The reason behind jump in Illawarra, South Coast shark sightings

A massive boom in the number of people visiting beaches is the main reason sharks are occupying such a prominent position in our summer this year, surf life savers say.

Figures show an explosion in beach visitation in the Illawarra of more than 200 per cent since 2009, and more people on the beach means more chance of an encounter with marine predators in their natural environment.

“It’s not about creating anxiety. It’s about keeping people calm.''

Add this to several well-publicised shark attacks on humans on the NSW coast in 2015, and the dozens of sharks spotted between Port Kembla and Jervis Bay this week – including the pack of bronze whalers in the swimming zone at Hyams Beach.

Friends of the shark may not want to admit it but the reality is many people will reasonably be a bit more wary of them this summer. And this is not a bad thing, Surf Life Saving South Coast president Steve Jones said.

“It’s an individual personal assessment,” he said.

“It’s not about creating anxiety. It’s about keeping people calm. 

“People who have seen reports [of shark attacks] become alert, and in some cases become alarmed. They see a shadow in the water it alerts them. Sensibly it’s a good thing because if you think it’s a shark you should get out of the water until it goes away.”

He has circulated a checklist of advice for beachgoers on how to minimise the risk from sharks, and what to do if you encounter one.

It was not one but more than a dozen large sharks making beachgoers uneasy at Hyams Beach in Jervis Bay on Wednesday and Thursday.

When the Mercury flew over Jervis Bay with the Bendigo Bank Aerial Patrol on Thursday several large sharks were easily spotted near beaches.

Mr Jones said up to 20 sharks were coming in near swimmers, with about 500 people on the beach. Some people refused to get out of the water until the sharks were “a few metres” away.

Airborne spotters identified the sharks as bronze whalers up to 3.5m long – a species which is known to come close to shore to feed, and while not identified as the most dangerous, can be aggressive towards people.

Mr Jones said there were always sharks in the bay but the massive increase in visitors in recent years made encounters more likely.

It’s not just Jervis Bay. Figures calculated by Surf Life Saving NSW and provided to the NSW Government show attendance at Illawarra beaches has increased by more than 200 per cent over five years - from 124,000 in 2009-10 to more than 392,000 in 2014-15.

The visitation figures are worked out by counting the number of people on five Illawarra beaches at 1pm from September 25 to April 25. The beaches are Coledale, Austinmer, Thirroul, North Wollongong and Wollongong City (south beach).

The figures are not exhaustive but have been calculated the same way over the six years, allowing genuine comparisons. Similar increases have been reported in Sydney and the Central Coast, and in the Hunter the increase has been more than 460 per cent.

After Wednesday Shoalhaven City Council agreed to his request for lifesavers to be stationed at Hyams Beach for two weeks.

The Aerial Patrol’s Harry Mitchell said there had been dozens of sharks spotted this week, with five hammerheads closing Warilla beach on Wednesday.