A fisherman was flicking out a lure on Lake Macquarie, near Newcastle. when a 2.5 metre-long predator with a fearsome reputation came by for a look.
The great white shark, still believed to be a juvenile, circled about 50 metres off a Murrays Beach jetty for an hour on Thursday morning.
It made two long sweeps within a metre of Clinton Bambach, the second after an onlooker started patting the water.
“It was doing loops and chasing baits,” Mr Bambach said of the encounter, which he caught on video.
“A bloke saw how excited I was getting as I filmed so he came over and slapped the water and the thing wheeled around …
“You could have stepped on it, it came in so close, in just two foot of water.”
The wharf is a favourite with children and is in a patch of water loved by skiers.
But it is known for bait fish and their predators, with a deep section of the lake between the jetty, Pulbah Island and Wangi Point.
Thursday’s close encounter has highlighted concerns about safety in the lake following a series of similar incidents.
The video footage shows the shark in the shallows of the lake before it heads past the jetty, out to deeper water.
Then, as the man starts patting the water, the shark becomes interested.
“You see the shark notice the attraction and he has done a U-turn and started coming back to where the splash was coming from,” Mr Bambach said.
“But then when it has got close enough to realise that it wasn’t prey, it wasn’t a food source it was used to eating, it diverted itself and swam out a couple of feet from the splash and swam past it.
“In my eyes, the shark has heard the splashing and come back to have a look at what was all the commotion, like a bait fish splashing the surface.
“But when he saw the human hand, it wasn’t a food source so he didn’t aggressively tail kick and attack that food source.
“Sharks are hungry and they will eat, but they won’t just eat a human hand because he sees it splashing.”
Fears for shark
Mr Bambach said he feared sections of the community would wish the shark would be removed or killed, while some might try to catch it.
“I would feel like I have done the wrong thing by the shark by opening my mouth and telling people it is there, if it’s going to get killed off for feeding,” Mr Bambach said.
“But if someone gets taken and I didn’t say anything about it, and I knew and I’ve got footage of it being in that water, I would feel bad.
“Being a fishermen myself and a lover of all creatures, I don’t want this shark to get injured just because it is feeding, it is just doing its thing.”
Mr Bambach, who has been fishing Lake Macquarie since he was a child, said the water was the domain of sea creatures and humans needed to respect it.
He said sharks had called the lake home for years. He could not recall ever hearing of an attack on a human.
“The shark may have been swimming there for God knows how many years past people, and never been spotted,” he said.
Just curious: CSIRO expert
CSIRO great white shark researcher Barry Bruce said the shark appeared to be a juvenile, probably about 2.5 metres long.
He said that, based on the vision he had seen, the shark was healthy and simply curious about its surroundings.
“It certainly wasn’t behaving aggressively,” he said. “It’s not unusual to see great whites in the shallows; we often see them in the surf zone at this time of year.”
What was unusual was that it was seen inside a coastal estuary.
“I think the people who witnessed it were incredibly lucky,” Dr Bruce said.
Shark ‘sighted regularly’
Michael Ittensohn, a Murrays Beach resident who was near the jetty with his children later on Thursday, said his family go down to the water regularly, but they don’t swim, they only go up to their knees.
Mr Ittensohn said his dog swam in the water there all the time, but he had never seen a shark there.
Corey Reid, who works at Fishermans Warehouse at Marks Point, saw what he believed to be the same shark feeding on mullet in the same area for about an hour on Wednesday.
“It was a good-sized shark,” he said. “At first I thought, ‘That’s a big-arse hammerhead’, but then you could seen it wasn’t a hammer, it was a white. You could tell with the mullet around, it was actively working.”
Jason Nunn, who owns Fishermans Warehouse, said the great white had been sighted regularly in the lake over the past couple of months.
“We were talking about it on Saturday about how there hadn’t been any sightings for a while,” Mr Nunn said.
“But I was thinking he hasn’t gone anywhere. There’s been a lot of jewfish in the lake the last month or so and he would have been just chomping on those boys.
“But as it gets a little tougher, he will surface, and with all the mullet, when they school up, they are easier to target. Down along Cams Wharf, there has been a lot of mullet and they’ve obviously got this shark’s attention.
“They are commonly seen down there at this time of year.”
Mr Nunn was also in no doubt, after seeing the video footage, that the fish was in hunting mode.
“The shark is pumping. Normally the footage you get shows them just meandering round, but this guy is in hunt mode – its tail and dorsal fin were out of the water quite clearly,” Mr Nunn said.
“I reckon if you jumped in and started swimming at that moment, you’d have got nailed.”
Mr Bambach said he watched the shark chasing bait fish for about an hour after it swam off from the jetty.
“We had bait fish splashing around and seagulls dive-bombing him, so he was obviously chasing the bait fish that was coming into the shallows,” Mr Bambach said. “It was just an amazing sight.”
Great whites are protected. The maximum penalty for catching one is a $22,000 fine and/or two years’ jail.