Stab Magazine | What The Iluka Attack Looked Like From The Water

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What The Iluka Attack Looked Like From The Water

 “He was skimming across the water sort of like you’d throw a rock.”

news // Sep 16, 2017
Words by stab
Reading Time: 4 minutes

“It was pumping. It was as good as it could possibly get for the beachies. It was fucking perfect,” recalls Elijah ‘Hobbit’ Colbey of the morning his mate Abe McGrath was hit by a 3.5 meter juvenile Great White Shark. 

McGrath, 35, was struck from below “like a car” by the shark moments after paddling out at Iluka on the NSW north coast. The impact snapped his board in two, left his hip bruised, and sent him skimming across the water “like you’d throw a rock—in the air a bit, but he did one or two bounces before he hit the water,” recalls Eli. Bar a laceration from the shark’s tooth on his hip, McGrath escaped injury. 

“Abe and I went out around six down the beach from the (break)wall a bit. A few barrels spat, then we saw this real epic one from the back that spat and I was like, oh fuck,” recalls Eli.

“I paddled down a bit further than him. He was making his way down, probably 100 meters away from where I was when I looked to my left, looked to my right, then next minute all this splashing was going on and he was skimming across the water,” he says. 

Alone in the water with no board and a predator stalking him from below, Abe began swearing at the shark and yelling for help from Eli. 

“I was like, What the fuck?” recalls Eli. “I start paddling toward him and next minute he’s like, ‘fuck off, fuck off,’ having a go at the shark, and I was like oh my god, this is skitsy, this is a shark, holy shit.” 

“He was yelling out, hobbit, hobbit, fuck, hobbit. I was paddling as fast as I could…His board was broken*, he saw his blood in the water and then he saw the shark coming back for him again after the first strike. Luckily there was a bit of snapped board between him and the shark and it went for the board again.”

“There was a bit of blood in the water, and it had a little taste of flesh but a lot of taste of surfboard so maybe it wasn’t sure what it had to hit,” he says. 

The night before Eli and Abe learned of a dead whale at Angourie, around ten kilometres from Iluka. But the sublime conditions that morning combined with the distance between them and the dead whale led them to surf. 

“We didn’t really think about it. As soon as you see surf pumping, all your thinking of is putting your wetsuit on and getting the wax on your board and getting out there,” he says. 

Whale calves and carcasses are an ideal food source for Great White and Tiger Sharks. Every autumn “flocks” of Whites and Tigers follow humpback whales as they migrate north along Australia’s east coast to give birth. The sharks then rejoin the route as the whales head south through the temperate water with the calves in tow. 

“When you have those whales moving up the coast, what you have are flocks—not one or two—there are flocks of white pointers underneath them. They’re only ten, 12, 15 foot long. They are babies, mate, they’ve still got their nappies on. That’s why they’re following the whales and the schools of fish moving up,” Cliff Corbett, a commercial fisherman of 50 years experience in waters off Australia’s east, west and southern coastlines and an avid surfer from nearby Ballina, told Stab.

2017 has a been record year for whale migration, with some observations indicating up to 30,000 animals are involved. Between one and two percent of whales die during migration and are subsequently devoured by sharks and other marine life. 

Eli says the authorities might want to look into a way of keeping the public abreast of the location of whale carcasses near popular beaches. As it is, ocean goers rely on an imperfect word-of-mouth system along with a random collection of media outlets. 

While whale numbers have steadily increased in recent years due to environmental protection, it is assumed the same has occurred in the Great White shark population, which has was elevated to the protected list 23 years ago outlawing further fishing of the species. 

Just how much the shark population has grown remains a mystery though the subject is the focus of a hotly awaited study by the CSIRO. The results will provide the first ever scientific data on shark numbers in Australia. Previously, meshing [shark net] records for New South Wales and Queensland, game fishing records from New South Wales and South Australia, and anecdotal sighting frequencies by tourism operators and divers in South Australia—all of which reported declining catches and sightings—were considered enough to put whites on the protected list). 

Iluka is also situated next to the mouth of the Clarence River, a well-known fishing port for prawn trawlers, which are known to be followed to shore by various shark species from the deep.

https://www.youtube.com/embed/YuVhrKoXZgw

Back on shore, once Eli and Abe realised his injuries weren’t life threatening, the friends hugged and shared a moment. 

“We got to the beach and realised he wasn’t bleeding to death and were like, Fuck, that was so lucky. It smashed the board more than it smashed him. It could have been so much worse, he could have bled out on the beach,” says Eli. 

Despite the trauma, as Eli stared out to sea and saw perfect pits spitting up and down the beach, he felt an animal of his own beginning to stir – his inner tube-pig. 

“We were pretty off it not being able to surf much…I was real off it but what do you do. You’d look like a fucken idiot if you went back out,” he laughs.

 

 

Hearing of the incident, Julian Wilson and JS generously offered to replace his mangled Air 17. After picking it up in Byron, Abe passed on his gratitude through a friend: “Abe just wanted to say thanks to Julian for wanting to take care of him. Said he’d mostly been laying low at home so far this week recovering and staying away from the media… Apparently some of the mainstream outlets have been hassling him and even parked up outside his house, so he’s trying to stay under the radar.”

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