When a 10-year-old Tasmanian boy was pulled from a boat by what scientists believe to be a great white shark last month, it made international news.
The boy had been fishing with his father when the shark pulled him into the water.
Luckily, he was saved after his father jumped into the water to rescue him.
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The incident could only be described as a freak one-off event, but since then shark encounters have seemingly occurred more frequently than usual.
About a week after the first attack fishermen off the North Coast came face-to-face with a shark as it rammed their boat.
Watch the footage below (Warning: explicit language):
Only two days after that police reported another “large shark” was spotted at Falmouth beach by a surfer.
The recent spate of sightings and attacks left many people with one simple question: Are shark attacks in Tasmania becoming more common?
However, scientists have repeatedly said no.
CSIRO senior experimental scientist Dr Russ Bradford has said white sharks, which were likely responsible for the latest attacks in Tasmania, were infrequently spotted in Tasmanian waters, but could be there all year round.
Australian Marine Conservation Society shark scientist Dr Leonardo Guida said sharks have always been present in Tasmanian waters and there was no evidence to suggest they were more prevalent now than in previous years.
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Humane Society International marine biologist Lawrence Chlebeck said shark attacks remained a one in a million and therefore always received media coverage when they occurred.
He said after an attack people were often more aware of sharks and therefore assumed more sightings meant there was a greater presence.
According to the data from the Global Shark Attack File, which is compiled by the Shark Research Institute – an international shark advocacy organisation – there were nine fatal shark attacks in Tasmania up until 2016.
Over the same time period NSW had 98 fatal attacks, Queensland had 77 and Western Australia had 28.
The number of fatal attacks in NSW, QLD and WA have all increased since 2016, but Tasmania’s total remains at nine.
However, Tasmania does have a long history of close encounters with the sea’s apex predators.
Recent fatal attacks
July 25, 2015
The most recent fatal shark attack in Tasmania occurred in 2015. The attack happened in the waters of the Mercury Passage near Triabunna on the East Coast.
Forty-six year-old Hobart man Damien Johnson was diving for scallops at the time of the attack. A coroners report found his death was caused by a bite from a white shark.
Mr Johnson’s daughter Olivia was with him at the time of the incident and watched as he was attacked by the shark.
June 5, 1993
The last fatal attack before Mr Johnson’s death at Triabunna happened in 1993, near Tenth Island off Tasmania’s North coast.
Thirty-four year old mother of five Theresa Cartwright was killed while scuba diving near a seal colony.
According to the GSAF, the shark responsible was a five metre white shark.
Data from the GSAF shows fatal attacks also occurred in 1982, 1975, 1959, 1905 and 1820. There were two fatal attacks recorded without a specified date.
The past 15 years has also been littered with examples of non-fatal shark encounters in coastal waters around Tasmania.
Non fatal attacks and sightings
January 12, 2009
Hannah Mighall and her cousin were attacked by five metre white shark at Binnalong Bay on Tasmania’s East Coast in 2019.
The then 13-year-old was sitting on a surfboard outside the break when the attack happened. At the time St Helens police Senior Sergeant Jason Elmer described Hannah as incredibly brave.
Ms Mighall was dragged underwater by the shark several times before her cousin was able to help her escape.
”The young girl is incredibly brave, she suffered some pretty severe injuries to her lower leg,” Senior Sergeant Elmer said after the incident. ”And her cousin has probably saved the young girl’s life.”
July 26, 2017
Stand up paddleboarders competing at the 2017 TassieSUP Winter Classic at Norfolk Bay were joined by a great white shark during the race.
Paddlers at the back end of the group were rescued by a safety vehicle after the four metre great white was spotted. The race was completed and nobody was harmed.
According to GSAF data there have been a further 31 non-fatal shark attacks in Tasmania in the period of time until 2016.
The AMCS’ Dr Leonardo Guida said sharks were an important part of the marine ecosystem.
He said about 180 species of shark can be found in Australian waters, many of which can’t be found anywhere else.
“We have a quarter of the world’s shark and ray species in our water,” Dr Guida said.
“Half of these species… sharks and rays are quite unique to Australia, they’re not found anywhere else in the world.”
Dr Guida said drone footage had shown more often then not when sharks see humans they show no interest.
He said being educated about sharks was an important tool to help mitigate instances of human-shark interaction.
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