Scientists say shark species along Australia’s eastern coastline have never been closer to extinction than they are now.
Scientists say shark species along Australia’s eastern coastline have never been closer to extinction than they are now.

What’s happened to all the sharks?

Shark populations off Australia's east coast have plummeted in the past 55 years, with new research finding species like great whites and hammerheads are closer to extinction than ever before.

The University of Queensland study, published in the Communications Biology journal today, found that hammerhead and great white shark populations dropped a staggering 92 per cent.

Whaler shark numbers experienced an 82 per cent reduction and tiger sharks dropped by 74 per cent.

"Ongoing declines and lack of recovery of vulnerable and protected shark species are a cause for concern," the study found.

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Great white shark populations have fallen up to 92 per cent along Australia's eastern coast.
Great white shark populations have fallen up to 92 per cent along Australia's eastern coast.

Researchers used figures from Queensland's shark control program, which operates from Cairns, in the state's north, down to the Gold Coast, to examine the rate of change in particular species.

The program, established in 1962, uses a system of mesh nets and baited drumlines to "minimise the threat of shark attack on humans" by catching and killing local shark populations.

According to the study, the Queensland shark control program has caught almost 50,000 sharks to date.

Since 1962, the Queensland shark control program has caught almost 50,000 sharks. Picture: Communications Biology
Since 1962, the Queensland shark control program has caught almost 50,000 sharks. Picture: Communications Biology

The study's lead author, marine ecologist Doctor George Roff said dramatic reductions are likely due to overfishing along the coastline, and called on governments to rethink their approach to shark safety.

"We can have large sharks populating our beaches and keep our beaches safe for people," Dr Roff said.

He said immediate conservation efforts are vital before some shark species are lost forever.

"Sharks play a critical role in ecosystems, they sit at the top of the food web," Dr Roff said.

"We can conserve this important species, that has been around for millions of years and that has survived the extinction of the dinosaurs,

"It would be really tragic if we lost them now because of preventable human causes."

A male great white shark is caught at Lennox Head Beach using the government’s baited drumlines.
A male great white shark is caught at Lennox Head Beach using the government’s baited drumlines.

The study comes after a recent string of shark attacks, including the horror fatality in the Whitsundays last month.

Melbourne urologist Daniel Christidis, 33, was paddle boarding with mates in Cid Harbour when he was mauled to death by a shark.

The tragic death followed the attacks of two other tourists in the same area by tiger sharks, prompting the activation of drumlines to keep sharks away from swimmers.

Daniel Christidis, 33, had been on holiday in the Whitsundays when he was mauled to death by a shark.
Daniel Christidis, 33, had been on holiday in the Whitsundays when he was mauled to death by a shark.

The recent attacks have also reignited calls from the public for shark culling, to help locals and tourists feel safer in the water.

Dr Roff said he understood the fear from the public about sharks, but mass eradication was not the best way forward.

"Human safety is important, human shark attacks are tragic events and the loss of human life should come first," Dr Roff said.

"I would like to see the government invest more money into the science of shark populations on the coastlines and shark interactions."

A recent shark cull at Fingal Head, in northern NSW.
A recent shark cull at Fingal Head, in northern NSW.

Dr Roff urged states like Queensland and NSW to investigate smart technologies such as underwater sonar to frighten sharks away or "drones to spot them", which is currently being trialled in NSW.