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Fatal shark attack off Australia’s Emerald Beach

Protruding back and dorsal fin above water of a young great white shark, Carcharodon carcharias,

The second fatal shark attack on the NSW coast this year instills fear amongst surfers in the region.

A surfer in his 30s had his right arm severed completely by a huge Great White shark at 11AM local time today whilst catching the waves at Shelly Beach, near Coffs Harbour.

Ambulance inspector Chris Wilson said that “a number of local surfers and bystanders came to the aid of this man, they were incredibly brave in a very challenging situation”.

Four crews, including an emergency Helicopter with an emergency doctor and paramedics were dispatched to the scene.

Fatal shark attack 2021 in Australia.  Number of shark attacks in 2021.  The second fatal shark attack this year on the NSW coast.
NSW ambulance helicopter responding to treat a man on the New South Wales South Coast

“The patient suffered a critical injury to his arm, but despite the best efforts of bystanders, paramedics and other emergency services, the patient couldn’t be revived”, said Mr Wilson.

The fatal attack was the second in the space of four months on the Australian coast, with the last victim, a 50-year old surfer, being attacked off Tuncurry Beach also on the northern New South Wales coast at 11.20AM on 18th May 2021.

NSW Police, Inspector Ben Atkinson announced that a number of beaches around the area are to be closed for the next 48 hours following the incident.

Shark attack Coffs Harbour 2021.
Kangaroo with Baby at the beautiful, unspoiled beach at Coffs Harbour, New South Wales, Australia close to where the attack took place

According to the Taronga Conservation Society, there were eight fatal shark attacks in Australian waters last year, with the The Australian Shark Attack File recording 1,068 attacks since 1791, with 237 of them being fatal.

Four species of sharks account for the vast majority of fatal attacks on humans, the bull shark, tiger shark, oceanic whitetip shark and the great white shark.

The increase in attacks linked to global warming

Scientists believe the increase in attacks is linked to global warming of the oceans, with warmer waters forcing the sharks to move northwards.

Oceanic heating, which reached a record in 2020, caused young great white sharks in California to move as far as 600km (373 miles) northwards off the coast of California since 2014, those waters were once too cold for the sharks. It is believed that global warming of the oceans is having a similar effect worldwide.

The Ocean’s vast ecosystems are being pushed to the limits by overfishing, warming and pollution. The biggest threat to the sharks are humans and you are still more likely to be killed by a flying champagne cork, accidental poisoning, or lightning than being attacked by a shark. The actual chances of a fatal attack in NSW is somewhere in the region of 1 in 4 million, with divers, who at the highest risk, facing a odds of an attack at somewhere around 1 in 16,000.

Scientists believe that disruption to the habitat of sharks will highlight how global warming is pushing marine animals toward the north to waters that were otherwise not suitable, with potentially unpredictable and damaging consequences.

Great white shark.  Shark attacks in NSW 2021.  Number of fatal shark attacks 2021.
Apex predators: A Great White shark in the deep blue

Kyle Van Houtan, a marine biologist and expert in shark feeding habits of the Monterey Bay Aquarium in California said that “white sharks aren’t just another species, they’re an apex predator and all eyes are on them in the ocean”.

“They need all of their component parts to survive and thrive and throwing extra factors in the equation, like warming and juvenile white sharks, is just exacerbating that plight

Dr George Burgess of Florida University, another expert on sharks said that ‘the one thing that’s affecting shark attacks more than anything else is human activity”. “As the population continues to rise, so does the number of people in the water for recreation. And as long as we have an increase in human hours in the water, we will have an increase in shark bites”.

Some experienced surfers in the region are trading in their boards, afraid to get back in the water after the latest fatal attack.

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