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Government mitigates shark attack risk

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Geoff Helisma, Clarence Valley Independent

The NSW Government is adding drumlines into its mix of anti-shark measures along the state’s coastline.

Last week at Yamba, Clarence MP Chris Gulaptis met with Paul Butcher, principal research scientist with NSW Department of Primary Industries, to mark the installation of 15 SMART (Shark Management Alert in Real Time) drumlines, which will be deployed daily between Iluka Bluff and Angourie Back Beach.

Paul Butcher and Chris Gulaptis
NSW Department of Primary Industries’ principal research scientist, Paul Butcher, and Clarence MP Chris Gulaptis discuss the installation of 15 SMART (Shark Management Alert in Real Time) drumlines between Iluka Bluff and Angourie Back Beach. Photo: Geoff Helisma

Mr Gulaptis said the “daytime drumlines” will complement the VR4G tagged shark listening station and shark detection drone at Yamba’s Main Beach.

“Shark attacks are rare, but sadly we lost lives in this way not far from here and not that long ago,” Mr Gulaptis said.

“The new technology we are bringing online for the summer reduces the chances of tragedies like that recurring this summer.

“The drone is operated by trained Yamba Surf Life Saving Club pilots and runs several missions an hour every day of the summer and autumn school holidays.

“I have just been given a demonstration on how the drumlines will be deployed from dawn till dusk until the middle of next year, at a depth of eight to 15 metres about 500 metres from the shoreline.”

During the NSW Government’s drumlines trial, which included drumlines set at Ballina, Evans Head and Coffs Harbour, 404 white sharks, 83 tiger sharks, 11 bull sharks and 212 non-target animals were caught.

Each of these animals were released alive, apart from one white shark and five non-target animals.

Seven Mile Beach to South Ballina Beach 8 Dec 2016 – 30 Sep 2019: 20 SMART drumlines deployed daily; 1,027 days contracted, 695 days (68%) set; 136 White (1 dead), 9 Bull, 27 Tiger sharks 76 non-target animals (1 dead).

Airforce Beach to Joggly Point 8 Dec 2016 – 30 Sep 2019: 15 SMART drumlines deployed daily; 1,027 days contracted, 776 days (76%) set; 166 White, 2 Bull, 15 Tiger sharks 41 non-target animals (1 dead).

Diggers Beach to Sawtell Headland 14 Aug 2017 – 13 Feb 2018: 10 SMART drumlines deployed daily; 184 days contracted,131 days (71%) set; 16 White, 0 Bull, 18 Tiger sharks 18 non-target animals.

Mr Gulaptis cautioned that “no system was completely shark proof and beachgoers needed to be shark smart by always swimming between the flags and avoiding the water at night, dawn, or dusk”.

“These drumlines are a critical part of the NSW Government’s enhanced shark mitigation, surveillance and detection strategy to protect surfers and swimmers,” he said.

“You should also download our cool and informative SharkSmart app,” Mr Gulaptis added.

For more information visit

Smart drumline

A few questions about shark behaviour

The Clarence Valley Independent spoke with the NSW Department of Primary Industries’ principal research scientist, Paul Butcher.

GH: There was a two-year trial in Western Australia, a place notorious for its white shark attacks, and only two white sharks were caught on drumlines; is there a scientific explanation for why that would happen?

PB: Not really, only that we do know in WA that it is a completely different population to what we have on the east coast of Australia – so, two genetically distinct populations. Over in the west, you’re mainly looking at large white sharks; adults that are 3.5 to six metres in length; where the majority of what we see here are from 1.5 to nearly four metres in length, what we call juveniles, sub adults, basically teenagers, and this gear is showing that they can catch those animals.

GH: You release the sharks a kilometre offshore; do you have data that shows taking them one kilometre offshore is effective, given that a white shark can travel hundreds of kilometres in one day?

PB: It’s basically a fight and flight response. With our satellite tags that we put on the animals every time it comes to the surface, we get a GPS location. We did that with nearly 70 white sharks, as part of the original trials, and could show that they were 15 to 25 kilometres offshore the following day. They eventually come back to the coast. Obviously, we don’t want to … disrupt the total movements of the species. We do know that they come back into the coast in the weeks after the initial capture, and some recaptures we’ve had up along the coast, as well.

GH: So how does that boil down to having safer beaches?

PB: A two-pronged approach. I won’t say we’re moving [them]. We’re capturing animals that may interact with surfers or beach users at that point of time. We catch the animals; we know they have that flight response. They move offshore, so we’re removing that potential interaction with surfing groups at that time the animals are moving offshore. There’s no chance of interaction while those animals are offshore.

Clarence Valley Independent 22 Deccember 2021

This article appeared in the Clarence Valley Independent, 22 December 2021.



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