Whales, now whites
By DAVID MOASE
A LARGE great white shark, estimated at up to six metres long, has been seen swimming close to Coffs Harbour beaches during the past week.
There have been sightings of the shark near Arrawarra, Mullaway and Cabins beaches for the past week, while another sighting had it just off Diggers Beach on Thursday.
The great white is thought to be following and feeding off large schools of Australian salmon that have been swimming close to shore.
Reports doing the rounds among the northern beaches surfing fraternity said the marine giant attacked and killed a baby dolphin near Mullaway during the week.
Bill Talbot, the acting director of fisheries management with the NSW Department of Primary Industries, said water users should take care because of the shark's presence but should not be panicked.
"It's important to make very clear that the risk of a great white shark attack in NSW is extremely low, with the last fatal attack occurring in 1993," he said.
"The reports say this shark is fairly large and has been in close enough for people to have seen him from shore.
"We are just following the reports at the moment but we might have to look at it closer if we think it is starting to pose a threat.
"Sharks like this can move on very quickly and can cover hundreds of kilometres in a short time once they decide to move."
Large schools of Australian salmon have returned to the Coffs Coast in recent years.
They were heavily fished in the 1930s and 1940s for the pet food industry and almost disappeared from local waters, but have been seen in increasing numbers recently.
Coffs Harbour City's senior lifeguard, Greg Hackfath, said the shark had been seen by surfers at Arrawarra on Wednesday and said swimmers and surfers should avoid large schools of fish.
"Schools show up as dark, quick-moving shapes in the water and people should be wary if they are about," he said.
The great white shark is a protected species and is listed as vulnerable under the NSW Fisheries Management Act.
Have you spotted the great white or had a close encounter with a shark? If so, contact David Moase on 6650 2945. SHOULD humans fear sharks or vice versa?
Sharks have few predators. Their greatest threat comes from humans, who kill 50 to 70 million sharks every year.
Sharks kill very few humans. Between 1876 and 2002, 69 people worldwide (including 32 Australians) were killed by great white sharks.
In 1999 alone, 1552 Australians and 41,611Americans were killed in road traffic accidents.
Compare the number of shark deaths with these Australian death statistics between 1979 and 2002 (24 years):
11 people were killed by dog attacks.
12 people were killed by lightning.
52 people were killed by bee, hornet or wasp stings.