Officials in Newcastle, Australia have closed off beaches to all surfers, anglers, and swimmers for the fifth day on Thursday after repeat sightings of a massive 16-foot great white shark estimated to weigh around 3,700 pounds.
“Again, we ask for everyone’s cooperation in heeding the warnings and staying out of the water at all beaches,” city officials wrote in a press release. “Sightings of this shark have been across all beaches, from Stockton to Merewether. It is not safe for anyone to be in the water, including board riders, even close to shore, as sharks are known to move into the surf zone, hunting prey between where the surf breaks and the shoreline.”
Local experts confirmed that the great white is by far the largest they have ever seen. Sharks are not uncommon near Newcastle beaches. According to The Sydney Morning Herald, the city closes its beaches about five times a year due to shark sightings. This time, however, lifeguards are working extended hours to make sure nobody dips their feet into the water.
“We’ve consistently seen the big one every day. Certainly it’s the biggest shark we’ve ever had and it’s hung around longer than any other shark,” said Newcastle Council aquatic services coordinator Peter Withers, who has 37 years of experience working in public safety.
Officials were also alarmed by the discovery of an adult dolphin that washed up on shore, bitten nearly in half.
“It could have been there for a day or two because you could smell it a mile away,” surfer Craig Hollier told the Herald.
Yet the warnings by the Newcastle Council and numerous signs posted around area beaches are not deterring all visitors. Officials said that beachgoers are still sneaking down to the shore, despite aerial patrols spotting the fish near several beaches almost every day, and occasional sightings by police vessels and lifeguards.
Although shark attacks are rare, Australian lawmakers are increasingly worried about the country’s growing shark population. In 2014, the Western Australia government held a controversial three month-shark cull in response to a number of shark-related attacks, but the attacks continued after the cull stopped. Late last year another great white, believed to be around 13 to 16 feet long, attacked and killed a 17-year-old spearfisherman off Cheynes Beach. According to the Associated Press, Jay Muscat was fishing with a friend when the shark appeared. The two spearfishermen fired at it, but the shark was able to fatally bite Muscat. Just two weeks before that incident, another spearfisherman was killed near the Great Barrier Reef.
Newcastle officials said they will open the beaches once the shark is confirmed to have left the area or after a 24-hour absence.