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Of the 160-plus known species of Australian sharks, only three are regarded as posing a significant risk to human safety:
The white shark or white pointer/great white (Carcharodon carcharias) Tiger shark (Galeocerdo cuvier) Bull shark (Carcharhinus leucas)
In Western Australia, the majority of fatalities are attributed to white sharks.
Wobbegong, hammerhead and whaler sharks, while usually harmless, have also bitten humans, but the bites are rarely fatal. As is the case with other wild animals, sharks may bite when they feel threatened and, no matter how big or small, should be left alone.
The rarity of shark attacks does not take away from the serious nature of a fatal attack when it does occur. Nor does the seemingly random nature of shark attacks help to allay fears about being bitten. The wide range of shark behaviours, injuries to victims and circumstances involved with shark attacks, suggest that there is no easy single explanation for why sharks very occasionally bite people.
While these kinds of attacks are rare, there are a few common sense tips to reduce the risk of encountering sharks:
- Swim between the flags at patrolled beaches
- Swim close to shore
- Swim, dive or surf with other people
- Avoid areas where there are large schools of fish, dolphins, seals or sea lions and close to bird rookeries
- Avoid areas where animal, human or fish waste enter the water
- Avoid deep channels or areas with deep drop-offs nearby
- Do not remain in the water with bleeding wounds
- Look carefully before jumping into the water from a boat or jetty
- If spearing fish, don't carry dead or bleeding fish attached to you and remove all speared fish from the water as quickly as possible
- If schooling fish or other wildlife start to behave erratically or congregate in large numbers, leave the water
- If you see a shark, leave the water as quickly and calmly as possible - avoid excessive splashing or noise
Shark sightings and response
Shark sightings should be reported to the Water Police on 08 9442 8600. This number is staffed 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
Surf Life Saving WA provides frequent updates on its helicopter beach patrols and shark sightings via twitter.com/slswa and this website.
Department of Fisheries officers and the WA Police, with support from the Department of Parks and Wildlife, Rottnest Island Authority, coastal Local Government Authorities (ranger services) and the frontline of beach safety – Surf Life Saving WA – all play their part to keep swimmers safe.
Surf lifesavers are watching from the beaches, on the water and in the air and public officers are ready to respond to sightings and incidents.
Shark hazard plan
The Department of Fisheries managed the Western Australia's Shark Hazard Response Plan which is designed to reduce the risk of shark interactions at WA beaches. The plan involves several government agencies, local councils and community groups, including Surf Life Saving WA. Shark sighting and response procedure Surf Life Saving WA and local government authorities (LGAs) are responsible for beach patrols and beach safety and will sound beach alarms, clear the water and close beaches if required, following a shark sighting or incident.
Surf Life Saving WA also has statewide standard operating procedures for shark sightings, including guidelines on when to clear the water and close a beach and how long a beach should remain closed.
In the event of a shark sighting, the following precautions are implemented
If the shark is larger than three metres and within one kilometre of the shore - close the beach and water 1km either side of the shark location for one hour (two hours if at dawn; for the remainder of the evening if at dusk).
If the shark is 2 - 3 metres in length and/or schooling sharks and within 500 metres of the shore - close the beach and water 1km either side of the shark location for one hour (two hours if at dawn; for the remainder of the evening if at dusk).
If the shark is less than two metres in length - advise the public but maintain normal operations.
For more information visit Department of Fisheries.