Three fatal shark attacks on an isolated South Australian coastline made up 30 per cent of all shark fatalities worldwide last year.

But while other states continue to pour millions of dollars into shark mitigation programs, the South Australian government has none.

Victoria is the only other state without a program to protect humans from sharks, but it has not had a shark fatality since 1987.

In South Australia, 15 people have been killed by sharks since 1987.

Premier Peter Malinauskas said a Shark Mitigation Taskforce, formed at the start of this year and headed by the Department of Primary Industries and Regions, was looking at programs that could prevent future attacks.

“There hasn’t been much evidence around the country that really eliminates the risk,” he said.

“We are interested in where we can reasonably reduce it and, indeed, if there is a need to.”

Elliston, scene of two attacks, calls for change

A surfer looks out at the remote break where an Elliston man almost died from a shark attack.(ABC News: Che Chorley)

The Eyre Peninsula community, which experienced fatalities last year at Elliston and Streaky Bay is torn as to how to deal with recent attacks.

Elliston almost lost a local surfer to a great white shark attack for the second time in eight months, prompting a public meeting — and the local council campaigned for a program to protect humans from sharks.

Elliston Mayor Andrew McLeod, who survived a shark attack in 2014, tabled a motion for other councils to consider at a Local Government Association meeting, calling for sharks involved in fatal attacks to be killed. 

The council wanted permission to set a trap for 48 hours, which would kill the shark responsible.

Another proposal called on shark-cage diving operators, who work at Neptune Islands 70 kilometres south of Port Lincoln — the region’s major town — to stop using berley (chum) and teaser baits to attract great white sharks to the cages.

Port Lincoln is one of only two places in the world where tourists can cage-dive with great white sharks.  (Rodney Fox Shark Expeditions/

Cr McLeod said it was “commonsense” that feeding great white sharks could “condition” the animals to associate humans with food, increasing the risk of an attack.

The keen surfer said he was concerned these sharks could be the same ones that killed humans, like 15-year-old Khai Cowley, taken by a shark at Ethel Beach last year, 70km from Neptune Islands.

While CSIRO research suggests great white sharks regularly travel large distances in a day — 80km is common — and that the sharks that visit Neptune Islands have changed their behaviour, including staying for longer periods, researcher Russ Bradford said the use of baits did not change the animals’ behaviour in the long term.

“The effect is transient and short-lived,” he said. 

Elliston’s calls to ban berley and teaser baits for shark-cage diving had the support of the Wirangu and Nauo Aboriginal Corporation, two Native Title holders in the region.

Elliston Mayor Andrew McLeod says he will keep pushing for changes to the shark cage-diving industry.(ABC Eyre Peninsula: Adam Sheldon)

However, the corporation did not support the proposal to kill sharks, which Mr McLeod said he accepted.

“I respect their opinion,” he said.

“I will ask my council not to pursue this further.”

Councils shut down proposal

At a Local Government Association meeting on Thursday, the majority of councils voted against both of Elliston’s proposals.

They instead voted to support the state taskforce and look into installing systems like first aid kits at popular beaches, and support other protocols like shark shield devices and a potential rebate for them.

Eyre Peninsula Local Government Association vice-president Jo-Anne Quigley.(ABC Eyre Peninsula: Adam Sheldon)

Association vice-president Jo-Anne Quigley said councils were limited in “scientific expertise” and added the group believed any policies on shark matters should be deferred to the government.

“They are the sort of things we believe that the taskforce … are the ones to be making those decisions,” she said.

Cage-diving debate continues

Cr McLeod said he was disappointed with the decision to vote against the cage-diving proposal and said an experimental study had to be done which looked at conditioning.

“Is this a good environmental model … to tease and feed the apex predator for tourism? There is also an obvious public health risk in light of recent attacks,” he said.

However, shark ecologist and Flinders University Marine and Coastal Research Consortium director, Charlie Huveneers, said researchers were currently analysing data, comparing the location of great white sharks to cage-diving boats to see if any conditioning was occurring.

Shark ecologist Charlie Huveneers attaches a camera to a great white shark.(Supplied: Andrew Fox)

“[Research is looking at] whether sharks are being conditioned to associate vessels with food-based attractant,” Professor Huveneers said.

“Or alternatively, if sharks can become habituated to the presence of vessels and less responsive to food-based stimulus.”

Cr McLeod said an observational study did not provide scientific certainty, especially when fatalities could be involved.

“The movement patterns being observed could be impacted by a range of variables, like the presence of predators or better feeding opportunities or migratory movements,” he said.

He said even if sharks were found to forget the stimulus over time, popular beaches were less than a day’s swim away, making any conditioning, even for a short time, unacceptable.

Professor Huveneers said the Flinders University study would be finalised in the coming weeks, which would provide further details.

What are other states doing?

Over in NSW, the government will pour $86 million into its SharkSmart program, from 2022 until 2026.

The government has tagged and released more than 1,100 sharks since 2015, via a Smart Drumline program which, based on CSIRO’s estimates on the population of the animals, could represent about 20 per cent of great white sharks on the east coast.

The sharks are fitted with acoustic receivers, and when they swim in the vicinity of listening stations — there is one in every local government area — real-time updates of the sharks and their location is shared on an app as well as social media.

Over 1,000 great whites have been tagged and released in northern NSW since 2015.(Supplied: NSW DPI)

A similar system operates in Western Australia, which will spend $17.3 million on its program this year, with 40 acoustic receivers from Perth to Esperance.

The program also includes helicopter patrols, and the government continues to provide a $200 rebate for shark deterrent devices which can be attached to surfboards or dive equipment, with some studies suggesting they can reduce interactions with great white sharks by 60 per cent.

Shark Response Unit manager Michael Burke said the program was helping people make informed decisions, as well as helping researchers learn about shark behaviour.

“I think people are aware that they can’t be entirely safe from sharks when they’re out in the water, but that they’ve got options that they can consider and use to ensure they’re as safe as possible,” he said.

However, when asked if SA would consider adopting a program like WA, Mr Malinauskas would not commit to it.

“It’s reckless and foolhardy for a politician to say they can get rid of sharks,” he said.

“There are still shark attacks in WA.”

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