Alarm over false shark reports

False shark reports being reported by the public to Water Police and shark reporting authorities have caused alarm for residents.

Two weeks ago Dunsborough resident Blair Ranford was at Sugarloaf Rocks filming a whale calf and a pod of dolphins which were close to shore.

Mr Ranford said the dolphins were playing with the calf while its mother rested on the ocean floor.

After he had left the spot, Mr Ranford said shark alerts were being reported through mobile phone apps, stating the public had seen 15 big sharks attacking a whale calf close to shore.

“I had only left 10 minutes earlier when I saw one of the reports on my phone so I raced back down there on the off chance there was a shark, but I knew what it was going to be,” he said.

“Sure enough, it was still the same southern right whale with its calf and there were two different pods of dolphins throughout the bay which were coming and going to the calf.”

Mr Ranford rang Water Police to tell them the report was false, but was told they were not allowed to remove any reports once they were posted.

“I thought it must have been someone who did not understand what goes on in the ocean or gets hyped up by shark fears portrayed in the media,” he said.

“You have to wonder whether it was someone with an ulterior motive, it was complete make believe.”

Mr Ranford said the worst thing about shark alert apps was that organisations would post any public sighting without any verification and, as a result, they were starting to lose credibility.

“The reporting is getting out of control and it is not kept within any parameters, they report whatever anyone says,” he said. 

Department of Fisheries regional manager Tony Cappelluti said all calls about shark sightings made to Water Police or authorities were treated as genuine and posted through various communication channels.

Mr Cappelluti said with any reports of a potential risk to public safety, timeliness of communication was considered important and given verification could be time consuming, information was communicated as soon as possible.

He said it was assumed that people making reports were not being irresponsible and were not raising matters that were inaccurate.

“A verification process is not always possible, as some callers do not provide contact details, or were unavailable when contact is made and this may slow notification, which could increase the risks if that information was delayed,” he said.

“Therefore, on balance, timeliness of the notification is prioritised against verification and absolute accuracy.”

Since November 2014, more than 8000 possible shark hazards were reported in WA through detections in satellite network receivers or public sightings providing valuable information to water users.

“If there is verification that a false claim has been made, or that the information received was inaccurate, then clarification can be made via the various communication channels,” he said.

“It is important all water users keep vigilant and alert other people in the area to any shark sightings they make. All shark sightings should be reported to the Water Police on 9442 8600.”

Department of Parks and Wildlife officer Pia Courtis said there was currently lots of activity off the coastline as whales made their annual migration to Antarctica.

Ms Courtis said whale mothers were very protective of their young and that whales did not see dolphins as a threat to their calves.

“Dolphins are inquisitive and playful and will check out the whales,” she said.

“Not all calves make the journey, weak ones may become separated from their mothers and could be taken by sharks. However, the bond between a mother whale and their calf is strong so it doesn’t happen often.”

Have your say: Are shark alert apps losing their credibility? Email editorial.bdmail@fairfaxmedia.com.au.

The story False shark reports cause alarm first appeared on Busselton-Dunsborough Mail.

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