Stab Magazine | Newcastle beaches closed for a week, because sharks
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Newcastle beaches closed for a week, because sharks

Words by Elliot Struck Newcastle, on Australia’s east coast, is playing Amity Island right now. There’s a new gang in town, and the boss is a five-metre great white shark. Newy isn’t the first place you think of when talking sharks in Oz. WA commands the unwanted spotlight in this game. But the Steel City’s […]

news // Mar 8, 2016
Words by stab
Reading Time: 4 minutes

Words by Elliot Struck

Newcastle, on Australia’s east coast, is playing Amity Island right now. There’s a new gang in town, and the boss is a five-metre great white shark.

Newy isn’t the first place you think of when talking sharks in Oz. WA commands the unwanted spotlight in this game. But the Steel City’s worst kept secret is a huge nursery for great white sharks located north of the harbour at a beach called Stockton. Though, despite this, the fact remains that you have more chance of wearing one of Matt Hoy’s fins in the leg than the dorsal kind.

However, Newcastle beaches stretching from Stockton to Redhead have been shut for the past six days straight. This has never happened before – not even close. And it’s all thanks to an abruptly heightened amount of shark activity in the area… which is so-far unexplained, though there are theories, and we’ll get to that shortly.

No one has been attacked yet. But, dolphins in the area haven’t been so lucky. Just yesterday afternoon, a helicopter captured images of what’s believed to be a 3.5m tiger shark, tearing chunks out of a dolphin – 50m from shore. The tiger picked the dolphin out of a pack. The rest of the dolphins circled until they realised it was over, at which point, rather than swooping in violently, the tiger waited for the dolphin to die before finishing its feeding.

But let’s wind it back a minute. This all started last Saturday when the five-metre great white was first spotted hard at lurk behind Merewether baths at 11:30am. “I was at home and I called Craig (Anderson) and (pal) Oli to see if they wanted to surf,” says one of Merewether’s best, Ryan Callinan. “They were like, ‘um, we can’t, apparently there’s a huge shark out there.’ I drove up to have a look and the ski was out patrolling, all the beaches were closed. And it was still closed the next day.”

Almost immediately following the initial sighting, a second shark was spotted 50m from surfers off Merewether, causing suggestions that a second animal was in the vicinity (perhaps a junior cruising with ma). Another sighting on monday between Stockton and Nobbys caused rolling closures. And there’s been sightings every day since. The number of sharks cruising the strip is now estimated to be upwards of four.

“I came down to the South Coast for some last minute Cluster filming (Kai Neville’s new film) so I haven’t been in the mix,” continues Ryan. “But I picked up the Ulludulla paper down here and it was on the front page. I spoke to my girlfriend last night and she said it’s just been the most picture-perfect days down there but hardly anyone will go in the water. It’s really weird for Newcastle – you hear the shark alarm maybe once every two years but even then, you don’t see it.”

Despite warnings, people have been swimming – and surfing. “I just got sent in by the lifeguard on a ski,” the eternally-cheerful Jesse Adam told Stab this morning. “They said it was out behind the (Merewether) baths. Oh! My dad just did the two biggest backside reo’s! He’s out there on his own, what a psycho. I was ok with two other guys, but… oh man, mum’s freaking.”

Meanwhile, places like Redhead (pictured) have been doing this. Shark sign in the foreground, playground left in the background.

Newcastle beaches like Redhead (pictured) have been doing this. Shark sign in the foreground, playground left in the background. (@benjaminjones1)

Jesse’s post-surf rapid-fire perfectly captures the current feels around town. Newcastle’s a surf town at its core and dried gills are insufferable for most. But with shark activity comes a real condition for this century: Shark anxiety. And, that old favourite, shark hysteria! “It’s like a gang’s moved into town and everyone’s freaked,” says Jesse. “People are wigging, the whole shark debate has been raging. Everyone knows everything about it! Oh please, tell me everything you know about sharks! Unless you’re a scientist, you don’t know anything certain. Kill it or don’t kill it? You don’t know what’s best. I’d have to look into so much science behind it before I passed any kind of judgement on that.”

While the first sighting was last Saturday, these bizarre new circumstances were triggered by… something. Though it isn’t being reported officially, the unofficial reason behind this new wave of activity is well-discussed among locals, and goes like this: A whale got caught in the shark nets behind a Newcastle beach, and was there for a stretch before any local authorities realised. But the sharks sniffed it out real quick, and by the time the shredded carcass was removed, numerous sharks had been feasting on it for days. The food resource was removed quietly by authorities, but the unwanted visitors it’d attracted didn’t immediately depart.

And so, what now? “They’re so tight lipped about it all,” says Jesse of authorities. “They have to not see a single shark for two days before they can re-open the beach. Even if we don’t see one today, they can’t open til sunday. But they keep seeing it, so… I mean, there’s always sharks out there, they just never really come in, so if you’ve got choppers and two skis patrolling around the clock then of course they’re going to keep seeing things. They’ll have to keep the beaches closed for the rest of the year!”

But hey, it ain’t all bad! “I mean, it was getting so fucking crowded down here,” says Jesse. “At least it’s culled the crowd.”

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