Shark safe measures a positive step for surfers

John John Florence in the water on finals day at the 2019 Margaret River Pro. Photo; WSL/Cestari.
John John Florence in the water on finals day at the 2019 Margaret River Pro. Photo; WSL/Cestari.

South West Shark Safe Group spokesperson Keith Halnan has praised shark mitigation measures at this year's Margaret River Pro surf competition, saying WA's only international sporting event was one of the best World Surf League (WSL) events for some years.

"The shark mitigation at the event was the best so far worldwide," Mr Halnan told the Mail this week.

"Deployment of a smart drumline system outside the competition area more than likely has seen the capture, and relocation of the shark that shut down the event last year."

Monitoring drones were used for the first time during the competition, while Fisheries WA placed an acoustic receiver in the water each day to detect nearby tagged sharks.

The event was also moved to early June in an attempt to avoid the region's annual salmon run, which brings feeding sharks closer to shore.

Mr Halnan said the international focus on the event would have reinforced the perception that the region is a high risk shark area, and that media coverage of shark sightings during the competition would further encourage that perception.

The disruption by a small shark should not have been the lead but a small footnote.

Keith Halnan

The women's semifinal heat was put on hold due to a shark sighting, which kept surfers out of the water for only a short period of time.

"I think highlighting 'chaos' about the shark [during the final day of competition] showed media concentrating on that, when the red hot surfing and overall success of the event should have been the headline.

"The issue of sharks of course will only increase this and other events with negative perception going worldwide."

Surfers were full of praise for the safety measures, but Mr Halnan warned that the risk remained after the event site closed and increased patrols ceased.

"Just a shout out to the water patrol, they are always super super aware of everything that's happening and helping us compete - without them we wouldn't be safe, so thanks to those guys," Pro women's runner up Tatiana Weston-Webb said, while men's winner John John Florence also thanked the patrol crew for keeping surfers safe.

"The visiting pros now know they will be protected at the event, but lingering doubts about areas outside the competition zone will continue," said Mr Halnan, noting a large shark was spotted at Gnarabup the day before the event began.

"We need to increase deployment of the smart drumline program and fully implement the New South Wales program of cutting the bait for odour release.

"A great white shark swam through the Big Rock surf spot a few months back without being captured on the drumlines deployed.

"Without proper baits trialed and presented properly the program will not reach its full potential of saving lives and preventing an attack."