Massive great white shark haunts Newcastle

Great white shark

Large shark patrols off Burwood Beach; photo courtesy of Peter Stoop/Heliservices Newcastle, via the Newcastle Herald

A scene playing out on the shores of Newcastle in New South Wales, Australia, is somewhat reminiscent of the movie "Jaws."

Several popular beaches remain closed nearly a week after the initial sighting of a great white shark "of a size that has not been seen before," according to lifeguards.

The shark measured 16 feet and was estimated to weigh 3,700 pounds, which would give it the girth of a small elephant.

Newcastle Australia

Surfers and swimmers in Newcastle ignore beach closures despite recent shark sightings; photo courtesy of Peter Stoop/Heliservices Newcastle, via the Newcastle Herald

A half-eaten dolphin that washed ashore soon after the sighting provided an eerie reminder of the monstrous shark's presence.

"It is not safe for board riders to be out in the water, even close to shore, as sharks are known to move into the surf zone, hunting prey between where the surf breaks and the shoreline," lifeguards stated in a press release issued earlier this week.

More sightings were made toward the end of the week.

"The big girl is back, and she has got friends," reads the opening sentence in a Newcastle Herald story published Thursday.

great white shark

Generic great white shark image is via Wikipedia

The story continued, "The enormous great white shark, which first prompted the closures last Saturday, was confirmed as cruising around Merewether and Burwood beaches on Thursday afternoon at the same time a shark 'as big as a car' gave onlookers a show off the northern end of Nobbys Beach before devouring a dolphin."

The newspaper is devoting lots of ink to this unusual situation, which seems to be merely a case of large sharks being drawn to dolphins schooling close to shore.

[Related: Stunning great white shark image “just luck”]

The lead in another story reads, "Just when is it going to be safe to go back in the water?"

That question was posed to Peter Withers, aquatic services coordinator for the City Council, which had earlier said it would reopen beaches after a period of at least 24 hours with no sightings.

While there have been such periods, the big shark keeps materializing somewhere in the region, ominously close to shore.

Said Withers: "We don't want to make rash decisions because we have gone 24 hours [without a confirmed sighting] and then we see it four or five times in a day. … We have had flyovers where nothing was there, and an hour later the shark was back again."

The closures come at a time when Asian Cup soccer matches are being played in Newcastle, and fans and players are among those being cautioned to stay out of the water.

Meanwhile, people are growing weary of being kept out of the water. It's summer Down Under, after all, and hot.

Some have decided to ignore warning signs and have gone wading, surfing, or paddling, according to aerial photographs supplied by the tour company Heliservices Newcastle.

But many also remain cautious.

Said surfer Craig Hollier to Sky News, in reference to a dolphin that washed ashore: “It was a full dolphin except there was a section of its tail missing. People hear about the great white but they still go out. This shows what can happen to someone.

“I won’t be going back to any Newcastle beaches … I’ll be heading to Catherine Hill Bay instead.”

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