IT WAS THIS BIG: Tony Leto, of Tintenbar, shows just how big ?the one that got away? was.
IT WAS THIS BIG: Tony Leto, of Tintenbar, shows just how big ?the one that got away? was.

How Tony took on a Great White ... and won

TONY LETO is smiling now, but he wasn't when a 3m Great White shark circled his small boat off Lennox Point.

It could be the same one that closed Byron Bay diving operations three weeks ago.

The Tintenbar fisherman was in his 4.5m centre-console fishing vessel on Thursday about 1.5km from shore when he saw something brown in the water.

"I thought it was junk, and then I looked and saw it was a shark just below the surface.

"At first I assumed it was a bronze whaler, but when I checked it out it was a white pointer," said the 47-year-old.

The shark never exposed its fin, but circled the boat, called Sea Stalker, for 15 minutes.

"I was scared, but also a bit excited to see it," he said.

Mr Leto believed it was attacking his propeller, but then realised it was nosing around the burley bucket, which feeds ground fish into the water to attract a catch.

"I threw it a few tailor, but it just ignored them," he said. "Eventually I threw it a hunk of mack tuna I used for burley. It went for that, and it left soon after."

Mr Leto has been fishing local waters for about 12 years but this is his first encounter with a Great White.

He has some concerns for surfers in the area.

"You expect to see a fin, but this one wasn't exposing it. It was like nothing bothered it at all," he said.

"I brought all my lines in. If it had attacked the boat I would have been out of there like a shot."

Great White sharks are known for travelling great distances, however the shark could be the one seen on June 25 by a diver at Julian Rocks off Byron Bay.

Danny Bucher, lecturer in fisheries biology at South Cross University, said Great Whites tend to travel to the North Coast in the winter to follow the whale migration and prey on any sick or struggling whales.

A Great White tagged by the CSIRO in recent years was found to spend up to several weeks in one area off Tasmania before travelling rapidly up the east coast.

Mr Bucher said a 3m Great White was still 'a baby'. Females grow to 4.5m, and males to 3.5m.

Simon Hartley, associate lecturer in environmental science at SCU, said Great Whites were quite rare, especially in this area.

"I don't think anyone has a good idea of their numbers. Like anything in the ocean, they are hard to keep track of," he said.

He said the shark's preferred diet was large aquatic mammals.

"Humans are not ideal food for sharks. They like sea lions and seals, animals with lots of fat because that means lots of energy. Humans are not really worth the effort for them."

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