Australia to increase shark tagging after mauling of teen

Lifeguards chasing a shark off Ballina's Lighthouse Beach last Monday after a 17-year old surfer was attacked, in a photo released by the NSW Department of Primary Industries.
Lifeguards chasing a shark off Ballina's Lighthouse Beach last Monday after a 17-year old surfer was attacked, in a photo released by the NSW Department of Primary Industries.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

SYDNEY • The tagging and relocation of sharks off Australia's most populous state will be sharply increased to protect surfers ahead of a busy summer season after a teenager was mauled in a recent attack.

The New South Wales (NSW) government has come under pressure to act after a 17-year-old boy was bitten on the leg last Monday. The scene of the attack - Ballina's Lighthouse Beach, about 750km north of Sydney - is in a region that has become known as a shark hot spot after a spate of encounters over the past year.

But trials to protect local surfers with eco-barriers were recently scrapped due to rough conditions, with the government turning to "smart drumlines" where sharks are caught and tagged before being relocated farther out to sea.

"Our testing shows smart drumlines are highly effective in catching sharks so they can be tagged and relocated, so we will increase the number deployed off NSW from 15 to 100," NSW Primary Industries Minister Niall Blair said in a statement yesterday after meeting Ballina's community leaders.

"The smart drumline rollout will be prioritised on the north coast in response to strong community support for the technology, which has now been proven with 31 great white and five bull sharks successfully tagged and relocated."

The so-called smart drumlines are meant to be more friendly to other marine life and are not designed to kill sharks, the government said. They alert officials when creatures are captured so they can be freed if conditions permit.

Conservationists and marine scientists have criticised traditional drum lines - which use baited hooks attached to floating buoys to snare sharks - as being harmful to marine life.

Five of the nine shark attacks in Australia this year have occurred off NSW, which saw 14 incidents last year, according to data from Sydney's Taronga Zoo. The state's summer season begins in December.

While NSW Premier Mike Baird ruled out culling, he has unveiled an A$16 million (S$16.7 million) strategy that includes testing aerial drones to track the marine predators' movements.

Experts say attacks are increasing as water sports become more popular and baitfish move closer to shore, but fatalities remain rare.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 03, 2016, with the headline 'Australia to increase shark tagging after mauling of teen'. Print Edition | Subscribe