Every shark counts in underwater census

The good news is that there are still plenty of sharks off Australia’s beaches. The bad news is pretty much the same.

This weekend, red-blooded Aussie divers will be out in force to check their numbers in the nation’s second dedicated shark-counting weekend as part of World Ocean Day, and to check that there are still plenty of jaws to go round.

So far, according to the Great Australian Shark Count, so good.

The count – which is a finalist in this year’s United Nations Association of Australia excellence in marine and coastal management award – has logged more than 5000 shark sightings to date in 2008.

Divers and fishermen have reported sightings of 14 great whites, 77 tigers, and more than 440 whalers.

They also logged 837 sightings of endangered grey nurse sharks, which has encouraged environmentalists concerned that their numbers may have dwindled to as low as 300 to 500 in New South Wales.

This has given rise to a unique sign near breeding grounds off Bateman’s Bay on the far south coast of NSW urging visitors not to touch or otherwise harass the sharks.

ess scary were more than 1000 sightings of wobbegongs, a species of exotic-looking, bottom-dwelling carpet sharks which normally only get cranky when stepped upon.

The Australian Underwater Federation reported yesterday that at the first shark counting weekend in March divers spotted 413 sharks, most near the Solitary Islands Marine Park off Coffs Harbour on the NSW north coast.

“The great news is that this was many more sharks than expected for this time of year for the marine park,” the federation said.

“Of other interest were large schools of hammerheads – up to 30 – and a white tip reef shark at Coffs Harbour.”

White tips normally live in warmer northern reef waters.

This weekend the organisers are hoping hundreds of skin and scuba divers will log sightings on to the programme’s website, www.auf.com.au.