Doesn’t this look peaceful? Surfers on Lighthouse Beach, Ballina, contemplate the breaks.
But appearances can be deceptive. Take a look at the next photo – what is the difference between it and the very top one?
That speck in the middle of the sky is a shark-spotting helicopter. We’ve had few shark attacks and, sadly, a couple of deaths lately, and the government is paying for the service. A group of Cape Town shark-spotters, who operate a successful service on the surfing beaches there, were even crowd-funded to come to Australia in the hope that we could benefit from their advice.
That helicopter had been buzzing along the beach for a while and finally sounded a siren – an alarm to the surfers, who had all been out the back of the break, that there was a shark near them. Most got out. The top photo is them wondering whether to go in again.
Let’s get this in perspective. It is certainly tragic when a surfer or diver gets taken, but most of them seem to realise that they are going into the sharks’ domain, that there are almost always sharks near them out there, and that it is statistically very unlikely that a person will be taken. Still, it captures our imagination because of the horror popularly attached to sharks (I blame in part the movie, Jaws).
How many sharks do we kill in a year worldwide? About 100 million. For what? Fish and chips, sharkfin soup and sport.
How many people in Australia died from shark attack in 2015? Two.
Taronga Zoo says:
The figures for Australian shark bite injuries and fatalities remain very small in comparison to fatalities and injuries occurring while undertaking other recreational water activities at the 11,900 (approx) beaches around Australia’s 35,000+km coastline.
The Royal Life Saving Society National Drowning Report 2014 notes an average of 292 deaths per year for people drowning over the last 10 years in Australia. During the period 2004- 2014 the Surf Life Saving National Coastal Safety Report 2014 states that 78 rock fishermen drowned over the last 10 years (an average of 7.8 per year). There were 176 diving related deaths in Australia 2002-2009 – an average of 23 per year (Provisional Report on Diving Related Fatalities in Australian Waters 2002-2009). The average fatalities from shark attacks over the last 50 years is just under one per year (0.9).
That’s not even counting the thousands of deaths from cancer, heart disease, stroke, motor vehicle accidents, alcohol and smoking. News.com.au published ‘The weird ways Australians die‘ in 2013, providing further perspective. It’s too long to quote here, but I recommend it. You’ll never worry about sharks again (I hope).
The next day the latest east coast low (a weather event not called a cyclone as it does not originate in the tropics, but it really is one) descended upon us. Although there were evacuations in North Lismore (it’s built on a floodplain), it was pretty run of the mill, except for not being in the summer wet season. We do get mid-year east coast lows as well, though. This website gives a list of Lismore’s floods, and there’s been plenty of them. Even Queensland was grateful that it was not hit as badly as previously.
At home we had 174 mL in 48 hours – it’s been worse. The usual roads were cut off and nobody died, although plenty tried to, by driving their cars on roads with water over them (how do you know there’s not a great hole under there, or that part of the bridge you’re on hasn’t washed away?). Water is heavier than you think, especially when it’s flowing.
Poor Tasmania seems to have been hit the hardest – ironic after the severe drought it’s had for a few years. The dams had even been too low for hydroelectricity to be produced in the needed amounts – not a problem now. Many of the places I walked around in Launceston in March are under water – photos here.
And today, in mid-winter, it’s going to be 27 degrees C here – weird or what?