Wednesday, 17 August 2016

Sharks near Cairns Beaches

You rarely see sharks in inshore north Queensland waters, at least when you are out on the water or standing on shore.  In thirty years of spending time on the beach and paddling surf skis, I have only seen one shark, a large black tip reef shark.  Yet in this same area a few decades ago, the beach at Yorkeys Knob, there have been three shark attack fatalities, the most of any beach in Australia.  Tiger sharks are believed to be responsible however I don’t know why tiger sharks were implicated rather than bull sharks or even hammerheads. 

The impact of the fatalities at Yorkeys Knob and a number in Townsville which were all in the 1950’s was to move the Queensland Government to start the shark netting program.  Unfortunately shark nets are lethal to many innocent marine creatures.  At least 420 dugong were drowned in the Picnic Bay (Magnetic Island) shark net alone over a period of a few decades.

Fishermen regularly catch small sharks on Holloways beach, mainly newborn hammerheads.  Tiny little black tip reef sharks patrol the mangroves at high tide on Double Island off Palm Cove.  Larger sharks are also present and other people sometimes see them.  It is said that large sharks are attracted by trawlers even when the trawlers are anchored behind an island, possibly due to odours from nets that have not been cleaned.  I have also heard of large tiger sharks inside the Yorkeys Knob Marina swimming around the dredge whilst it was operating.  

About 10 years ago, friend of mine was spear fishing off Pretty Beach when a tiger shark took way too much interest in him.  He went down to the bottom and when the shark swam directly over him, he shot it through the lower jaw with a pneumatic spear gun.  This is desperate stuff as sharks are well known for surviving hits with powerheads and still continuing on a feeding frenzy.  Fortunately for him the spear went thought the shark’s brain and killed it instantly.  A week later the poor fellow died whilst spear fishing at the same place and was washed up on the beach.  He either had a heart attack or shallow water blackout.  When we helped to clean up his belongings, we found the sharks jaws and you could have put them over your head without scratching your ears.

In recent times most direct evidence I have seen of large sharks close to shore is large fish which have been bitten in half.

Lates calcifera
A very large Barramundi fatally wounded by a shark
The photo above was provided by Charlie who witnessed the barramundi leaping from the water in an effort to escape the shark.  The barrumundi was still alive when the people dragged it up on the beach.  It was humanely dispatched and then filleted! 

I once found similar fishy victim off Machans Beach. I was about 150 m from shore in a 11 foot tinny with a 4 hp outboard, when I saw a 10 cm fin sticking out of the water.  When I got close, I discovered that the fin was the anal fin of a very large Australian salmon that had been bitten in half.  It was too large to pick up with one hand even after many attempts and I had to leave it.  I don't think either fish was on the end of a fishing line when attacked, indeed I am not aware of anyone pulling in half a fish on a line either over all the years.

Very large Australian Salmon, probably 1 m long before it was bitten
Approximately 30 cm of fish was bitten off.  The fish was as thick as a mans thigh
I think it is a good idea to swim in the swimming enclosures that most of the Cairns Northern Beaches have.  At least do not swim in murky water or dark conditions when sharks cannot see properly as sharks will generally not attack people if they can see them properly.

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