History - AustralianAustralian CultureAustralian IdentityAustralian animalsCultural Comparisons Between Australia and other CountriesAustralian Prehistory

Australian Environmental Issues

A true-blue battler

Box jellyfish
How to avoid the stings and what to do if stung

So you wrestle crocs...

Unfairly judged in killing off the thylacine?

The wise little gnomes of Australia

Victors of the great Emu war

Shaping everything from how Australians speak to how they salute

Funnel Web spider
Yyou'll never leave your ugg boots outside

Most herbivores don't grow a spine until they are the size of an elephant. Not so the roo.

Kill less people than cows

Shark attack Australia
How to ensure you don't go by the name of Bob

Tasmanian Devil
The solution to mainland extinctions?

Tasmanian Tiger
A sad tale

Keg of muscle

The mainland's largest marsupial carnevore

Mythical creatures
Yowies and dropbears; some say they are myths but those who are not afraid to talk have shared their stories






Australian Shark Attack

Australian Shark attack

It is often said that one needs big balls to be a surfer - metaphorically speaking. Surfers confront big waves that can dump them on a submerged reef, hold them under water for up to two minutes or toss them around as if they were in a washing machine with a surfboard. But even more intimidating than the big waves are the big sharks. A modest-sized 4.8 metre (16 foot) Great White can bite with a pressure of three tonnes per square centimetre, and will tear out a chunk of flesh measuring 28 by 33 centimetres. It can detect a tiny drop of blood in 4,600,000 litres of water and once it decides to attack, it can move through the water at up to 80 km an hour.

Despite such intimidating figures, surfers don't show a huge fear of sharks. In fact, so unafraid do they become that they occasionally don't show caution when caution is due. One such example occurred in 2004 off Left Handers Bay on the Western Australian coast. Two teenagers, Cameron Rowe and Mitch Campbell, watched in horror as two sharks circled a man, then bit him in half. The boys subsequently paddled over to the man, pulled what remained of his body onto their boards, and paddled to shore. The next day they were back in the water surfing. Similarly, in 2005, a shark attacked board rider Simon Letch, off Sydney's Bronte Beach. After fighting off the shark by ramming his board in its mouth, Letch paddled to shore and informed the authorities about what had happened. He then got himself a new board, and once the beach had been reopened, returned to the water.

Although the surfer's lack of fear may seem insane to some, perhaps they were simply following the old surfing adage that "The shark that gets you is the one you never saw." Since they had seen the shark, they had nothing to fear.

Alternatively, maybe the boys had paid attention when they heard scientists say that sharks only attack out of a case of mistaken identity and since the shark knew it had made a mistake after the first bite, it would swim away. To back up their theory, scientists have pointed out that only about one third of attacks are fatal. They have also pointed out that sharks frequently swim with surfers who are oblivious to their presence. Furthermore, the scientists point out that that the sharks' digestion is too slow to cope with the human body's high ratio of bone to muscle and fat.

While they may be comforting to some surfers wanting to keep surfing after an attack, probably the real reason for scientist's words is to bring comfort to swimmers who have lost an arm or a leg to a shark. Rather than raise a stump and call for revenge, the victim can forgive and forget in the knowledge that the shark really didn’t mean to bite their limb off - it just wanted to get to know them better. For one reason or another, the shark obviously thought the waving arms and legs looked like a turtle (would only be plausible if the victim had a full-figured Oprah Winfrey style body shape) or a dolphin (would only seem plausible if the victim had already lost a few limbs previously)


Swimming around seal colonies is not really advisable as there is a risk of being mistaken for a seal.  

Of course, it is a little easy to suspect that perhaps scientists don’t always believe their own soothing words. After all, when they are filming Great White Sharks in clear water, they do it in cages even though the scientists in scuba gear look nothing like a seal, turtle or dolphin. This would suggest that while scientists believe their theory, they are not prepared to stake their life on it. Furthermore, scientists also explain that the shark’s general method of hunting involves biting their prey and then circling as it bleeds to death. Therefore, what looks like a “mistake” bite might also be a bite intended to cause a slow death. Given such suspicions, perhaps those shark victims wanting to raise their stumps in anger may have a case for revenge after all.

While the intention of a shark attack can be debated, what is less easy to debate are the statistics showing that there is very little chance of being attacked by a shark. In Australia, an average of one person dies each year from a shark attack. Australians are twice as likely to die after being struck by lighting, 300 times more likely to to drown and 3,000 times more likely to die in a motor vehicle accident. For rational surfers, the fear of sharks is insignificant compared to the threat of: crashing the car on the way to the beach; drowning; being struck by lightening when riding a wave; being knocked unconcious by a big wave, or developing skin cancer from spending too long in the sun. If surfers cowered from the ocean for fear of a shark, they might stay in their room and suffer an increased risk of dying as a result of a painting falling off the wall and hitting them on the head.

Despite the irrational fear of shark attack, some residents in Australia's big cities have even gone to the extreme of erecting shark nets. This gives them peace of mind as they think they have a security blanket that sharks can't get through. In reality, shark nets are simply nets staggered at locations off the beach. Some types of nets do not reach the ocean floor so sharks can swim underneath. Others leave a 4m beneath the water surface and start of net so they don't interfere with boats. As a result, Jaws can still get to swimmers. Nevertheless, the net may reduce the risk of shark attack by catching dolphins, whales, and turtles that may come close to the beach. As their prey doesn't go to the beach, neither does the shark. Then again, a supply of feed off the beach is a way of attracting feeding sharks that would not normerly be in the area. Admittedly, statistics indicate shark nets are associated with less attacks. Instead of a swimmers being 300 times more likely to drown than be killed by shark, they might be 600 times more likely.

Although shark nets may decrease the number of sharks swimming with surfers, there are alternative methods to reduce risk of attack that don't involve the death of marine life. It is generally advisable not to go swimming when one is bleeding profusely or when the water is murky. Furthermore, sharks prefer to feed at dusk and dawn thus swimming in the heat of the day is a relatively safe bet. Powered boats may arouse the curiosity of sharks thus it is generally advisable not to swim behind them. A lone individual is more likely to be the victim for most predators thus swimming in groups generally provides better protection. Flashing jewellry may give the impression of a wounded fish and provoke a strike. Staying out of the water is another option, but there is more to life than living in fear.

Questions to think about


Below are examples of the image of the Shark being used in popular culture. For each example, try to speculate what the designers/selectors were hoping to achieve by using the image of the Shark.  

The Sharks - The Sharks represent the Cronulla region in the National Rugby League.

Greg Norman - Known as the Great White Shark, Greg Norman was one of Australia's finest golfers. However, unlike a true Shark, Norman let fear get to him and so had a habit of choking on the big stage.


Below are methods that could allow some people to make money out of the Shark. How do you think working in each industry would affect attitudes to the Shark?

Shark watching - Scuba divers sometimes pay to watch Sharks from the safety of a Shark cage. The Sharks are attracted by pouring blood and fish into the water.

Fishing - Sharks are often caught for food.

Documentaries - Shark documentaries are one of the easier documentaries to sell to television.

Hunting - Great Whites used to be a prized trophy fish. Due to declining numbers, it is now illegal to hunt them in Australia.

The shark net

Assess the statistics showing the rate of attacks since nets started being used
Based on the presumption that the nets are useful, do you think the cost to marine life is justified if they save one human life every 5 years?  
Most surfers surf in areas that have no nets. Are they irrational?

Create a cartoon shark

In the movie Finding Nemo, Bruce was an Australian shark trying to give up eating fish

Draw a cartoon shark
Give the shark a name
What accent will the shark speak with?
Write something about the shark's character


Invasive ferals


Carp and Trout
A tale of two ferals

New hope for Cane Toads
The many unknown predators of the toad

A fence almost 2,000 km long to keep rabbits out of WA? Sounds like a great idea! If it doesn't work, we'll build another one!

The Willow
How a change in its status from asset to weed led to fish kills with blackwater and blue-green algae outbreaks

To bait dingos?
Should the health of the ecosystem be considered or just the kennel club registration?

Koala control
What to do about the "koala plague" on Kangaroo Island

Apex predator in Australia. Confined to urban areas in America.

Environmental values

Environmental problems
How money and ideology shapes environmental "science."

Australia's Stockholm Syndrome with gum trees.

The Kangaroo industry
Should we eat skippy?

Climate change in Australia
Australia was once covered in rainforest. Could it be again?

The dark side of sustainable environmental policies

Native pets
Why no pet wombats?




Australian environmental science is defined by an ideology that is not unlike a prison warden. There, the scientists are not seeing themselves as part of the ecosystem, but as masters over it; protecting the rights of the species that they say have rights and killing those that they say do not…but inevitably killing both.

"It was always seen as desirable to remove or cull the introduced species. We also need to ask whether it was possible to do so, how it should be done, whether it could have unintended consequences and what it would cost? I don't think anyone really asked those questions." Physicist John Reid - 2012