These cownose rays were observed off the coast of northern NSW. Credit: Southern Cross University and NSW DPI.
These cownose rays were observed off the coast of northern NSW. Credit: Southern Cross University and NSW DPI.

It’s official: The real odds of encountering a shark

AUSTRALIAN researchers have found it was 135 times more likely swimmers would encounter a dolphin than a shark at the beach.

Video images captured by a drone shows at least one great white shark, a hammerhead and a bull shark swimming off the coast of northern NSW but shows many more dolphins, whales and even a fever of rays.

Brendan Kelaher, a Professor in Marine Science and Management from Southern Cross University, said although the original purpose of the study was to look at the viability of using drones to help improve beach safety, the unexpected outcome was capturing footage of marine creatures difficult to obtain any other way.

The research was carried out by Professor Kelaher and a team from Southern Cross University in collaboration with the NSW Department of Primary Industries as part of the NSW $16 million shark management strategy.

 

A Great White shark observed off the coast of northern NSW. The images were captured by a drone being used for research. Credit: Southern Cross University and NSW DPI.
A Great White shark observed off the coast of northern NSW. The images were captured by a drone being used for research. Credit: Southern Cross University and NSW DPI.

 

These cownose rays were observed off the coast of northern NSW. Credit: Southern Cross University and NSW DPI.
These cownose rays were observed off the coast of northern NSW. Credit: Southern Cross University and NSW DPI.

 

The team used drones to monitor beaches off of Byron Bay, Ballina, Lennox Head and Evans Head where there had been recorded shark bites in the past.

More than 4100 large sea creatures were recorded, but Professor Kelaher, 47, said there were more dolphins observed than sharks.
"At these beaches in the last five years you would see quite a few dangerous sharks on occasion, but they were relatively rare," he said.

"We found an incredibly diverse marine wildlife and fauna living off the beaches.

"It's phenomenal, we saw a massive fever of rays of up to 400 animals and they form crazy geometric patterns, almost like someone had done it in photoshop."

Professor Kelaher said the dolphins observed would play with sharks and annoy cormorants or sting rays.

"They have big brains and have a lot of fun," he said.

"That's why there's a lot higher chance of seeing a dolphin at the beach as they are curious and really interested in what's going on."

 

 

Drone pilot and lecturer Professor Brendan Kelaher from the National Marine Science Centre at Charlesworth Bay. NSW DPI have been using drones to monitor beaches for the past three years as part of the NSW Shark Management Strategy. Southern Cross University’s research team carefully analysed the drone footage and counted more than 4100 large marine animals. Source: Elise Derwin
Drone pilot and lecturer Professor Brendan Kelaher from the National Marine Science Centre at Charlesworth Bay. NSW DPI have been using drones to monitor beaches for the past three years as part of the NSW Shark Management Strategy. Southern Cross University’s research team carefully analysed the drone footage and counted more than 4100 large marine animals. Source: Elise Derwin

The academic said the study confirmed drones had become a useful tool to assist with monitoring safety at beaches.

"A drone can be looking for sharks, they can let people know with a siren to get out of the water," he said.

"Or, if someone gets caught in a rip they can drop a personal flotation device and sound an alarm. It adds to our capacity to keep people safe."

Professor Kelaher also said the drone technology provided a new way to obtain insights into marine wildlife.

"The drone technology is fantastic it has provided us with an eye in the sky we didn't previously have because helicopters scare things away while, with drones, we get insights into marine wildlife that we haven't had before," he said.

"There's really stunning stuff constantly off our beaches like lots of pods of dolphins and Bryde's whales.

"We saw them feeding within metres of the shore. The whales would swim in and barge dolphins out of the way, it was really impressive to watch."

The study findings have been published in the journal Marine and Freshwater Research.



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