Great White Shark Attacks in Australia

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teeth and jaw bones of a great white shark

Between 1876 and 1999, there were 52 attacks by great whites in Australia. Of these 27 were fatal. In 1985 a woman was bitten in half and devoured at a public beach at Peake Bay in South Australia. In 1993, newlyweds John and Deborah Ford were scuba diving at a seal rock 600 kilometers north of Sydney. They were decompressing a few meters from the surface when Johan saw a five-meter (16-foot) great white shark heading straight for his wife. He pushed her out of the way only to be swallowed himself.

In Australia there had been a total of 904 unprovoked shark attacks as of 2016, with non-fatal and unprovoked attacks numbering 645 and fatal and unprovoked ones being 259. A good portion of these have been by great white sharks. There were six fatal great white shark attacks in Australia between December 2008 and September 2011. All but one were off the west coast. A 31-year-old man died in 2010 ago while surfing in Cowaramup Bay. In February 2011 a man diving for abalone was savaged off South Australia.

CSIRO, Australia's leading scientific research body, has identified two great white populations in Australia; an eastern population and a southern-western population. "The eastern Australasian population ranges along the entire eastern seaboard from the cold waters as far south as Macquarie Island into tropical waters of Papua New Guinea, and extends eastwards to include New Zealand and tropical islands such as New Caledonia," CSIRO says. "The southern-western population ranges from western Victoria to northwest Western Australia." CSIRO has sized the eastern population at 5460, but admitted there could be more than 12,802 great white cruising the waters. [Source: Raffaella Ciccarelli, Tara Blancato, Nine News, February 17, 2022]

Websites and Resources: Australian Shark Incident Database, Taronga Conservation Society Australia ; Shark Foundation ; International Shark Attack Files, Florida Museum of Natural History, University of Florida ; Tracking Sharks, which records all global shark attacks; Animal Diversity Web (ADW); National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA); Fishbase ; Encyclopedia of Life ; Smithsonian Oceans Portal

Great White Shark Attacks in Southern Australia

Movement tracks of white sharks (Carcharodon carcharias) in locations off eastern Australia. Numbers of white sharks tracked at each location are given in parenthesis. The righthand panel shows a scaled comparison of the approximate range of lengths of white sharks observed during this study. Source: “Assessing White Shark (Carcharodon carcharias) Behavior Along Coastal Beaches for Conservation-Focused Shark Mitigation” by Andrew P. Colefax, Brendan P. Kelaher, Daniel E. Pagendam and Paul A. Butcher, Sec. Marine Biology, April 28, 2020,

The Great Australian Bight — an area of coastline in southern Australia — is a known haunt of great white sharks. A sailboarder was taken there in May 1999. In 1998 a man was killed while diving for abalone. Australian Diver Henri Bource lost his leg to a great white shark but kept on diving with a special fin attached to his knee and a pair of floating crutches to help him get in and out of the surf. In 1975 a local swimmer bled to death at Cactus Beach after a great white bit off his leg.

In 1963, while competing in a spear-fishing contest off Alding Beach south of Adelaide, Rodney Fox was nearly bitten in half by a Great White Shark. His wet suit was the only thing that held him together and kept his guts inside his body. Rushed to the hospital he was saved with the help of 462 stitches. Recalling how got a massive scar on the left side of his body, Fox told National Geographic. "I looked down and saw that great conical head raising at me through the a cloud of my own blood, and that's when I knew I was in trouble...I can't blame the shark. I'd been in the water with Great White's for years, and they never bothered me as long as I stayed quiet while they were around. But that day I was spearing in a big competition. With lots of fish in the water, it must have been too much for the shark. I'm just lucky he only bit me and let go. If he'd bitten down and shaken me in the feeding technique, I wouldn't be here."┡

In December 2004,18-year-old Australian surfer Nick Peterson was ripped almost in two by great white shark near Adelaide. Witnesses described the sharks as being "as wide as the boat". In March 2005 a snorkeler was ripped in half by a six-meter shark believed to be a Great White off the Albrolhos Islands about 400 kilometers north of Perth and 60 kilometers west of the coastal town of Geraldton. The victim was a deck hand on a pleasure boat. According to the police report: “the 26-year-old man was bitten in half by the six-meter animal and death seemed to be instantaneous.”

In May 2008, an Australian swimmer survived a great white shark attack by poking the predator in the eyes as it dragged him through the water after badly mauling his left leg. Reuters reported: Jason Cull was swimming off a beach on Australia’s southwest coast when the four meter (12 feet) shark attacked. “Initially I thought it was a dolphin,” Cull told The Australian newspaper. “I just remember being dragged along backwards. I was trying to feel its gills but I found its eye and I stuck my finger in and that’s when it let go.” The shark tore two chunks from Cull’s left leg, ripping off half his calf and leaving him with deep lacerations to his knee and thigh. A local surf lifesaver heard Cull, 37, screaming and raced into the surf to rescue him.[Source: Reuters, May 12, 2008]

In October 2017, 15-year-old Sarah Williams survived an attack from 4½-meter (15-foot great white shark while kayaking in Adelaide. The shark upended her kayak, but her father and brother pulled her from the water before she could be seriously injured. Williams only sustained some scratches and bruises.

Examples of white shark (Carcharodon carcharias) tracks off some of the coastal beaches from the study. Plots 1 – 6 show common track behavior. Plot 7 shows the effect of a small school of fish and some seaweed rack, and plots 8 and 9 show the effect of large schools of fish on movement tracks. For each of the track plots, an image of the shark indicating direction is shown, along with the location, total length (TL) in m, mean speed (Sp) in m s−1, straightness index (St), and net velocity of shark vector (Ve) in m s−1. Source: “Assessing White Shark (Carcharodon carcharias) Behavior Along Coastal Beaches for Conservation-Focused Shark Mitigation” by Andrew P. Colefax, Brendan P. Kelaher, Daniel E. Pagendam and Paul A. Butcher, Sec. Marine Biology, April 28, 2020,

Great White Shark Attack Kills Man on Honeymoon While Wife Looks On

In September 2000, a New Zealand tourist was killed by a massive white pointer, 14 to 17 feet long, at Cactus Beach in South Australia near Adelaide. The 25-year-old man was taken 50-meters from shore, where he was surfing, while his wife looked on in horror. The couple was sin Australia on their honeymoon. Rescuers found his surfboard but found no sign of the man. The attack was the second at Cactus Beach in 2000.

Cameron Bayes, 25, was sitting on his surfboard waiting for a wave when he was attacked about 7.30am by a four-to-five-metre-long shark. Jeff Hunter, of Port Lincoln, who has surfed the beach for more than 25 years, was walking along the beach with his son when he saw the attack. "He was paddling, sitting just out the back of the break line," he said. [Source: Stephen Cauchi, the Age Company]

Hunter said he saw the shark quickly circle Bayes before knocking him into the water. He said Bayes appeared to recover and paddle a few meters back to shore but the shark attacked again and the surfer disappeared. "It looked like more than one shark, there was so much action going on," Mr Hunter said. "It was just a blur of shark and thrashing water... (then) we could see the thrashing going on under the water...It was just unbelievable. The shark was just totally going off... there was no hesitation. There was just no hesitation."

"It was a ferocious attack," Hunter said. "I saw the shark quickly circle the man before knocking him into the water. It took him in a circular motion." The shark released its victim but then took him under again about 60 yards offshore, said Mr Hunter. "It looked horrendous. There was blood and board everywhere. It was just a blur of shark and thrashing water." The shark then surfaced and appeared to spit out a piece of surfboard. Hunter said he considered donning his wetsuit and paddling out on his own board to help, but had no time. "It was over in five to six minutes," he said. Parts of the surfboard were later recovered on the beach, which was immediately closed.

Bayes' distressed wife, Tina was taken to a local hospital and treated for shock. She was at the camping ground and did not see the attack. Hunter said the shark's "big white belly" gave away its identity as a white pointer. "I have been surfing here for 25 years. I surfed at that very spot 20 times in the last week," he said. "It's just the best place to surf." The beach is about 100 kilometers from Ceduna, near the start of the Nullarbor Plain, and about 1000 kilometers north-west of Adelaide. Its reputation for the "perfect wave" has attracted surfers from all over the world.

Gates said Bayes was the only surfer in the water at the time and there were only a small number of people at the beach. The day before, dozens of surfers had hit the waves, he said. The only other white-pointer incident at the beach he could remember was a non-fatal attack in 1977. Bronze whalers had also been spotted, but they were generally harmless, Mr Gates said. "They're quite common," he said. "They're here all the time but they're not a problem."

The day after the New Zealand surfer was killed, another surfer — a 17-year-old boy — went missing, and was believed to have been killed by great white shark, off a South Australia beach, 120 miles from where the New Zealander was killed. Several witnesses were in the water off Black Point today when the boarder, believed to be local, was grabbed about 50 meters from the shore. A full-scale search was mounted with the help of local boats and emergency service volunteers. The teenager's surfboard was recovered but hours after the attack his body had not been found. Police were unable to confirm the type of shark responsible but it appeared likely that it was similar to the one which yesterday killed Bayes off Cactus Beach. [Source: Frank Thorne, Associated Newspapers]

Two Great White Sharks Rip Apart Young Australian Surfer

In December 2004,18-year-old Australian surfer Nick Peterson was ripped almost in two by great white sharks near Adelaide, South Australia. Witnesses described the sharks as being "as wide as the boat". A rescue team spokesman said: “He fell off the surfboard and the shark appeared and took him. It tore him apart...apparently it tore him in half and the other shark came in and took the rest.” Asked if there’s any chance the victim survived. He said “None whatsoever.”

Ian Sample wrote in The Guardian: A rare attack by two great white sharks claimed the life of a man off the coast of Adelaide. The 18-year-old was being towed on a surfboard by a speedboat about 300 meters (1,000 foot) offshore when the sharks attacked him. Three friends in the boat told police the first shark had grabbed the man by the arm and dragged him into the water. The second shark then apparently joined the attack. Police later closed an area of West Beach, seven miles from central Adelaide, and launched a search for the body. His friends were apparently being treated for shock.[Source: Ian Sample, The Guardian, December 17, 2004]

Michal Jones, who keeps a global log of shark attacks at the Florida Museum of Natural History, said the latest attack was extremely rare. "I don't know of any confirmed cases of these sharks attacking in twos. Great whites are usually solitary hunters," she said. "It's unlikely the two sharks were hunting together, but if there's another shark in the area when an attack takes place, it might well come in after the first strike to try and take advantage."

Scallop Diver Killed by Shark as He's Being Pulled Into a Boat

In April 2002, scallop diver was killed when a shark dragged him from his friend’s arms as he was being pulled into a boat. The 23-year-old professional diver was attacked as he was working off Smoky Bay in the Great Australian Bight. His companion escaped injury but was taken to hospital for shock. [Source: Sam Lienert. The Herald Sun, April 30, 2002]

Sam Lienert wrote in The Herald Sun “The two men were diving for scallops off the small South Australian fishing port when the attack happened. An ambulance driver said he believed the victim was from Port Lincoln and he had been diving off a boat with another man. He said, “I understand he came to the surface, there was a cry for help. But as the other person tried to get him on board the shark grabbed him and pulled him underneath.” Residents said there had been two boats with scallop divers working in the area, with two divers on each.

South Australia Ambulance spokesman Lee Francis said the friend tried to pull the victim onto the boat but the shark pulled the man back into the water. ’Smoky Bay is known as a haunt of the great white shark. However, officials could not confirm what kind of shark was involved in the attack.

Abalone Diver Survives Being Swallowed Headfirst by Great White

In January 2007, an abalone diver survived being partly swallowed head first by a great white shark off cape Howe, about 400 kilometers south of Sydney, Australia. The diver, 41-year-old Eric Nerhus, was grabbed by a shark estimated to be about three meters long. It swallowed his head and his face mask, breaking his nose, then let go and came back for second bite. A fellow diver who witnessed the attack said, “The brunt of the attack was taken by lead weight-vest. It’s all over your torso. The bite left deep lacerations on his side but Nerhus managed to wrestle free and poke the shark in the eye. A rescuer who who helped bring Nerhus to the hospital told reporters, “When he came to us he was conscious and alert but had a broken nose and lacerations to both sides of torso and chest — bite marks all the way around.” Nerhus’s 25-year-old son help pull him from the water.

Reuters reported: Nerhus told fellow divers he didn’t see the shark coming as the water was so dirty that visibility was severely limited. “It was black. He didn’t see it coming, but he felt the bite and then started getting shaken, and that’s when he knew he was in the mouth of the shark,” said local diver Michael Mashado. The shark bit Nerhus around the head first, crushing his face mask and breaking his nose, fellow diver and friend Dennis Luobikis told Reuters. “He was actually bitten by the head...the shark swallowed his head,” said Luobikis, adding a second bite by the shark saw it clench its jaw around Nerhus’ torso. “The brunt of the bite was taken by his lead-weight vest. Its all over your torso. Eric said to me at the wharf that his weight vest saved him,” he said. [Source: Michael Perry, Reuters Life!, January 23, 2007]

Abalone divers spend sometimes 6 to 8 hours underwater and use lead weight vests, not lead belts, to stay down. The vests spread the lead weight across the body, minimising back strain. Nerhus fought frantically to free himself from the shark’s jaws and was eventually pulled back aboard his boat by his son. “He pushed his abalone chisel into its head while it was biting and it let him go and swam away,” said Luobikis. Luobikis said it was a miracle his friend had lived. “Eric is a tough boy, he’s super fit. But I would say that would test anyone’s resolve, being a fish lunch,” he said.

Great White Shark Attacks in Australia in the Mid 2010s

There were several shark attacks off Australia's beaches in the mid 2010s, most of them by great white sharks. Between September 2011 and July 2012, five people were killed off Western Australia's beaches. In November 2013 a man was killed at Campbell's Beach, New South Wales and another man was killed in Gracetown, West Australia. In 2014, a woman was killed at Tathra Beach, New South Wales in April and a man was killed off Goldsmith Beach, South Australia in February.

In September 2014, Paul Wilcox, a 50-year-old Briton, was killed by a great white shark. near Clarkes Beach at Byron Bay, the most easterly point on the Australian mainland, in New South Wales Lifeguard Scott McCartney: "People are scared at how close to shore the attack took place" . The BBC reported: Wilcox sustained severe injuries on his right leg. “A swimmer brought him in to the beach but he was pronounced dead. Beaches in the area have been closed for 24 hours and people have been warned to stay out of the water. "At 10:45 police and paramedics were called to Main Beach after reports of a shark attack," New South Wales police said in a statement. "He was in the water when he was bitten. He was seen floating in shallow water, close to the shore line, and dragged onto the beach. An ambulance was called and he was pronounced dead a short time later," the statement said. [Source: BBC, September 9, 2014]

“Police said Mr Wilcox's wife was watching from the shore, ABC reported. Witness Mark Hickey said he tried to help. "I saw what looked like seaweed but it was blood in the water," he said. "I didn't know it was a person but when I realised, I ran out and waded to the bank and grabbed him and did CPR but it was too late." He told local media he saw a "six or seven foot" shark in the water. Rescue organisation Surf Lifesaving Australia said the beach was not supervised at the time of the attack as it had occurred a week before seasonal duties.

Pro Surfer Loses Three-Quarters of Thigh in Attack in Southern New South Wales

In March 2016, 22-year-old professional surfer Brett Connellan was attacked by a shark off a beach near Kiama on the south coast of New South Wales. He survived but was severly injured. The Guardian reported: The man was surfing with friends when the shark attacked, ripping into his upper left thigh and goring his hand at Bombo beach at 7:00pm. His friend, Joel Trist, swam to his aid and managed to get him to shore on the back of his board. Trist said he was about 50 meters down the beach from his friend when he realised his friend was in trouble. “The first thing I saw was Brett getting thrashed around in the water and a terrible scream,” he told reporters on Thursday. “Acting on instinct, I just paddled as hard as I could towards him and even lost sight of him at one stage.” [Source: Agencies, The Guardian, March 31, 2016]

“Trist then pulled his friend on to his board before heading to shore. “I just said to him, ‘what’s it like?’ and he said ‘it’s not good’ and at that point I knew something was horribly wrong.” Ambulance New South Wales district officer Inspector Terry Morrow said: “[Connellan] had lost a large proportion of his left thigh, and the quad muscle was torn away right down to the bone.” Morrow said beachgoers saved Connellan’s life by applying a tourniquet to his upper thigh. “He could’ve bled to death before we arrived on scene. He was very lucky the members of the public were there and acted as they did. They saved his life, to tell you the truth.”

“Connellan underwent surgery at Sydney’s St George hospital and remains in a critical but stable condition. He told emergency services he didn’t see the shark when it attacked him. A paramedic told Fairfax Media the surfer was “missing three-quarters of his thigh”. Shark expert Michael Brown from Surf Watch Australia has judged the shark to be either a great white or bronze whaler.“If we look at the horrific injury, it’s probably fairly obvious it’s a great white or a bronze whaler,” he told the Seven Network.

Great white sharks have been responsible for a number of attacks along the New South Wales coast in the mid 2010s. Connellan was surfing in the southern end of Bombo beach at dusk, which Brown said was the time sharks were most active and hunting. “Especially sharks like great whites. They have a greater ability to be able to see in low light,” he said. At least 14 shark attacks were recorded in New South Wales in 2015, nine of them along a 70 kilometers stretch of coast in northern New South Wales, from Evans Head to Byron Bay.

After Great White Attack Australian Surfer Swims Ashore, Walks 300 Meters with Big Chunks of His Body Missing

In December 2020, a 29-year-old surfer who was mauled by a great white shark in D’Estrees Bay, on Kangaroo Island, a fairly remote area in South Australia. After the attack he managed to swim ashore and walk nearly 300 meters (1,000 feet) to seek help — a “remarkable” feat, according to a paramedics who treated him. [Source: Anna Schaverien, New York Times, December 8, 2020]

The New York Times reported: “The shark took chunks out of the surfer’s back and thigh, as well as his surfboard, leaving the man with “serious” injuries, said Michael Rushby, a paramedic based on Kangaroo Island who treated the man before he was taken to a hospital. The surfer was able to paddle ashore still holding his board and walked about 1,000 feet along the beach to a parking lot, where he finally found help from another surfer. They drove toward a nearby hospital and ended up meeting the ambulance on the way.

“The stars aligned for this gentleman,” Rushby said in an interview with 9News Adelaide, who identified the surfer as Dion Lynch. “He had good bystanders; he had an off-duty paramedic on the scene. He had a full crew of air ambulance officers.” Speaking to a South Australian newspaper, The Advertiser, Rushby added that Lynch was “very brave,” noting that with the extent of his injuries, being able to walk away from the attack was “remarkable.” Lynch was coherent throughout, Rushby said, and maintained conversations with him and the other paramedics. After receiving medical treatment at a hospital on the island, Lynch was then airlifted to Flinders Medical Centre in Adelaide, on the mainland.

Recovering from emergency surgery in his hospital bed, Lynch wrote a statement thanking emergency medical workers and saying that he felt “incredibly lucky and grateful.” “I was sitting on my board when I felt a hit on my left side — it was like being hit by a truck,” he said. “I got a glimpse of the shark as it let go and disappeared.”

Six Killed by Great White Sharks in Australia in 2020

Eight people were killed in unprovoked shark attacks in Australia in 2020, the most since 1934. Of these five were killed by great white sharks. One other was killed in a provoked attack. On January 5, Gary Johnson, a 57-year-old experienced diver, was killed by a great white shark while diving with his wife near Esperance in West Australia. On June 7, Sixty-year-old Rob Pedretti was killed by a great white shark while surfing at Salt Beach near Kingscliff in far northern New South Wales. [Source: Lauren Ferri, Daily Mail Australia, December 12, 2020]

On July 4, spearfisher Matthew Tratt, 36, was mauled to death by a suspected great white shark in a 'provoked' attack on Fraser Island in Queensland. Spearfishing, which produces blood that may attract sharks, is considered a provocation. On July 11, 15-year-old Mani Hart-Deville was surfing when he was killed by a suspected great white shark at Wooli Beach, near Grafton on the New South Wales North Coast

On September 8, 46-year-old Nick Slater was mauled to death by a suspected great white at Greenmount Beach on the Gold Coast On October 9, 52-year-old father-of-two Andrew Sharpe was killed by a shark while surfing at Kelp Beds in Wylie Bay, near Esperance on West Australia’s south coast. Authorities called off a search for the Sharpe’s body. Parts of where last seen in the shark’s jaws.

Professor Rob Harcourt at the department of Marine Ecology at Macquarie University said great white sharks favour cold water, which could be pushing them closer to swimmers and surfers. 'It is full of nutrients and that concentrates a lot of fish so sharks come in to feed on those fish in those cold water upwellings and whites will come in with that,' he said.

Man Killed by Great White Near Sydney in 2022 in “Provoked” Attack

In February 2022, a large shark killed a swimmer off a Sydney beach in the city's first fatal attack in nearly 60 years, causing "catastrophic injuries", police and ambulance services said. Reuters reported: “Witnesses told local television they had seen the attack on a swimmer wearing a wetsuit. "Some guy was swimming and a shark came and attacked him vertically," witness Kris Linto, told Nine. "We heard a yell and turned around it looked like a car had landed in the water, a big splash then the shark was chomping at the body and there was blood everywhere." [Source: Reuters, February 16, 2022]

It was later determined the victim Simon Nellist, a dive instructor, was killed by a great white attacked while swimming. The International Shark Attack Files classified the attack as "provoked" because people nearby were fishing, and was criticized for doing so. Gavin Naylor, director of the Florida Program for Shark Research at the Florida Museum of Natural History, which runs the files said that the “provoked” listing didn’t mean Nellist was responsible for his death. [Source: Alex Sundby, CBS News, May 6, 2023]

In a blog post, Naylor explained why the group classifies shark attacks at all. "Our criteria for classifying shark attacks are designed to filter the data collected so that we can better understand the natural behavior of the animals. Any activity that draws sharks into an area where they otherwise would not be, are excluded. We are interested in the influence of tides, temperature, salinity, moon phase, changing currents, seasonality, time of day and the effects that these parameters, both individually and in combination, have on different species of sharks," Naylor said.

At the time of the attack on Nellist, several people were fishing from the shore cliffs, Naylor told the Times of London. He said in his blog post that fishing is "known to attract sharks" even if bait or chum aren't used. According to BBC News, one man who had been fishing from the rocks witnessed the vicious attack. "It was terrible. I am shaking. I keep vomiting. It's very, very upsetting," the man told the Australian Broadcasting Corp.

Image Source: National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA); Wikimedia Commons

Text Sources: Mostly National Geographic articles. Also the New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Smithsonian magazine, Natural History magazine, Discover magazine, Times of London, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Lonely Planet Guides, Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.

Last updated March 2023

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