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Australia's Shark Horror – fin or fiction?

On Sunday 28th December asnorkeller believed to be have taken by a Great White Shark (Carcharodoncarcharias), off the coast of Perth, was missing within minutes.  According to the Guardiannewspaper (UK), 51 year old Brian Guest was apparently attacked 30 metresfrom shore while snorkelling.  Witnesses saythey saw a dorsal fin and a large shark roll over the Mr. Guest, taking himunder.  

The victim’s son and survivor Daniel Guestfound only the shreds of his wetsuit later on, and aerial searchers spotted a 5metre Great White shark swimming in the area later on.  It is not established whether the Great Whiteshark spotted was directly responsible for the attack, as it could have beenattracted to the blood of the victim after the initial attack.

Great white sharks are prolific in the watersof western and southern Australia around Perth, Adelaide and Sydney, wherecooler, temperate waters prevail.

Since the tragic loss of Mr. Guest, sightingsof sharks all around Australia’s coasts seem to be on the rise, from Perth,Sydney,Adelaide,and Queensland,where residents have recorded video footage of kayakers being nudged by a GreatWhite shark, and other boaters being “eyeballed” and swarmed by sharks. Questions arise as to whether people are becoming paranoid due to the alarmingheadlines produced by national newspapers.  Words such as “shark horror”,”panic”, “ahuge marauding shark“, and “fisherman terrified” may be sparkingunnecessary fear into the thousands of swimmers who enjoy the Australianbeaches summer after summer.  There are more eye catching articles whichwould appease the eye of the gore seeker where a man tells the tale of how his head was almost swallowed by a Great White Shark, and more recentlytoday, how a Britishcouple had a “Jaws” encounter with a Great White shark.  Schoolsof broad nosed sharks, thought to be bull sharks, were seen swimming closeto North Stradbroke Island (Queensland) on Sunday.

Press reports say that the late Mr. BrianGuest wrote on the WesternAngler website forum in 2004: “I have always had an understanding withmy wife that if a shark or ocean accident caused my death then so be it, atleast it was doing what I wanted. Every surfer, fisherman and diver has farmore chance of being killed by bees, drunk drivers, teenage car thieves andlightning. Every death is a tragedy – regardless of the cause – but we have nogreater claim to use of this earth than any of the other creatures [we] shareit with.”  These words show a great understanding and respect for theocean world by Mr. Guest and his peers at the Western Angler forum show arespect for Mr. Guest in return.

Swimming in the oceanamongst wildlife is a risk that swimmers, divers, and spearfisherman should beaware of.  Walking in a game reserve amongst wild animals poses the sameamount of risk, and those risks are clearly published.  To view some ofthe risks involved in entering the ocean on your own terms readers may want toview this website, It is written with a little tongue-in-cheek but does publish articles fromworld press concerning sharks and other sea life that have aroused attention.


 Sara-Lise Haith with a Leopard Shark – photo by KG Hjalmarsson


The AustralianShark Attack File  states that sharks occur in all the coastal watersand estuarine habitats around the 27,000 km of Australia’s coast.  The websitequotes:

Although Australia continues to have a badreputation concerning the threat of shark attacks to swimmers, the statisticsdo not support these contentions. In the last 50 years, there have been only 60human fatalities (1.2 per year) in Australian waters from shark attack. Someyears there are none, other years there have been up to three in a year, butthe average remains around one per year. Yet each year 100,000s of swimmer-daystake place on our beaches, harbours and rivers and the number is increasingwith both increasing population and tourism.”

Furthermore, the website has tabled thefollowing statistics, which are the compilation of reported shark/humaninteractions over a 200 year period.

Note: Last fatal attack in Sydney Harbour -Marcia Hathaway (1963).



Total Attacks

Fatal Attacks

Last Fatal Attack




2008 Ballina, Lighthouse Beach




2006 North Stradbroke Island




1977 Mornington Peninsula




2005 Glenelg Beach




2005 Houtman Abrolhos Is.




1938 Bathurst Island




1993 Tenth Is, Georgetown




(as of 4th July 2008)


As of January 2007 for all Australian Statescombined:

In the last 20 years, there have been 25recorded fatalities due to shark attack = averages 1.25 per year. (SA = 9, QLD= 8, WA = 6, NSW = 1, TAS = 1, VIC = 0, NT = 0).

In the last 50 years, there have been 56recorded fatalities due to shark attack = averages 1.12 per year. (QLD = 22, SA= 16, WA = 7, NSW = 5, TAS = 4, VIC = 2,  NT = 0).

The Australian Bureau of Statistics haspublished a table where one can compare the element of risk in any underwater activity,to put the shark attack statistics into some perspective.

Total Accidental Drowning & Submersion

Sara-Lise Haith
Sara-Lise Haith
Sara-Lise is the former News Editor for She is based in Dubai.