Shark tracker cost ‘too high’, despite attack

A REQUEST by researchers to check underwater equipment tracking sharks across the Whitsundays to try to identify the culprit in last week's attack was knocked back by the Palaszczuk Government because it didn't want to pay the $6710 bill.

One of the two British tourists attacked had his right foot ripped off by the shark.

The Courier-Mail can reveal the Whitsundays Charter Boat Industry Association wrote to Fisheries Minister Mark Furner on Friday asking for the department's support to collect data from an acoustic sounder at Hook Passage - the site of the attack on two Brit backpackers.

The sounder is one of several Biopixel Oceans Foundation has deployed as part of a State and Federal government research project into shark prevalence and behaviour in the wake of last year's attacks at Cid Harbour.

Biopixel Oceans Foundation staff tag a tiger shark. Picture: Erica Heller
Biopixel Oceans Foundation staff tag a tiger shark. Picture: Erica Heller

"Data from the acoustic equipment would tell us whether one of the sharks tagged in the course of the research project to date was in the areas at the time of the ­attacks," the email from the association's Sharon Smallwood says.

"Should this be the case, it would at least lead to a species ID and some behavioural data." Ms Smallwood wrote that while it was likely an untracked shark was responsible, the benefit of having a diver at the location in almost real time and analysing the site would be "extremely valuable".

"We think there may be factors pertinent to this time of year that are worth investigating scientifically," she said.

"Given the time and money already invested in the research project, the Whitsundays' marine tourism industry feels strongly that a step such as this would demonstrate not just positive action on behalf of all agencies and sectors involved, but be an important lead we could either tick off or create management actions from."

A tiger shark is tagged by Biopixel Oceans Foundation. Picture: Erica Heller
A tiger shark is tagged by Biopixel Oceans Foundation. Picture: Erica Heller

Two hours after the request, a staff member from Mr Furner's office replied to say Biopixel would be allowed to access the infrastructure to retrieve the data, but the department was "not in a position to cover the costs".

The Federal Government has since agreed to fund the request.

Contacted yesterday, Mr Furner said the request indicated that, while it might be possible to identify the shark that was involved in last week's attack, it was "highly probable that this would not be the case".

"On balance, the request for additional funding was not supported," he said.

The news came as Opposition Leader Deb Frecklington promised to partner with James Cook University to deploy shark-spotting drones across the Whitsundays.

Tourism Minister Kate Jones was last night speaking to industry experts about their requests for aerial shark spotters, netted swimming spots, SMART drum lines and shark deterrent device trials to protect swimmers in the Whitsundays.

She said scientists would work through the requests to see what was feasible.

"We will await that advice," she said.

Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk again called on the Federal Government to change laws to allow drum lines to be redeployed north and south of the Whitsundays .

The Commonwealth says drum lines can remain in the sea while non-lethal technology is tested for future use.