Types of Sharks in Australia

There are many different types of sharks in Australia.

Australian sharks are at least as infamous as the sharks in the rest of the world. These animals are particularly frightening for the human minds because unlike crocodiles that kill their prey before eating it, a shark will eat you alive. Scary stories and horror movies haven’t helped the paranoia amongst humans, but statistically shark attacks are so rare that they always make international news headlines.

Great White Shark, Swimming, South Australia
Types of Sharks in Australia. Poster by AllPosters.

Australian Shark Attacks
Sharks have killed only 60 people in Australia during the past 50 years, but per each killed person we have killed about 23,000 tonnes of sharks and rays! Australian sharks are now protected but shark populations are decreasing everywhere in the world and we know very little about the consequences because sharks are in the top of the ocean ecosystems’ food chain. In fact we know so little about some most important species of sharks that we cannot even keep them alive in captivity.

Great White Shark, Carcharodon carcharias, South Australia
Types of Sharks in Australia. Poster by AllPosters.

What Do Sharks Eat and Why Do Shark Attacks Occur?
It is not very well known why sharks attack us. With millions on people swimming in Australian waters every day and only about one fatal shark attack per year, we are surely not the favourite food of sharks. Sharks are known to like seal meat and some scientists believe that fatal shark attacks happen when they mistake us for seals. Others argue that sharks would have brains big enough to distinguish us from seals and suppose it may be a combination of reasons which varies from case to case. Sometimes they may be protecting their territory, other times they may be curious and check us out as a possible snack. They may also get motivated by our reaction which is very similar to this of seals, and decide to try how we taste. Would they really like our meat, fatal shark attacks on humans would be much more frequent.

Great White Shark, Carcharodon carcharias, South Australia
Types of Sharks in Australia. Poster by AllPosters.

Types of Sharks in Australia - Bull Shark Attacks
There are hundreds of species of sharks in the world, but only three species of Australian sharks are life threatening to us humans: Bull Shark, Tiger Shark, and White Pointer. Bull Sharks (Carcharhinus leucas) are found in Australian northern warmer waters, and Bull Shark attacks have caused many fatalities. They are one of the more aggressive of Australian sharks, often protecting their territory when they attack, and the reason why they have caused so many fatal shark attacks is that they can tolerate fresh water and come very close to the coast to shallow waters and even enter river mouths.

Bull Shark, Carcharhinus leucas
Types of Sharks in Australia. Poster by AllPosters.

Shark Attack Stories - Tiger Shark Attacks
Tiger Shark (Galeocerdo cuvier), named for its stripes similar to a tiger pattern, is one of the largest of Australian sharks and it is found both in tropical and temperate waters. Like Bull Shark, it is an aggressive shark and it comes close to the coast to shallow waters. Tiger Shark is responsible for a large amount of human fatalities.

I always remember the memorial sign in the port of Townsville. It's for Linda and Murphy who were taken by a tiger shark in July 1983 off the coast of Townsville. They were working out on the Great Barrier Reef when their trawler sank. Together with a third worker, Ray, they made a raft of some pieces of foam and started floating towards Lodestone reef where other trawlers were working. They were about 5km from the reef the following day when a Tiger Shark attacked. Murphy was taken by the leg and pulled under the water. When he came to the surface his leg was broken off. Once there’s blood in the water, a shark won't leave, so Murphy said to Linda and Ray: “It looks like that’s it – you take off because he’ll be back for the rest of me”. He swam towards the shark and was instantly taken. Meanwhile, Linda and Ray were swimming away from the shark as quick as they could, and continued floating on the raft when hours later the shark was back. It grabbed Linda with no warning and took off for hours again. Ray started desperately paddling on his piece of foam and just before he reached the reef the shark was back to get him too. Other trailers on the reef saw him battling and Ray was rescued in the last minute. There have since been numerous tiger shark attacks in Australia, the latest being Zac Young who was killed by a three metre tiger shark in the waters off Coffs Harbour on 30. November 2013 (as of January 2014).

Tiger Shark, Galeocerdo cuvier, Australia
Types of Sharks in Australia. Poster by AllPosters.

Shark Attack Stories - Great White Shark Attacks
White Pointer (Carcharodon carcharias), called the Great White Shark in America and Blue Pointer in South Africa, is the most infamous of Australian sharks. It is the largest of predatory sharks in the world, and as opposed to the Tiger Shark and Bull Shark, it is found in colder waters around southern coasts of Australia. Despite having the reputation of “killing machine” (thanks to the Steven Spielberg's movie “Jaws” more than any attacks), the White Pointer does not target humans as a prey. While it is responsible for many human fatalities, most often it seems to approach us to test-bite us, just as it likes to test-bite other unfamiliar objects, being a curious animal. Once there is blood in the water, things may change, but it is a known fact in any case that we are not suitable food for the White Pointer whose digestion is too slow for the ratio of bone to meat we have.

Great White Shark, Carcharodon carcharias, South Australia
Types of Sharks in Australia. Poster by AllPosters.

Great White Shark Attacks
Probably the most famous of Great White shark attacks in Australia is that of Rodney Fox. He was attacked by a White Pointer in 1963 when he was 23 years old during a spearfishing competition in South Australia. During the first attack his body was bitten open leaving a scar that starts from the shoulder and goes all the way across his back and down to the stomach. After a battle where Fox was thrown up and down in the water, and even wrapped his arms around the attacker to avoid its jaws, the shark finally went to a second attack – to Fox’s marker buoy. Thanks to the contest being under close observation, a boat was quickly sent out and Fox was rescued. Four hundred stiches and five months later Fox was back in the water. He started studying Great White Sharks and became world famous as a shark victim who devoted his life to protect the species.

Rodney Fox also wrote a book, Shark Man, and was involved in filming many shark documentaries and films, including the famous "Jaws". If you haven't seen the Jaws, watch it - it is one of the world's classic must-sees!


Other Types of Sharks in Australia
Other Australian sharks are not considered dangerous. Whale Shark (Rhincodon Typus), the largest fish in the world is a filter feeder and eats plankton. You can go swimming with Whale Sharks in Ningaloo Reef in Western Australia. Other, smaller Australian sharks include Oceanic Whitetip Carcharhinus longimanus), Blacktip (Carcharhinus melanopterus), Silvertip (Carcharhinus albimarginatus), Grey Reef Shark (Carcharhinus amblyrhynchos), Lemon Shark (Negaprion acutidens), Mako (Isurus oxyrinchus), Reef Whitetip (Triaenodon obesus), Leopard Shark (Stegostoma fasciatum), Scalloped Hammerhead (Sphyrna lewini) and Smooth Hammerhead (Sphyrna zygaena). Only one of these sharks - the Oceanic Whitetip - has very rarely attacked humans. All the other Australian sharks are harmless.


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