Australia is one of the most shark-infested countries on earth, with around 900 shark attacks since records began in the late 18th-century, including more than 200 fatal encounters. And these are the six places where you’re most likely to bump into these ancient underwater predators.
Port Lincoln — a 50-minute flight or seven-hour drive from Adelaide on South Australia’s rugged Eyre Peninsula — is one of the few places on earth where you can hop in a cage and stare a great white shark in the eye. Australia’s seafood capital is also brimming with sharks, which you can visit on a day tour from Port Lincoln. After a three-hour cruise past the scenic Lincoln National Park, you’ll squeeze into a wetsuit then jump into a cage to go face-to-face with great whites as they circle ominously outside, gliding menacingly through the crystal clear water. You can also swim with adorable sea lions on a half-day tour from Port Lincoln — and no, don’t worry, you won’t bump into Jaws by surprise.
Want to swim with sharks minus the cage for protection? Then head to Australia’s westernmost point. Shark Bay — 800 kilometres north of Perth — became a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1991 for the natural splendour of its waters, islands and peninsulas, which provide a home to more than 300 species of marine animals, including 29 types of shark. And you can dive with these feared apex predators either in the wild or at the Ocean Park shark lagoon, where you’ll encounter tiger sharks, lemon sharks, sandbar sharks and even hammerheads. The whole experience lasts two hours, sightings are guaranteed, and no previous scuba diving experience is required.
This warm body of water off Australia’s north-east coast is crawling with 125 species of shark species, notably the grey reef shark, whitetip reef shark, silvertip shark, tiger shark, great hammerhead, and even the rare lined lanternshark, a tiny fish that occupies very deep ocean. Indeed, the Coral Sea is one of the few places on earth where over-fishing hasn’t ravaged the marine life and healthy shark population still exist, and the region is therefore considered one of the planet’s most precious shark biodiversity hotspots. That’s not such welcome news for swimmers, surfers and snorkelers enjoying the Queensland tropics, though, but sticking close to shore at patrolled beaches and taking common sense precautions should protect you from any unwanted run-ins.
Ningaloo Reef is a mighty long way from anything — a distant 1,200km north of Perth, to be precise — but a stream of tourists make the trek to tick snorkelling with whale sharks off their bucket list. The 260km Ningaloo Coast is home to Australia’s largest fringing coral reef, which is rich with dolphins, dugongs, rays and humpback whales during winter, and famous for the whale sharks that feed there every year between March and June. Although the rhincodon typus is the largest fish in the world’s oceans at 14 metres long, whale sharks are gentle giants — and it’s safe to snorkel alongside them as they cruise close to the surface of the water. There are no shortage of operators that offer interactive tours swimming face-to-fin with these behemoths of the ocean.
This much-loved holiday hotspot in northern New South Wales has experienced 12 unprovoked shark attacks since 1990, more than anywhere else in the country. Add that to another six in nearby Ballina and three in Lennox Head and you can understand why this stretch of coastline has hit the headlines for all the wrong reasons. Ballina was lumped with the unwanted label of ‘shark attack capital of Australia’ in 2016, but controversial mesh nets and cutting-edge drone trials have helped restore confidence among swimmers, surfers and visitors.
The beautiful beaches of the West Australian capital are suffering a similar PR crisis, with dozens of shark sightings reported in recent months. Surf Life Saving WA received more than 1,400 shark reports between May and December 2017 — primarily bronze whalers (42% of reports) then white pointers (21%) and tiger sharks (17%) — along the West Australian coast, with multiple sightings in Rockingham, Fremantle and City Beach. Perth’s premier beach, Cottesloe, was closed in November 2017 after a shark sighting, and the iconic Rottnest Channel Swim was disrupted this February by a four-metre great white. Sharks are highly migratory creatures and fantastic navigators, so scientists are stumped as to why the number of shark incidents have shot through the roof over the past two decades, and the issue of shark culling has become one of WA’s hottest political debates.