Whitsunday shark attacks 'unprecedented' and 'unusual', prompting warning from authorities

| 21.09,18. 08:52 AM |

Whitsunday shark attacks 'unprecedented' and 'unusual', prompting warning from authorities

Photo: Both victims were flown to Mackay hospital in critical conditions. (Sandi White Photography)

Authorities are urging people not to swim in or around Cid Harbour on Whitsunday Island in north Queensland while they assess the threat, after two near-fatal shark attacks within 24 hours.

A 46-year-old Tasmanian woman and a 12-year-old girl suffered significant blood loss and haemorrhaging when they were both mauled in separate incidents on consecutive days this week.

Both were flown to Mackay hospital in critical conditions after receiving lifesaving first-aid at the scene.

Justine Barwick, a tourist from Tasmania, was flown to the Royal Brisbane and Women's Hospital last night and is in a stable condition in the intensive care unit this morning.

The 12-year-old girl is being transferred to the Lady Cilento Children's Hospital in Brisbane this morning.

Fisheries Queensland shark control program manager Jeff Krause said he had never seen anything like this happen in such a close geographical area.

"These events are shocking, but it is quite rare to have multiple attacks in one area," he said.

"It is very unusual in such a short period of time — it's just unprecedented."

Mr Krause said it was also unusual for a shark to attack more than one person.

"It is possible that there's more than one shark involved in these unfortunate events," he said.

Mr Krause said there were various types of whaler species, tiger and bull sharks in the area.

"We don't normally go out and search for any sharks that may been involved in a shark attack," Mr Krause said.

"Due to the nature of these multiple attacks, Fisheries Queensland is going to deploy three drum lines in a bid to try and catch some of the sharks in that area."

Mr Krause said the baited drum lines will remain there over the weekend and will be re-evaluated next week depending on the catch.

In the mean time, he is advising visitors against swimming in or near Cid Harbour.

"It certainly sends a clear message to anyone that want to go for a swim or snorkel, I would avoid going in the water — it's not worth the effort," he said.

Shark attacks stats 'very, very low': expert

Shark attacks are extremely rare in that area of Queensland, with the last case occurring eight years ago.

Dr Mark Read from the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority said despite the two incidents, the statistics around shark attacks were "very, very low".

"There are things that we can do as users of the marine park to reduce the risk of a shark attack," he said.

"In some of these places that people frequent, they might be fishing and might be dropping their food scraps over the side, or the fish. In many ways, this can be attracting the sharks or training the sharks to associate food with people in that area."

Dr Read said sharks had a range of senses that we could not even begin to comprehend as humans.

"The bottom line is, these are animals which have evolved over millions of years, but they are really effective and efficient predators," he said.

"We don't actually have a lot of good information about shark populations, they are particularly hard animals to try and count, but there's certainly anecdotal information that some sharks, like bull sharks, are reported to be higher in some areas than people remember."

Local MP Jason Costigan described the incidents as a "freak of nature".

"Tourists should still keep coming that's for sure, we've got terrific operators. This has just been a freak of nature, I don't know how else to describe it," he said.

Whitsundays is '100 per cent' safe: dive operator

Whitsundays dive operator, Tony Fontes, has lived and worked in the region since the 1970s and said he was "100 per cent confident" it was a safe place to dive and snorkel.

"Shark attacks along the entire Great Barrier Reef coast are rare and even more rare in the Whitsundays. I think you've got to go all the way back to 2010 to find the last local shark attack."

"You'll find there's a lot of myths about sharks — and when it's safe and where they hang out.

"Certainly, the idea that they tend to start prowling late in the day or early in the morning is probably true, but not with every species."

Mr Fontes said divers and snorkelers rarely encountered sharks in the area.

"It's just not something that happens — I've been diving here for 40 years and the number of shark attacks, I can count on one hand," he said.

"I do find many people, particularly divers, come to the Great Barrier Reef to see a shark and most of them leave disappointed.

"Obviously there'll be some blowback on this — people will hear about this shark attack and perhaps think about where they're going on their next holiday, but it happens so infrequently we hope that it soon becomes yesterday's news."


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