Bull sharks hunting a fresh feed in the wake of ex-tropical cyclone Oswald are moving in on popular swimming spots along the Queensland and northern New South Wales coasts.
With silt-laden floodwaters flowing down rivers, schools of fish have moved in search of cleaner, nutrient-rich waters.
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Flood brings sharks close to shore
Northern New South Wales fishermen say "dozens and dozens" of sharks are being caught along the coast as they move close to shore for "an easy feed".
And the bull sharks have followed.
It’s no new phenomenon, but fishermen in the northern New South Wales coastal towns of Ballina and Byron Bay, including 18-year-old Henry Phillips, have reported catching dozens of bull sharks at Brunswick Heads and in the Richmond River in the past week.
Bull sharks have a unique ability to retain salt in their bodies and therefore survive in fresh water.
Mr Phillips caught an 85-centimetre bull shark off Brunswick Heads about 5.30pm on Wednesday.*
‘‘It was only about 30 metres off shore,’’ he said. ‘‘I saw people swimming in the same area yesterday.’’
His advice to locals and visitors alike: ‘‘Don’t go swimming’’.
Mr Phillip’s catch comes just weeks after a dusky whaler shark ventured close swimmers at Caloundra’s Bulcock Beach on the Sunshine Coast, and a bull shark was reportedly seen in knee-deep water at Coolum.
Avid Ballina fisherman Tristan Sloan said recreational anglers were inadvertently hauling in ‘‘dozens and dozens’’ of sharks following the floods.
‘‘Any time it floods it forces all the mullet and herring out to the river mouth and you get all the bull sharks, and a lot of tiger sharks as well, force all the fish up against the rock walls,’’ he said.
‘‘You tend to catch three or four a session at least and anything from 50 centimetres to one and a half and two metres long. You’re looking at sharks up to 80 and 90 kilograms in some cases, quite big sharks.’’
After the 2011 floods, Mr Sloan said he and his fishing companions pulled in 30 sharks in a fortnight.
Bull sharks do not necessarily target humans. They are opportunistic feeders.
However, in the past decade, bull sharks have been blamed for deaths in the Gold Coast canal system, and an attack which killed a teenage girl at North Stradbroke Island in 2006.
Wollongbar teenager Peter Edmonds lost his life in 2008 after he was bitten by what was believed to be a bull shark while body boarding at Lighthouse Beach off Ballina’s North Wall.
In the past week, golfers at the Riverlakes Golf Course in Logan, south of Brisbane, have reported seeing bull sharks in the water hazards washed up in the floods.
Again, it’s not unheard of.
Neighbouring golf club Carbrook has previously had sharks in its lake and has since been advertised as "the home of the bull shark".
Riverlakes operations manager Daniel Paynter has seen large movements in the water on the course.
‘‘I wouldn't be surprised if they're there,’’ Mr Paynter.
‘‘Once the floodwater recedes we can have a better look to confirm whether we actually have any new members,’’ he said.
Bull sharks give birth near river mouths, with the 50-centimetre pups heading upstream, where they typically live for up to four years until they venture into the ocean in search of larger prey.
The sharks are a “cosmopolitan” creature that can grow up to three metres long and are found in tropical and sub-tropical waterways around the world, especially Indonesia, Thailand, Fiji and Florida.
* CORRECTION: A previous version of this story incorrectly stated the shark was 1.25 metres long.