THE number of shark sightings on Northern Rivers beaches has spiked over the Christmas holidays with Surf Life Saving figures showing 24 reported shark sightings between December 20 and January 15, the majority of which were in Bryon Bay.
Southern Cross University shark expert Dr Daniel Bucher said the number of Tiger and Bull sharks were likely up, as the warmer waters brought in by the East Australia Current attract tropical shark species to our waters.
"At this time of year we often get Tiger sharks," he said. "Tigers are well known as the garbage bins of the sea, they'll eat anything.
"They're mostly after fish, but if there's been any heavy rain they'll come in close to shore as will Bull sharks, to see if anything has washed out of rivers, so warm dirty water is not a good time to go swimming near the mouths of rivers.
"The risk of a shark attack is very small but there are times where it is slightly more, so if you want to reduce the risk even more, there are those simple rules to follow."
The rules include staying out of estuarine waters after heavy rain, not swimming in deep water at dawn or dusk when sharks like to feed, and swimming on patrolled beaches where there are lots of people keeping an eye on the water.
Despite the risks, Mr Bucher said shark attacks should be kept in perspective.
"On average, for the last 50 years there's been one fatal attack, on the entire coast of Australia, every year," he said.
Dr Bucher said there has been no long-term trend showing increased shark attacks and the actual number of big sharks has decreased significantly due to legal and illegal fishing.
"So there's fewer sharks but there's more people, so that's why we tend to get this impression that there's more attacks or we see more sharks, but there's a lot more people in the waters than there was 20 or 30 years ago," Dr Bucher said.
Dr Bucher said the majority of the Great Whites have headed south to colder waters to feed on seals.
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