Local shark sightings increase
SHARK sightings have increased on the Surf Coast and Bellarine Peninsula this summer but according to experts there is nothing to worry about.
Dorsal, a free community-based shark alert app, recorded 18 sightings in Victorian waters by users of the app in January, including a recent shark sighting at Lorne.
Kent Stannard is a marine researcher and founder of Tag for Life, a not-for profit trust which raises funds for white shark research.
“One thing we noticed this year is that there are more people in the water, not just surfers but an increase in the number of divers and spearfishers and they are pursuing a lot of shark species off shore,” he said.
More people mean more encounters but Mr Stannard said people shouldn’t get anxious about sharks, and that there was nothing to worry about as long as you used your common sense.
“Common sense is key,” he said.
“If people are going to dive, they shouldn’t dive on their own, and when you have schooling events, there are generally reasons why are they are schooling and usually because they are fleeing larger predators.”
According to Mr Stannard, more people using the water is one factor for more sightings, but not the only factor.
South-easterly weather patterns cause upwelling events that bring more nutrients closer to the coast.
“Species like tuna, kingfish and snapper and those sorts species are currently in abundance,” he said. “So, where they are, the larger predators are too.”
Australia’s Marine Parks Network is the largest in the world. Better managed fisheries and conservation approaches have seen a recovery in a whole range of species including seals and whales.
“Really all the ingredients are there for a healthy ecosystem so shark numbers should also increase as well,” Mr Stannard said.
Although shark numbers might be increasing because of a healthier ecosystem in Victoria, the reality is very different in other parts of the world.
A paper published last week in the journal Nature titled ‘Half a century decline in oceanic sharks and rays’ paints a very different picture.
The report states that overfishing is the main threat to sharks, which in many places are caught for their meat, fins, gill plates and liver oil.
According to the report, catches increased to estimated peak of 63 million-273 million in the early 2000s before declining due to overfishing, and co-ordinated prohibitions and catch-based limits were needed to “avert population collapse”.
Mr Stannard noted the recovery in Victoria was still fragile and happening off a low base.
“Sharks don’t produce a lot of offspring so their numbers will never explode,” he said.