26 Dec 2022

Rips, waves, a greater risk to swimmers than sharks, surf life savers say

7:14 pm on 26 December 2022
No caption

Surf Living Saving New Zealand chief executive Paul Dalton says the most dangerous situations for swimmers continue to come from rips, tides, waves, and holes. Photo: Supplied / Surf Lifesaving NZ

Shark numbers may be increasing but Surf Living Saving New Zealand says the biggest risk is still the water itself, not the animals that live in it.

Surf Living Saving New Zealand chief executive Paul Dalton said as the organisation patrolled small patches of beach it was hard for them to understand wider shark patterns, but there was a general acceptance shark numbers were growing.

However, Dalton said in reality the risk from sharks was very low, especially when compared to other beach hazards.

"The frequency [of shark attacks] is very, very rare compared to all the other hazards which are on the beach daily. If we are looking at priorities to prevent fatalities, the priority would have to be preventing people getting into trouble in the water with all the normal hazards, rather than worrying too much about sharks."

The most dangerous situations for swimmers continue to come from rips, tides, waves, and holes.

A coroner's report into the death of Kaelah Marlow made several recommendations to help surf live savers deal with sharks, including taller towers, drone use, and statutory powers to close beaches.

Surf Living Saving New Zealand said taller towers made sense, but they would be used primarily for watching swimmers, not looking for sharks.

"The priority is really spotting the people more than the sharks. If we can spot the sharks that's a bonus."

Surf Life Saving was considering the recommendations and talking with Australian colleagues in New South Wales, who had greater experience with sharks, Dalton said.

The recommendation to use drones to look for sharks would come with extra cost, processes, and challenges. As for statutory powers, most people listened when there was a shark in the water, he said.

"If there is a shark in the water most people have a pretty good sense of self preservation to adopt the advice. It is a little more difficult when it comes to big rips or big seas, some people react quite badly to being given advice."

People who did not follow the advice of surf life savers were probably going to continue to ignore them even if they held statutory powers, Dalton said.

"We don't want to put our life guards into situations of conflict. People are challenging enough to manage without feeling that they are being told what to do and that they have to obey."

If a shark is spotted, swimmers are advised to get out of the water and listen to the advice of the surf life savers.

  • Bay of Plenty locals worry over great white sharks
  • Great White sharks tracked after fatal attack at BOP beach
  • Coroner calls for monitoring of great white sharks following fatal attack
  • Great white sharks heading to holiday hotspot as record water heatwave continues
  • Critter of the Week: Blue shark