Shark expert: Be wary of thinking shark attacks are common

DESPITE a spate of shark attacks over the last 12 months between Ballina and Byron Bay, the chances of an attack are still extremely rare, according to Southern Cross University marine biology expert Dr Daniel Bucher.

Dr Bucher has cautioned against drawing any conclusions from the apparent pattern of recent attacks. However, it is worth noting that the recent statistics may appear startling at first glance.

Since 1983, five out of the seven fatal shark attacks in NSW have been recorded along the stretch of coastline between Ballina and Byron Bay, including two tragic incidents in the last 12 months.


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Also, the last fatal attack prior to 2014 occurred in March 2008 off Lighthouse Beach, the same beach and same area as today's attack.

Elsewhere in Australia, since 1983 there has been 15 fatal attacks in Western Australia, 13 fatal attacks s in both South Australia and Queensland, one in Tasmania, and none in Victoria or the Northern Territory.

Dr Bucher said shark attacks were still mostly unpredictable rare and random events.

"When they're random events, they'll sometimes come in clusters, and sometimes nothing will happen for a long period of time," he said.

"Unfortunately we tend to pay attention to periods when they're clustered, so we get this idea that there's suddenly a trend or a spike, but really from statistical pint of view we can't really say much about it."

However there were conditions in which shark attacks were more likely.

"Unfortunately we've had some rain… the chances are small but they do increase substantially when those sorts of (rain) events happen," Dr Bucher said.


"Essentially it flushes food out of rivers so sharks will approach (closer to shore and river mouths) and look for an easy meal."

Also, Dr Bucher noted surfers tended to sit in areas which sharks frequented when they did approach the shore.

"Waves tend to build up when there's a big sandbar near a deep area, which is precisely where sharks like to cruise for food," he said.

"The best place for catching waves is the worst place for sharks."

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