Shark sightings shut down Aussie beaches

A boy lies on the shoreline as a surfer carrying his board walks along a beach in Australia May 25, 2015.
A boy lies on the shoreline as a surfer carrying his board walks along a beach in Australia May 25, 2015.PHOTO: REUTERS

SYDNEY • Four beaches on Australia's east coast were closed yesterday after numerous shark sightings, police said, as the authorities patrolled waters around a southern island following a fatal attack on a diver a day earlier.

New South Wales police said the beaches at Ballina - where a bodyboarder was severely injured by a shark earlier this month and a Japanese surfer was killed in February - would be closed for 24 hours.

"About 9.30am a large shark was spotted swimming about 50m off Angels Beach," police said in a statement, adding that there had been other sightings. "It is believed the presence of bait fish has attracted large sharks to the area."

Surf Life Saving NSW said aerial, jet ski and boat patrols were being conducted off Ballina, about 740km north of Sydney.

The sightings came a day after a scallop diver, named as Damian Johnson by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) and aged in his late 40s, was attacked by a shark off Maria Island in the southern state of Tasmania as his daughter watched.

Mr Johnson was hauled back to the surface but did not survive. His brother-in-law, Mr Andrew Paynter, said the victim's daughter, aged in her 20s, was "doing a remarkable job under... some really, really trying circumstances".

"(Johnson was) just a great bloke, devoted husband, great father, just a great friend to all those who knew him," Mr Paynter said.

Police and fishing boats patrolled the waters off Maria Island yesterday, with people warned to stay away.

The last fatal shark attack in Tasmania occurred in 1993 when a woman was killed while scuba diving near a seal colony off the state's north coast.

While the type of shark in Saturday's attack has not been determined, local mayor Michael Kent said residents had spotted a 4.5m great white shark in the area over the past week.

"There's been a so-called white pointer seen a couple of times over the last week out and about," he told the ABC.

Experts say attacks are increasing as water sports become more popular, but fatalities remain rare.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 27, 2015, with the headline 'Shark sightings shut down Aussie beaches'. Print Edition | Subscribe