Shark appearances along the Australian coastline might soon become too frequent given that La Nina weather patterns play a great role in driving more rainfall and changes in oceanic conditions.
In 2020 alone, 22 cases of unprovoked ‘confrontations’ between sharks and people were reported, incidents that left seven people dead and 10 more injured.
According to researcher Blake Chapman, even though the 22 is considered to be at the top-end of ‘normal’, there was no cause for alarm.
“People shouldn’t be out there really alarmed or terrified or making rash judgments based on what we’ve seen, but it’s really important to be aware,” the specialist, a proud holder of a PhD in shark neuroscience, noted.
Instead of directly impacting shark behaviour, Dr Chapman revealed that changes in oceanic temperatures could be playing an active role in determining where the predators get their food.
“When we talk about white sharks for example, their movement patterns often strongly reflect that of their prey,” she said.
For instance, when currents move Australian salmon near the shore, the sharks might follow.
“I would never say that sharks are targeting humans,” Dr Chapman explained.
“Analysis of shark behaviour and bite patterns don’t tend to support that in most of the cases, but tracking their normal prey could still be their motivation for coming closer to shore.”
Last November a shark killed Charles Cernobori, a 59-year old Broome hotel worker at the city’s Cable Beach.
This happened while he was body-boarding approximately 40 metres offshore when he was attacked by what is thought to have been a huge tiger shark.
Mr Cernobori’s death remains one of the three fatal shark attacks reported in Western Australia in 2020, with the others being recorded in Queensland and New South Wales. Encounters and sightings were also reported along each state and territory’s coastline during the year.
Inland waterways are also becoming a preferred habitat for sharks.
Increased rainfall causing higher volumes of fresh water flowing from rivers and into the ocean is likely to influence the behavior of bull sharks considering their competitive advantage in the low-sanity environment.
“Sydney Harbour, for example, can be an ideal environment for bull sharks when the temperature is right, and especially after heavy rainfall,” Dr Chapman explained.
Obviously, none of the mitigation measures can be 100 percent effective but Dr Chapman stated that surveillance and education are so far the best tools to help reduce shark risks.
“Know what the risks are, know what species are in that area, and take the time to get a sense of how these animals are using the environment,” she said.
Dolphins and or diving birds signify the presence of bait fish in the vicinity while smelly water and or air can be an indication of a food source in the area.
“Avoid those conditions, and if there’s a whale carcass known to be in the area, then definitely think critically about going in the water,” Dr Chapman said.
“If the sharks are coming in with a predatory motivation, we shouldn’t be putting ourselves in an environment that carries added risk.”
Generally, Dr Chapman noted that people shouldn’t be always worried about the risk of shark attacks and that the threat remains low.
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