Is it safe to go swimming?
Is the number of sharks increasing?
Is there an increase in the number of white sharks (white pointers or great whites) off the Western Australian coastline?
Is there a shark season?
Are all sharks dangerous?
Are sharks more common inshore because their normal food is being exploited by commercial fishers?
Do ‘rogue’ sharks exist?
How do I find out when there has been a reported shark sighting?
Why has WA experienced so many fatal attacks in recent times?
Why is it so difficult to tag white sharks?
Is shark cage tourism allowed in WA?
Why are white sharks (great white, white pointer sharks) a protected species?
Why haven’t shark meshing nets been used in Western Australia like they do in NSW and QLD?
Do commercially available devices repel sharks?
Does the Department of Fisheries hunt sharks responsible for attacks on humans?
1. Is it safe to go swimming?
Beaches are aquatic ecosystems. When you enter the ocean, you must remain vigilant of all risks associated with the aquatic environment, including the risk from sharks. While it is impossible to guarantee that you will not encounter a shark while swimming, the risk of shark attack is extremely low, despite the number of attacks in WA in recent years. People can reduce shark interactions by following some commonsense tips. If you are not happy to accept the risk, albeit low, do not enter the water.
2. Is the number of sharks increasing?
There is no evidence that the number of dangerous sharks is increasing. In fact the numbers of some species are lower now than in the past.
Helicopter surveillance and increased vigilance in reporting shark sightings may support a perception that there are more sharks off our coast. How humans use the coast has also changed over recent decades with an increase in population, access to isolated portions of the coast and people are venturing further from shore. Based on these factors it would be expected that we would encounter more sharks.
3. Is there an increase in the number of white sharks (white pointers or great whites) off the Western Australian coastline?
No available data suggests that numbers of white sharks are increasing, either in WA or in other parts of Australia. The reason for the white shark being granted protected status is that this species faced a high risk of extinction in the wild over the medium term.
The core distribution of white sharks across Australia is believed to be centred in South Australian waters where they are known to aggregate. Through previous tagging studies, white sharks are known to undertake long distance migrations to WA waters and it’s possible that fluctuating white shark abundance in our waters is dependant on environmental cues that drive these migratory patterns. Research is being undertaken by the Shark Response Unit through the extension of the Shark Monitoring Network in an attempt to gain a better understanding of these migrations through acoustic tagging of white sharks and deploying and maintaining acoustic receivers or listening stations along the coast.
4. Is there a shark season?
Research indicates that different shark species do different things at different times of the year. For example, some whaler shark species migrate from the north-west to the south-west of the State during warmer months (November to June).
In contrast, satellite-tracked white sharks have been seen to move along WA's south coast and up the west coast during spring and returning south during late summer. In other years, white sharks have been monitored off the west coast throughout the winter. It is therefore likely that potentially dangerous sharks are present off our coast all year round.
5. Are all sharks dangerous?
Most of the 100 or more shark species that occur in WA waters are capable of injuring humans. All sharks, no matter how small, should be left alone. However, it is generally accepted that the vast majority of these are generally not aggressive towards humans. Three species pose the most significant risk – the white shark, tiger shark and bull shark. All three are relatively uncommon, especially around the metropolitan region – tiger and bull sharks prefer tropical waters while white sharks prefer cooler or temperate waters.
White sharks are of the greatest concern in WA based on the number of fatalities attributed to this species.
6. Are sharks more common inshore because their normal food is being exploited by commercial fishers?
It's impossible to say for certain that sharks are becoming more common in our inshore (or offshore) waters. Sharks generally feed on a variety of prey species and because WA has well managed fish stocks there is no reason for sharks to come inshore more often. A study is underway to assess the impact that fisheries management has potentially had on shark populations. Nevertheless, larger sharks tend to be very mobile and can travel large distances in search of prey. As there are no obstacles to them coming close to shore, there is always a small chance that people may encounter sharks. A scientific study has been commissioned to investigate the effect of fisheries and marine management on shark populations.
7. Do ‘rogue’ sharks exist?
The theory that ‘rogue’ sharks exist in WA is continually discussed in the media and frequently raised by members of the public. A ‘rogue’ shark is defined as a shark that habitually returns to the same location and deliberately targets humans as food. According to our scientists, there is no evidence to support this notion.
There is probably more evidence to suggest that white sharks do not set up feeding territory in particular areas for very long, so the evidence against ‘rogue’ shark theory in their opinion outweighs any speculative evidence. Nevertheless, as part of the expanded Shark Monitoring Network program we will be deploying acoustic receivers and attempting to tag ‘resident’ white sharks in an effort to prove or disprove the ‘rogue’ shark theory.
8. How do I find out when there has been a reported shark sighting?
When sharks sighted off WA’s coast present a higher risk to the public, details of the sighting is posted by Surf Life Saving WA (SLSWA) through their Twitter feed and Facebook page. Outside their operational areas, we provide confirmed and notable shark sighting details to SLSWA to be posted on their social media sites.
Play your part by reporting shark sightings to Water Police on 9442 8600.
9. Why has WA experienced so many fatal attacks in recent times?
The lower west of Western Australia has experienced an unusually high number or cluster of fatal attacks in recent times, all attributed to white sharks. In fact on a global scale, there are no comparable series of events in close proximity and duration. There are no easy answers or solutions as to why sharks attack. Anecdotal evidence points to fluctuating abundance of white sharks in our waters. An extension to the Shark Monitoring Network is investigating the fluctuating abundance of white sharks in WA through acoustic tagging.
10. Why is it so difficult to tag white sharks?
White sharks are scarce in WA waters and are difficult to locate. Successful tagging activities of white sharks in other areas in the world occur where white sharks aggregate around large seal/sea lion colonies. In WA, success has been limited to occasions where white sharks are seen feeding on whale carcasses. Our vessels and personnel can closely approach sharks while they are distracted with the food source. Generally, more than one shark is feeding on the whale. To expand the number of tags deployed into white sharks, a program of fishing for white sharks using longlines and capture gear will be used to actively catch white sharks for tag and release. Additional tagging kits will be distributed to our Fisheries and Marine Officers who can respond quickly to attempt to deploy tags following reported shark sightings.
11. Is shark cage tourism allowed in WA?
Regulations are being drafted for a State ban on targeted or dedicated shark tourism ventures, including cage diving operations, based on the attraction of sharks. While it is acknowledged that such ventures may generate direct or indirect economic benefits, there are concerns that sustained activities to attract sharks to feeding opportunities have the potential to change the behaviour patterns of those sharks.
12. Why are white sharks (great white, white pointer sharks) a protected species?
White sharks have been a protected species for more than a decade since the Commonwealth Government identified them as ‘vulnerable’. The Commonwealth Government White Shark Recovery Plan was released in 2002 and reviewed in 2008. The review found insufficient evidence to confirm an increase in species abundance. The highly migratory nature of the species, vast distances they travel and limited research conducted to date is a major impediment to reliable assessment.
White sharks are an apex predator, so play an important role in maintaining the stability of the marine ecosystem and keeping prey populations in check. White sharks are very slow growing, late maturing, long lived and low reproductive capacity - all qualities that make the species susceptible to exploitation.
13. Why haven’t shark meshing nets been used in Western Australia like they are in NSW and QLD?
Most beaches in Western Australia are not suited to securing nets. This view has been confirmed by an independent study that recommended against their use in WA. The report provides a comprehensive review of the pros and cons of shark netting/meshing programs and exclusion areas in other national and international jurisdictions. It also comments on swimming (shark) enclosures, which in contrast, provide a complete physical barrier that prevents sharks entering a selected area without reducing shark numbers or resulting in the bycatch of other species. The State Government is looking at all options, including swimming enclosures, and is calling for public comment on the report; The likely effectiveness of netting or other capture programs as a shark hazard mitigation strategy in Western Australia, by Associate Professor Daryl McPhee of Queensland’s Bond University.
14. Do commercially available devices repel sharks?
Every encounter with a shark is unique. Devices are commercially available that claim to offer shark repellent or deterrent qualities. Until scientifically credible investigations are conducted in this field, there is no guarantee that this equipment will prevent a shark attack. Likewise, what works in one instance may not work in another. Individuals will need to consider their personal safety and make informed judgement on any use of these types of devices. The Shark Response Unit has been tasked with evaluating this type of equipment.
15. Does the Department of Fisheries hunt sharks responsible for attacks on humans?
The State Government is not recommending that a large scale cull of white sharks be undertaken. An exemption currently exists for the Minister for Fisheries to order the destruction of a white shark in the event that it poses an imminent threat of attack. The exemption forms part of the overall shark response policy administered by the Department of Fisheries.
To manage the notion of imminent threat following attack, all reasonable efforts are undertaken to order all members of the public from the water, close any adjacent beaches to the public and to issue a media release warning of the threat.
In extreme situations where there is a reasonable likelihood of people being in, or entering water, without knowing the imminent threat posed by a shark; or a shark has been sighted in the vicinity shortly after an attack and there is sound reason to believe it is the same shark responsible for the attack; then an order may be given to take the shark under the direction of the Director General of the Department of Fisheries (or in their absence the Operational Manager) and shark capture gear deployed.
A shark will firstly need to be captured by the fishing gear and eventually brought alongside the vessel before the animal can be dispatched in an effective and ethical manner with the use of a firearm. No sharks have been captured, nor dispatched since this policy has been in place.