Sharks are frightening but lifesavers say rips are scarier

Carl Virtue, a volunteer patrol member from the Ballina-Lismore Lighthouse Life Saving Club.
Carl Virtue, a volunteer patrol member from the Ballina-Lismore Lighthouse Life Saving Club. Doug Eaton

SURF lifesavers will continue to monitor the ocean for sharks over summer, but most of their attention will be on saving people from a far more dangerous phenomenon - rips and currents.

"Sharks are out there but it's not something that we would consider a major threat to swimmers and surfers," Surf Life Saving NSW media officer Donna Wishart said.

"We understand that it's scary - sharks instil primal fear in people, but the risk of you ever coming into contact with one is very, very low."

"That was just an awful tragic accident."

Measures such as aerial patrols or shark nets were not likely to be introduced any time soon on the Far North Coast, Ms Wishart said.

Currently when a suspected shark is spotted in a patrolled zone, lifesavers sound a siren and evacuate the water.

Far North Coast director of lifesaving, Ben Redman said suspected shark sightings occurred on a weekly basis, with the majority around Byron Bay, but most were dolphins or other marine animals.

"I don't think there's ever been a shark attack in a flagged area," Mr Redman said.

But the picture is murkier for board surfers, who typically spend their time in deeper water, closer to "sharky" spots such as off breakwalls and reefs.

Le-Ba Boardriders president Jonny Hewett speculated with the tragic attack so fresh in people's minds, some surfers might be more hesitant about surfing in the early hours or on dusk.

"Personally it doesn't faze me, I was up 6am this morning and went for a swim," he said.

"It just shows that you're a very small part in how big the ocean is... that there's a pecking order in the ocean and humans aren't at the top of that."

"You've got to respect that those creatures have been there a lot longer than we have been."

"It's their backyard, and it's their playing field - you've got to respect that it's theirs, and you're out there with them."

It didn't faze dozens of surfers at Lennox Head yesterday either, who were in the water enjoying head-high waves.


How to minimise your chances of shark attack:

  • Avoid swimming or surfing in murky conditions.
  • Avoid estuaries and river mouths, especially when murky or overcast.
  • Avoid swimming or surfing at dusk or dawn
  • When a shark is sighted, leave the water immediately and do not return that day.

Topics:  editors picks sharks surfing surf lifesaving surf safety

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