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Thousands Flee Water After Shark Sighted Near Popular Australian Beach

This is what reducing chance looks like on the Australian coast: thousands of beachgoers scurrying to the water's edge of Bondi Beach in New South Wales after a siren warns of a shark sighting. The alarm was sounded on New Year's Day after lifeguards said they spotted a roughly six-foot-long shark swimming nearby. After a 20-minute helicopter patrol and the all clear, beachgoers were free to return to the water. Most preceded gingerly, preferring not to venture too far out into the deep, according to the Sydney Morning Herald.

Precautions against shark attacks have increased in Australia over the past couple of years because of a recent spike in fatalities. Just a week ago, an off-duty lifeguard had his board hit by a shark while surfing near Sydney's northern beaches.

In Western Australia, five fatal attacks occurred over a span of two years. The Western Australia Department of Fisheries instituted a new series of rules and received increased funding to help minimize attacks. They have increased tagging efforts, put more resources into patrolling beaches for sharks, and allowed for the killing of a shark before it attacks people—if it's declared to be a high risk. Great whites are a protected species in Australian waters, and the ruling has led to controversy.

Scientists and government officals don't know the exact reason for the overall increase in fatal attacks. It could be a result of natural variability or something as simple as more people going in the water over a greater period of time, which increases the probability of an attack.

—Joe Spring

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