APEX PREDATOR: Great white sharks are back in local waters.
APEX PREDATOR: Great white sharks are back in local waters. RamonCarretero

They're back! Great white sharks return to local waters

IF anyone needed further convincing that the great white shark recovery program is working, surely they have it now.

Juvenile great white sharks are moving back into local waters, with 10 caught, tagged and released on the DPI Fisheries contractors' smart drumlines off Ballina and Evans Head since April 30.

Here's the list, gleaned from the DPI website and the Dorsal Facebook feed:

  • May 10, 2.9m white, Evans Head
  • May 8, 2.4m white, Evans Head
  • May 7, 3m white, Lighthouse Beach
  • May 7, 2.5m white, Evans Head
  • May 3, 2.25m white, Lighthouse Beach
  • May 2, 2.2m white, Evans Head
  • April 30, 3.1m white, South Ballina

And to hammer a final nail into the coffin of the trial meshing program, zero great whites were caught, dead or alive, in the five nets spread from Seven Mile to Evans Main beaches during that time.

That's despite a messy dead by-catch in the nets of blacktip, grey nurse and hammerhead sharks, eagle rays, cownose rays, mantas, green turtles, tuna and even mulloway for the corresponding period.

When you consider that since December the nets have also killed dolphins and endangered loggerhead and even leatherback turtles, as well as so many harmless rays of all sorts, you'd have to say that their indiscriminate nature just doesn't cut it in this eco-sensitive region.

About the only good thing with the nets is that the dead rays make a great source of bait for the drumlines.

There has been only one fatality recorded on a drumline in the test period, a white shark at South Ballina.

Typically, the sharks are fitted with an acoustic tag and then taken 1-1.5km seawards and released.

When they pass within range of a network of more than 20 receiver buoys from Tweed Heads to Merimbula, they activate an alarm.

I'm having difficulty grasping the number of whites tagged with acoustic and/or satellite buoys in the past couple of years but I figure it is in the 90s.

That's a lot of apex predators moving in, even if many are only adolescents.

It would be interesting to know how many of these drumline sharks are recaptures or re-tags, if any. Hopefully that data will surface over time - if there is continuing funding for all this.

Ah, the local experts say, but it's whale season and these whites follow the whales and feed on them.

That's only partially correct.

The whales aren't really where these sharks are yet, although don't be surprised if the first few humpbacks show up off Evans Head this weekend or early next week.

Charter skipper Dave Gaden reckons he's seen the first humpies of the season off Yamba on May 14 for the past several years.

And it's highly unlikely that your average 2-3m juvenile great white could do any damage at all to a 5m, one-tonne newborn humpback calf, let alone one surrounded by adult whales of up to 15m and 35 tonnes.

Sure, one sick, dying or dead whale represents a windfall but our "little" whites can't rely on this rare event for regular food.

The whites are here because the inshore ocean is rich with the rays, turtles and larger fish that the mesh nets have shown are prolific at this time of year.

I don't know what sort of sharks were plaguing us last Saturday off Evans Head, but over one single reef we fished I know of more than 15 mackerel that were taken off lines in a few hours.

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