South Australian waters generally and West Coast waters in particular are frequented by the White Pointer shark (carcharodon carcharias). This formidable predator commonly reaches a length of five metres, though specimens nine metres long have been reported. It is not clear how common the shark is and it is a protected species. It may not be especially rare, to judge by the number that assembled off Cape Jervis in 2001 to feast on a dead whale.
|A White Pointer in profile. Note the almost equal tail lobes, an unusual feature of this shark.|
The shark is commonly found near seal colonies, as seals are among its favourite prey. It takes dolphins and large fish but it is also a scavenger, as in the case of the whale. Because of the shark's size and formidable teeth, attacks on humans are frequently fatal, some victims having been completely eaten. The shark appears to have a habit of attacking without warning or preliminary investigation. The shark has been known to ram boats and a South African White Pointer has been filmed in the act of leaping clear of the water.
|A White Pointer seen almost head on.|
Since the first recorded South Australian fatal attack in 1926, seventeen further fatal attacks are known to have to occurred. Probably all of them were by White Pointers. Since 1974, several fatal attacks have been recorded at Neptune Island and points west. These include attacks on consecutive days in September 2000 and the death of an abalone diver in 2011, as the result of simultaneous attacks by two sharks. This concentration of attacks is perhaps due to the increase in aquatic activity on the West Coast in recent years. The victims include surfers and recreational divers. Shallow water appears to offer no safe haven, as attacks have been recorded in two metres of water.While not wishing to exaggerate the dangers, it is clear that we share the seas with this deadly shark on its own terms. Caution should be exercised in all water activities, especially in the area of seal colonies, which seem to be increasing in numbers, including a new one at Cape Blanche at Sceale Bay.
South Australia's White Pointers starred as the real sharks in the films Jaws and Atlantis, as well as in numerous documentaries.