A four-metre tiger shark has reportedly been caught off the coast of Nine Mile Beach in Byron Bay, in the northernmost corner of New South Wales.
The circumstances surrounding the event are still pretty hazy - we’re not entirely sure who caught the shark, or where - and because catching them is not illegal, no investigation will be mounted. But what we do know is, despite the incredible size of this thing, it’s actually only a little tiger shark.
The capture was brought to the attention of the media this week by Byron Bay-based conservation group, Positive Change for Marine Life, which posted a couple of images on its Facebook page, asking if anyone had more information. Sources told staff there that the shark was hauled into a fishing boat off Nine Mile Beach this week, but this has yet to be confirmed.
“DPI [the NSW Department of Primary Industries] is not investigating this incident, as no illegal activity has occurred," a spokesman for Positive Change for Marine Life told the press. While classified as ‘near threatened’, tiger sharks are not an endangered species, and commercial fishing of them is still legal in certain areas off the coast of New South Wales and Queensland.
Someone has since come forward to claim the kill - a fisherman named Matthew who told local paper The Northern Star that it happened three weeks ago in the area described by the Facebook sources. He was reportedly trying to catch a hammerhead shark when the much larger tiger shark grabbed it and ate it right in front of him.
"I was fighting the hammerhead and he came up and swallowed it. You can't turn around and go no, don't touch, to something like that," he said, adding that this was a relatively small tiger shark. "I've dived with sharks bigger than that, it's only a little one. I’ve seen tiger sharks 24-feet-long (7 metres) off Tweed."
Seven metres might sound crazy, but the average size for a tiger shark is about 5 metres long and over 800 kg, and they can live for up to 50 years, so it’s entirely possible that individuals that large exist off the coast of New South Wales. Tiger sharks from the Persian Gulf and Oman Sea reportedly have a maximum size of 7.5 metres, which can put them in a weight range of over 3,000 kg.
Positive Change for Marine Life spokesman Karl Goodsell told Fairfax Media that while this was not an illegal catch, an alarming amount of sharks are caught around this area and if not regulated better, it could see several species threatened:
"Fishermen between northern NSW and Cape York take around 78,000 to 100,000 sharks a year, some within the Great Barrier Reef and some of the species taken include ... critically endangered scalloped hammerhead and the protected great white.
We don't see any point in pursuing the fisherman; it's not their fault for doing their jobs. The problem comes from the government who allow these fisheries to exist for protected and endangered species."
The news of the tiger shark’s capture has coincided with talks regarding the systematic culling of sharks in the area." At a community meeting on Monday night, almost 200 surfers voted for a partial cull of sharks following an unprecedented number of attacks and sightings," Rachel Olding reports for The Sydney Morning Herald.
Whatever happens, we hope scientists are involved in the decision-making process and their expertise is heard. The last thing we want is for any species of shark to become extinct just because it would be more convenient for us to have safer oceans to swim in.