Fears over bull sharks in Lake Macquarie

THE appearance of a  2.4-metre bull shark in Lake Macquarie has raised fears that an attack could be imminent as sightings of the  creatures increase.

Photographs of the shark have been circulating  on social media.

The Newcastle Herald was told yesterday the beast was caught by a fisherman near Dora Creek but was unable to confirm the location. 

Sightings of sharks such as hammerheads and whalers are not uncommon in Lake Macquarie yet there has been an increase in reports of the more dangerous bull sharks entering through the Swansea Channel.

Jason Nunn, owner of Fisherman’s Warehouse at Marks Point, believes it is due to an increase of marine life coming into the lake, including Australian salmon.

He said he had witnessed an increase in shark sightings since the 2002 ban on commercial fishing.

‘‘One Saturday morning I had a gentleman walk in who had a couple of photos of an eight-foot bull shark,’’ Mr Nunn said.

‘‘It looked like it had eaten some serious fish life. He said he had caught the shark not too far from where a couple of kids swim.

‘‘No one’s been attacked yet, but I think it’s only a matter of time before one of them eats a little kid.

‘‘They [bull sharks] do inhabit more estuaries, canals and rivers and they’re the guys who do pose most of the problem.’’

Yet fishery experts are warning against extreme measures to combat the escalating shark population and are instead keen to highlight that the rise in sightings is a positive sign for the lake’s health.

Independent marine biologist Julian Pepperell said it wasn’t surprising that a bull shark was found in Lake Macquarie as they are able to transition between fresh and salt water.

‘‘Shark numbers may have increased due to the ban on commercial fishing in the lake,’’ he said.

‘‘It would be a positive result for the conservation of the wildlife.’’

In January this year surfer Glen ‘‘Lenny’’ Folkard was attacked by a bull shark at Redhead beach and was lucky to escape with his life.

Bull sharks are known for their attacks on humans yet NSW Fisheries shark biologist  Vic Peddemors said that was only because they stuck to coastal waters.

He believes there is no reason for concern and said shark numbers in Lake Macquarie may even have decreased.

‘‘No one has been bitten in many years, even considering the increased recreational use of these waters over the past 20 years,’’ he said.

Mr Nunn said it was ‘‘farcical’’ that people were denying an increase of sharks in the lake.

Yet he agreed with Dr Pepperell that it wasn’t necessarily a bad omen.

‘‘There are certain sectors of the community that don’t like to admit it because they don’t want people killing sharks,’’ he said.

‘‘I’m not in favour [of shark nets or culling] and I actually think it’s a positive sign that the lake’s getting healthier.

‘‘I just think there should be an awareness that they’re out there because complacency often causes the problems.’’

Mr Nunn and Dr Pepperell both called for studies into the lake’s shark population, with a cost-friendly tagging program the preferred option.

Facts about bull sharks 

Male bull sharks reach sizes up to 2.9 metres while females grow to 3.2 metres.

They are considered one of the species most dangerous to humans.

They are highly aggressive and known to attack humans. The attacks are similar to pit-bulls, with multiple bites and head shaking to remove tissue.

They are able to survive in fresh and salt water.

Bull sharks prefer shallows.

They are opportunistic feeders that eat bony fish, smaller sharks, carrion, mammals, birds and even garbage. 

Source: Shark Research Institute.

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