Great White Sharks Prompt NSW Beach Closures Days After 60 Sharks Sighted

A beach in New South Wales, Australia, was closed following the sighting of two suspected great white sharks this week, just days after authorities confirmed that some 60 sharks had been observed swimming in the region over a 48 hour period.

The sighting took place at Blacksmith's beach near Lake Macquarie on Friday, according to the Guardian, and resulted in the shoreline being closed for four hours. An aerial patrol initially spotted the white sharks swimming near the entrance to the Swansea Channel. Two lifesavers on jet skis were dispatched to investigate the sharks and confirmed that the animals were likely great whites.

The beach closure comes just a day after authorities reported that as many as 60 sharks had been spotted off the New South Wales coastline during a two-day period. On Wednesday, aerial patrols spotted 30 sharks in the shallows of Jervis Bay, which is located on NSW's South Coast. Those sharks were believed to be bronze whalers rather than great whites, and they were spotted in water as shallow as one meter. In some cases, they were notably close to unaware swimmers.

On Thursday, another group of sharks was spotted near the shore at Hyams beach. Although the area is not normally patrolled, local authorities agreed to establish a temporary lifeguard service there in light of the number of sharks sighted. The lifesavers will operate in the area for the next two weeks. As many as 100 people were called from the water on Thursday following the shark sightings.

Harry Mitchell, head of Australian Aerial Patrol, noted that spotters lost count of the number of sharks while in the air over beaches located between Stanwell Park and Mollymook. According to him, the local shark population has actually been somewhat under-reported.

"We lost count after 60, there were definitely more," Mitchell asserted.

Other sightings were also recorded over the last few days, as Yahoo News notes, including a report of five hammerhead sharks swimming near Warilla. A surfer at Port Kembla Beach also reported a shark sighting on Tuesday afternoon.

Though the number of sharks sighted might be shocking to some bystanders, the population density isn't unusual for this time of the year, when warmer waters and nutrient-rich estuaries draw sharks to shoreline areas. Mitchell noted that most popular beaches are located near where estuaries meet the sea, the same spots that are prime feeding grounds for sharks.

The sightings come as an unusual year for shark interactions in Australia draws to a close. A number of high-profile sightings and attacks by great white sharks and their smaller brethren have led to repeated beach closures and calls for action directed at local authorities. New South Wales has been the hardest hit state, with some 14 unprovoked shark interactions (including one fatality) recorded over the last year. The entire country, by contrast, saw 22 unprovoked shark attacks during the same time frame, according to the Australian Shark Attack File. When combined with some 11 provoked attacks, which were also documented, Australia has seen 33 total shark incidents in 2015.

The high number of attacks and their attendant media coverage have increased pressure on state and federal authorities to act, with several notable proposals advanced in recent months for managing shark populations. These include aerial surveys using drones, as well as controversial "smart" drum lines, which have been installed off Ballina, one of the hardest hit areas. While some conservationists point out that the drum lines indiscriminately threaten wildlife, some local residents assert that they do not go far enough to protect beachgoers from great white sharks and their kin.

[Image via Elias Levy - Own Work | Flickr | Cropped and Resized | CC BY 2.0]