Sharks: fact and fiction

Taronga Zoo's Shark Attack File shows of the 237 shark attacks since records began in 1791, 67 were in NSW. The last NSW death was in 2008 at Ballina. Attacks always spark fear and debate, but what's true and what's not?

THEORY 1: If dolphins are around you won't be attacked by a shark   FALSE

Urban myth or truth? ... you are three times more likely to die from a bee sting than shark bite. Photo: Dallas Kilponen

"So many people think if there are dolphins in the area there aren't going to be sharks around.If there are huge schools of fish it is quite common that sharks and dolphins will feed in close proximity of each other. I have seen sharks and dolphins swimming together." Michael Brown, researcher for Surfwatch Australia

THEORY 2: Hitting a shark on the nose or eyes will deter them   TRUE

"The snout is the most sensitive area of the shark, it's full of very delicate organs that detect minuscule electrical impulse — such as the heartbeat of a fish. Great whites roll their eyes back in to their skull — preserving their eyes is important." Vic Peddemores, senior research scientist, NSW Department of Fisheries

THEORY 3: Swimming with dogs increases the risk of attack   INCONCLUSIVE

"There is currently no reliable scientific information confirming whether swimming with a dog increases the risk of being bitten by a shark. While sharks can be attracted to sound, most swimmers make more sound than a swimming dog." Dr Charlie Huveneers, ecologist at SARDI Aquatic Sciences

THEORY: 4 Bright colours attract sharks   TRUE

"There is definitely something in the 'yum, yellow' theory and in dirty water sharks will investigate brighter colours more readily than the dull or dark colours. I am always more vigilant with divers using bright-coloured fins." Mark Addison, shark expert and film-maker

THEORY 5: Urine attracts sharks   FALSE

"I would have been dead a long time ago - there is no evidence that urine attracts sharks. I have been in the water close to large sharks like a tiger shark and have weed, and it makes no difference." Vic Peddemores, senior research scientist, NSW Department of Fisheries

THEORY 6: Sharks can be stared down   TRUE

"I find eye contact to be a critical moment in diver/shark interactions. Once you make eye contact they [can] back off. They are looking for a stealth moment, or an opportunity to investigate an unsuspecting quarry rather than an aware one." Mark Addison, shark expert and shark film-maker

THEORY 7: Sharks attack to feed   TRUE

"Most attacks are mistaken identity regarding prey. In NSW a lot are juvenile great whites — changing diet from fish to mammals. There is no mum, and they have to take a chance. Sometimes it's human." Vic Peddemores, senior research scientist, NSW Department of Fisheries

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