Oceanic bull sharks are becoming more prevalent in the semi-freshwater canals of Australian suburbs. A man caught one behind his house.
The canal system in communities on eastern Australia’s Gold Coast are connected as much by a series of brackish canals as they are by streets. In fact, on a map many of the man-made canals resemble blocks of residential cul de sacs.
The canals are fed by fresh waters such as the Nerang River, which, after winding through the complicated maze of canals, ultimately find their way to the sea.
While it may seem unusual to find saltwater bull sharks in inland rivers, they have been a fairly common sight in the canals for quite a long time.
Recently, 30-year old Clayton Smith caught an approximately 110-pound bull shark measuring around six feet in length from his backyard. Smith lives on Miami Lake in the community of Burleigh Waters, approximately 60 miles south of Brisbane.
Miami Lake appears to be less a lake than a wider section of the canal or Nerang River. The Gold Coast Bulletin described Miami Lake as “a popular flat water training area for surf lifesavers.” They also report Smith as confirming that the lake is very active with large fish, which he can hear jumping from his backyard in the evenings.
He said that when the big fish leap from the water it sounds like “someone’s thrown a bathtub into the water.”
Prior to the bull shark hit, Smith had caught a small pickhandle barracuda, which he decided to use in a live bait rig. The bull took the bait and, according to the Bulletin, gave Smith “a massive fight before he landed it.”
Before releasing the shark, Smith used his body as a measuring tape, by lying next to the beast, but said, “I made sure I was at a safe distance because obviously they are pretty dangerous.”
Although a 110-pound bull shark is no monster, it was big enough and unusual enough to become quite a local story.
“A lot of my neighbours have heard stories about the big sharks,” declared Smith, “but now they know there are big man-eaters in there.”
Smith also indicates that because he fishes the Miami Lake canal it is not uncommon for him to see sharks on a regular basis. “Bull sharks come in so close,” he said. “I was out there with a torch one night and saw two cruising about a metre from the edge. I called my girlfriend over and she was just stunned. It’s crazy how many big ones there are in there.”
But Smith’s bull shark is a piker compared to some of the other true monster bulls that make their way up the canals and river systems. Recently, Stephan Pateman caught a 10-foot bull shark (image below) in the Clarence River system, 130 miles south of Burleigh where Smith lives and further inland than Miami Lake.
Around three-and-a-half hours further south, Anthony Micallef and his son Chris also landed a 10-foot bull from the Hastings River (image below). Micallef’s bull is the fourth such giant caught in recent weeks, in waters popular with skiers and swimmers.
Smith also expressed his concern: “So many people go past on stand up paddleboards and kayaks on the weekends I feel like telling them how close they are to the sharks.”
The last reported deaths from bull shark attacks in Smith’s area were more than a dozen years ago. In 2002 a 23-year old swimmer was attacked in Miami Lake, and in 2004 an 84-year old man was killed by bull sharks in Burleigh Lake, also while swimming.
Bull sharks are able to enter and traverse fresh and brackish water because, like saltwater crocodiles, they have the ability to regulate their internal biology to retain salt. They do this not only to expand their hunting grounds but for breeding reasons as well, as they travel upstream into brackish water to give birth before returning to the sea.