Killer sharks at Byron why no lifeguards?
By RACHEL AFFLICK
BYRON BAY resident Andrew Percy said his shock over spotting a Mako shark metres from his board this week turned to anger after he realised the beach had no lifeguard on duty.
As reported in Wednesday's Northern Star, Andrew was paddling his board north of Byron Bay's Main Beach when the three-metre shark launched itself out of the water two metres away.
After the scare, Andrew ran to the nearby Byron Bay Surf Lifesaving Club, only to find there were no lifeguards on duty and no shark alarm had been activated to warn people still in the water.
"We're the busiest beach on the North Coast. It blows me away," Andrew said.
"I'm worried there's going to be a fatality this year if people don't get out of the water right away when sharks are spotted."
Luckily an off-duty volunteer lifesaver was training in the clubhouse at the time and sprang into action, calling the police and driving the club's tractor along the beach with a loud speaker, warning swimmers to clear the water.
But Far North Coast Lifeguard co-ordinator Stephen Leahy said there were adequate emergency procedures in place to deal with shark sightings, even when lifeguards were not on duty.
Lifeguards do not begin their patrols until mid-December.
"We tell people to call 000 and advise the police of the sighting. The police activate the emergency response teams from the lifesaving and lifeguards who can be on the scene within minutes," Mr Leahy said.
He said Main Beach at Byron Bay, like most beaches in the area, did have a shark alarm. But it wasn't always the best course of action.
"A shark alarm really panics people," Mr Leahy said.
"Sometimes it is more prudent to go to the water's edge and use loud hailers to advise individual people to leave the water".
On the day of the sighting the off-duty lifesaver closed the beach for 15 minutes. Lifesavers continued to monitor the beach but had no further sighting of the shark.
Days after the incident, Andrew is still shaken up said he won't be going near the ocean again anytime soon. He has been surfing since he was a kid, but now he's sold his surfboards and given up the sport for good.
"I've never seen a shark of that size in my life jump clear of the water like that. To think it was in such shallow water makes it worse," he said.
"It freaked me out."