lazily for bait fish in the warm, clear water…

It might sound a bit like something out of a sci-fi movie, but this scenario is coming soon to a beach near you.

Fear over shark attacks on the North Coast has driven a wave of new detection and deterrence strategies that are set to make our most popular beaches some of the most scrutinised and surveyed in the world this summer.

Shark deterrent measures

On any given day in the upcoming holiday season, beachgoers are likely to see helicopters and drones searching for shark-like shapes beneath the waves.

Sightings will be immediately relayed, not only to those in the water, but to tens of thousands of smartphone users across the country via apps and social media.

Under the surface, 35 separate SMART drum lines will be deployed up and down the coast, temporarily ensnaring sharks so that they can be fitted with electronic tags for easier detection by floating receivers.

And at five beaches between Lennox Head and Evans Head large, synthetic shark nets been set up in a bid to stop sharks getting too close.

On the face of it, the measures are a great way to reduce the risk of attack.

After all, if a swimmer or surfer is aware that there’s a shark around, he or she can take action to get out of the way. But does being told every time a shark pops up on the radar really make us feel safer?

Do we want our summer beach visits to be punctuated by alarms, hovering drones and smartphone alerts that make us think twice about getting into the water?

Surveillance state

Marine biologist Dr Danny Bucher says that while he supports shark-detection devices in general, they need to be used wisely.

‘If we start conducting major shark-detection operations on the North Coast, we are going to see a lot more sharks simply because we’re looking for them,’ says Dr Bucher, from Southern Cross University.

‘The question is, what do we do with the information?’

‘If you want to completely eliminate the small risk of an unwanted shark–human interaction, you’ll find yourself getting out of the water far more often than you’d like to.’

He says there is a need to balance safety with people’s need to enjoy the water.

‘What we don’t want to do is to create fear by telling people there are “dangerous” sharks everywhere, when the chances of being attacked, even when there are sharks around, are very low.’

Fear v reality

The fact is that the public’s perception of shark–human interaction is, in many cases, quite different from reality.

One of the biggest misconceptions is that attacks are a common occurrence.

According to Taronga Zoo’s shark-attack file, there have been 47 fatalities from unprovoked shark attacks in Australia in the last 50 years: an average of 0.9 per year.

To put that figure in perspective, there are an estimated 100,000,000 beach visitations by Australians each year.  

So why do many of us have the view that there are so many attacks?

According to Dr Blake Chapman, the author of Shark Attacks: Myths, Misunderstandings and Human Fear, the nature and frequency of media coverage has a big role in this.

Media role

‘When we hear repeated media reports of shark attacks it makes it seem like these are happening all the time when they’re not,’ Dr Chapman said.

‘When the reports also focus on the intimate details and personal aspects of the attack, it plays to our basic fears and that gets imprinted in our memories,’ he says.

‘When something stays in our memory, it has the potential to skew our perception – giving us the impression that it’s happening all the time.’   

Another common misconception is that a shark will attack if it comes into contact with a human.

A 2014 Plymouth University study of shark–human interactions across the globe found that just five per cent were ‘negative’, with the remainder being reported as ‘positive’ or ‘neutral’ by those involved. 

Dr Chapman says this is also borne out by the Australian experience.

‘Sharks are part of the marine environment in this country – we’ve basically been sharing that habitat with them ever since people started venturing into the water.’

‘Yet there have been relatively few attacks given how much time we spend in the water.’

Dr Chapman says the gulf between our perception of shark–human interaction and reality is partly a legacy of our primal fear of physical threats from wild animals.

‘We have a highly developed sense of fear that comes from our mammalian lineage, which evolved in a certain way to ensure our survival,’ Dr Chapman says.

‘And that particularly applies to wild animals that could do us harm.

‘Of course that fear can be very useful when we’re actually faced with a physical threat from a wild dangerous animal; it helps us to fight or flee.

Attacks are rare

‘But it can also skew our perception of the threats around us, particularly in the modern world where being attacked by an animal is very rare.’

Imagine what would happen if we responded with the same level of fear to a more common, contemporary threat like road accidents.

A uniform speed limit of 40km/h? Constant aerial surveillance on public holidays? The culling of drunk drivers to avoid future harm?

Yet, whether they are founded in fact or not, fears of shark attacks remain in our community, and they need to be addressed.

The solution

There are suggestions that new technologies, which deter sharks without alarming swimmers, could offer a solution.

The ‘shark shield’ device, which fits onto a surfboard and transmits a signal to deter the sharks, is being hailed as a way forward by some.

Large-scale devices that could potentially protect a whole beach using the same principle are also being tested overseas.

However according to Dr Chapman, the best defence against sharks and the fear of them is education.

‘It would be great to see shark education taught as part of beach education in schools – particularly in coastal areas,’ she says.

‘If things like avoiding surfing at sunrise and sunset, going out with another person and being aware that bait [fish] balls can attract sharks become part of our beach culture, we’ll be safer and I think less fearful of what’s out there.’

Support The Echo

Keeping the community together and the community voice loud and clear is what The Echo is about. More than ever we need your help to keep this voice alive and thriving in the community.

Like all businesses we are struggling to keep food on the table of all our local and hard working journalists, artists, sales, delivery and drudges who keep the news coming out to you both in the newspaper and online. If you can spare a few dollars a week – or maybe more – we would appreciate all the support you are able to give to keep the voice of independent, local journalism alive.


  1. Another completely irrelevant and meaningless non-story about sharks.

    Surfers in this area are far more attuned to the presence and risk of sharks, dangerous and otherwise than pointy heads sitting in offices in Lismore and Sydney.

    Especially when the “remedy”, education consisting of misleading information like this: “things like avoiding surfing at sunrise and sunset, going out with another person” is what is proffered.

    Most attacks in this region from juvenile/sub adult white sharks have occurred mid morning on sunny days on surfers in small groups of people.

    If anything needs a remedy it’s the lack of reality emanating from the ivory towers from our so-called experts.

  2. Another attempt to lure us away from worrying about shark attacks. 44 fatalities perhaps, but how many more injuries were caused by shark attacks. I have no wish to die from being swallowed by a shark, but nor do I want to lose a leg or an arm, or even to be deeply lacerated by a small one. Let’s paint the whole picture using the details most people judge safety in the sea by.

  3. Anything electronic has it’s failures where as something else in the water that sharks can feel the sound of in the water that can deter sharks with an invisible wall will deter them from the Surf line like the sound of bells anchored at intervals in populated zones .


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

Man dead after boat capsizes near Yamba

Police say a man has died and a second has been taken to hospital after a boat capsized south of Yamba this morning.

Jonson Street bus shelter gone and an era ended

Byron Shire Council says that the wooden bus shelter on Jonson Street outside the Byron Visitors Centre is being removed today with all bus services operating from the new bus interchange on Butler Street in Byron Bay

Upside down river

Tim Harrington, Lennox Head Letter contributor Richard White (letters 21/4/21) quite correctly identifies the Richmond River as an ‘upside down river’ and nowhere is this more...

Ballina Dragons’ great results at Urunga

The Ballina Dragon Boat Racing Club is a group of paddling people from all walks of life who enjoy being out on the water having fun and keeping fit.