New South Wales Deploys ‘Smart’ Drum Lines After Great White Shark Attack

Authorities in New South Wales are planning a dramatic expansion of the state’s existing “smart” drum lines less than a week after a teenage surfer was attacked by a great white shark at Ballina, the fourth such incident to take place there in the last two years.

Already, 15 smart drum lines have been deployed off the coast of New South Wales, as ABC notes. Following the widely-reported attack, which took place last Sunday, Primary Industries Minister Niall Blair has revealed that an additional 85 of the technologically-advanced barriers are set to be installed in the coming weeks and months.

“Our testing shows smart drum lines are highly effective in catching sharks so they can be tagged and relocated, so we will increase the number deployed off NSW from 15 to 100. The smart drum line rollout will be prioritized on the North Coast in response to strong community support for the technology.”

Smart drum lines were developed as a way of deterring sharks, while mitigating the often lethal effects of traditional drum lines. These barriers, when deployed, alert authorities via text message and email when a shark is hooked. Scientists working with the Department of Primary Industries are then able to retrieve the animal before the experience proves fatal, releasing them further out to sea where they pose no threat to beachgoers.

First installed last December, the smart drum lines have been instrumental in relocating a number of large sharks. As Premier Mike Baird noted, 31 great white and five bull sharks have been moved offshore thanks to the drum lines since May, 2016, and are now sporting tags which allow them to be tracked.

The incident which spurred the public’s call for protective measures occurred Sunday, according to the Washington Post, when 17-year-old high school student Cooper Allen was surfing off Lighthouse Beach in Ballina, Australia. Allen was attacked by a large white shark, measuring between eight and 10 feet, according to estimates derived from bite marks on his board. The shark missed the teen’s vital arteries, but left him with four sizable wounds which required medical attention, as Ballina Mayor David Wright pointed out.

“The shark lacerated his leg in three or four places fairly deep. Luckily the lifeguards were on duty and got down there quickly. He should be okay. It was very close to his artery.”

Lifeguards were able to chase a great white shark measuring roughly 13 feet in length from the area after the attack on Allen, though it remains unclear whether it was the same shark responsible for the incident.

The attack took place off the same beach at which a 41-year-old Japanese tourist died in February, 2015, after a white shark severed both of his legs. Since that fatal attack, Wright noted that there have been four other such incidents, as well as a host of near-misses that could have proven injurious. Authorities had considered installing a nylon shark barrier at Lighthouse Beach that would have measured roughly 770 yards in length, but the plan was scrapped due to concerns relating to both logistics and costs.

While it has spurred a massive investment in the state’s smart drum line technology, the attack has also reopened a long-standing public debate about the government’s role in protecting beachgoers from sharks, with some residents arguing strongly in favor of a cull. Premier Baird noted, however, that the new investment in smart drum lines not only “complements the other measures in place on the North Coast to better protect surfers and swimmers,” but also “significantly” boosts the state’s tagging program, allowing more of the region’s great white shark population to be tracked.

[Featured Image by Terry Goss/ Wikimedia Commons | Cropped and Resized | CC BY-SA 3.0]