The secret life of sharks

Dr Amy Smoothey at work on the Clarence estuary as part of an extensive study into shark habits and habitats.
Dr Amy Smoothey at work on the Clarence estuary as part of an extensive study into shark habits and habitats.

THE CLARENCE estuary is teeming with sharks.

While that statement may be alarming to some, for a team of Australian researchers this represents an exciting opportunity that may provide an insight into the secret lives of some of Australia's most feared predators.

In early 2009, documentary makers and scientists joined local shark fisherman Allan Bodycote as he led them to some of the most populated locations throughout the estuary.

Mr Bodycote, a commercial fisherman from Maclean, has been baiting and catching bull sharks in the Clarence estuary for the past 25 years.

So when the researchers called on him to assist them, he was keen to be involved.

The study, which began two years ago, is the most comprehensive and technologically advanced study of sharks that's ever been undertaken in Australia.

Commissioned by the NSW Government, the research team is led by marine biologists Dr Amy Smoothey and Professor Vic Peddemors.

The study targeted the three most dangerous shark species known to humans - great white sharks, tiger sharks and bull sharks.

With the assistance of Mr Bodycote, the shark research team were able to catch a substantial number of sharks during the time they spent here, allowing them to attach external and internal tags before releasing them.

"The research team were astounded by the amount of sharks we caught here," Mr Bodycote said.

"We caught 19 one night. The most they had caught before that was four in one night."

Mr Bodycote said around 56 sensors were attached to bull sharks during the local study.

He said that last year was an especially good year for bull sharks in the Clarence, with record numbers of the species being caught in the estuary.

"Summer time is a peak time for sharks, with around 90 per cent of those caught in the river being female," he said.

Mr Bodycote said this was probably due to a number of factors, which included the estuary being a safe and fertile feeding ground for shark pups, which are born live and need to feed straight away.

Shark Harbour, a documentary which aired on ABC TV earlier this week, followed the study undertaken by the specialist shark research team.

If you missed it, the documentary is available to view online

Topics:  marine animals nsw government science sharks

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