Shark Smart: Shark Safety in the Whitsundays
Shark Safety in the Whitsundays
The Whitsunday Islands have some of the most beautiful beaches in the world and the surrounding Great Barrier Reef is home to vast amounts of marine life, including many species of shark.
Due to dramatised media coverage and Hollywood stories as well as public stereotyping, there are many misconceptions about sharks. Sadly, these misunderstood creatures have become widely feared by humans worldwide. But the reality is, sharks do not lie in wait for a swimmer to enter the water. Humans are not part of a shark’s diet and many incidents are likely a case of mistaken identity for their usual prey.
It's Important to be SharkSmart
While sharks live in the ocean surrounding Australia, shark encounters on humans are incredibly rare. So rare in fact that you are more likely to be struck by lightning than to have a negative encounter with a shark. However, there will always be some level of risk involved when you enter a shark’s natural habitat. It is important to remember these are wild creatures - we cannot control their behaviour but we can educate ourselves and minimise the potential risks. With this in mind, there are a number of things you can do to be SharkSmart while swimming, snorkelling or diving in the Whitsundays:
Do not swim at dawn or dusk - Sharks are more active at these times of the day.
Always swim in clear water - Murky water, busy anchorages, estuary mouths or canals can increase the potential of mistaken interactions with sharks.
Avoid swimming around large schools of fish - Baitfish are particularly attractive to many sharks.
Don’t throw food scraps or clean fish overboard - This includes open ocean as well as in anchorages or where people are swimming.
Avoid swimming where fish are being cleaned
Always swim, surf, snorkel or dive with a buddy
Follow local signage and swim between the flags at patrolled beaches - "No Swimming" signs have been placed in locations like Cid Harbour and it is important that the public follow these directions.
Ask the locals which areas are known to have a muddy bottom, or are a popular fishing area - This will help you to avoid areas that may have a higher risk of a shark encounter.
Sharks in the Whitsundays
The most common sharks you will spot in the Whitsundays are reef sharks, including Blacktips, Whitetips and Wobbegongs. These shark species are largely shy and non-aggressive, fleeing quickly at the sight of swimmers.
Larger species such as lemon, hammerhead, bull and tiger sharks are sometimes encountered around the Great Barrier Reef but, when left alone, these sharks rarely pose any threat to divers. Sharks are incredibly intelligent creatures and avoid human interaction as much as possible.
While there have been a few recent shark incidents in the Whitsundays, it is important to remember that, had the people involved been properly aware of SharkSmart behaviours, these isolated incidents could have been avoided. This is one of many indicators that more shark education is needed.
Public Education is Key
Following the September 2018 shark attacks in Cid Harbour, the Queensland Government conducted research into the prevalence and behaviour of sharks in Cid Harbour. The study found that, although Cid Harbour was reported repeatedly by the media as a “shark hot spot”, numbers of sharks in the area were actually no higher than in surrounding areas or than expected.
Further to this point, data from several sharks tagged during the investigation also indicated that some sharks often travel large distances in the Whitsunday region, moving between the coast, islands and offshore reefs. One shark even travelled all the way to the Torres Strait Islands before returning to the Whitsundays 3 months later!
The study’s interim report concluded that “the increase in unwanted encounters was attributed mainly to lack of awareness, ignoring safe practices and discarding food off boats. People have some knowledge of swim-safe and ‘shark smart’ behaviours, but do not have enough knowledge to inform their choices about risky behaviour.”
Moving forward, it is essential that we increase our knowledge of shark behaviour and safe swimming practices with information from credible sources. By educating ourselves and acting accordingly we can give sharks the space and respect they need and greatly reduce our chances of a negative encounter. So keep an eye out for educational programs by the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority (GBRMPA), the Queensland Government and Queensland tourism bodies and arm yourself with the facts before entering the water.
It’s important to remember, that when you enter the ocean you do so at your own risk, and even taking every precaution doesn’t guarantee you won’t encounter a multitude of wildlife in the water, including sharks. If you’re still wishing to visit this beautiful part of the world, but are concerned with getting in the water, there are plenty of ways to enjoy the Great Barrier Reef and Whitsunday islands without having to! There are plenty of island resorts, pools, underwater observatories and even aquariums so you can get up close and personal with the wonders of the reef from a safe distance. The world-famous Whitehaven Beach offers stunning views and shallow clear water to swim in right off the beach, and there are dozens of breathtaking lookouts to behold on the many hikes around the islands and mainland. For more information, chat to our friendly local travel experts and we can help you choose the perfect experiences that tick all the boxes, including keeping you safe and comfortable.
There’s no need to avoid swimming in the Whitsundays, just be safe. Be SharkSmart.