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Theory connects two strange animal events at Bondi Beach

An extremely rare event has been filmed near one of Australia’s most popular tourist sites. A 1.8-metre great white shark was discovered hooked just 500 metres off Sydney’s Bondi Beach on Monday.

That same day a second strange event was documented. The suburb’s resident seal, Alex, swam out of the ocean and temporarily took up residence in the sand. Many locals have theorized that the two events could be related.

“Now I know why Alex the seal swam to land,” one local wrote after seeing a video of the shark online. “Modern shark scare: When a seal is on land, they all swim up to land,” joked another.

While linking the two events is speculative, Humane Society International marine biologist Lawrence Chlebeck told Yahoo News that it’s “definitely conceivable” that Alex fled the water to avoid a shark.

“A seal’s behavior is largely dictated by the predators in the area. They have very keen senses of smell and taste and are definitely better than us at detecting whether there are sharks in the area,” he said.

“There’s no way to know for sure, but it’s definitely conceivable.”

Bondi’s human population only became aware of the shark’s presence after drone footage was uploaded to social media.

While apex predators are known to inhibit the waters further out to sea, it is rare to see them so close to Bondi Beach, where the ocean floor is sandy and fish are scarce. Although local Jason Iggleton checks the suburb’s waters most mornings, it is the first time he has seen one since 2019.

“I guess there are great white sharks out there. They are simply not seen. Maybe it was a very hungry little shark and took the bait,” he told Yahoo News.

Related: Does being as far from the sea increase the risk of suffering a shark attack?

Bondi's resident seal, Alex, was seen walking along the beach.  Two people with boards prevent him from entering the boardwalk.Bondi's resident seal, Alex, was seen walking along the beach.  Two people with boards prevent him from entering the boardwalk.

Bondi’s resident seal, Alex, was spotted on the seafront on Monday. Source: Supplied

Close-up image of great white shark off Bondi Beach.Close-up image of great white shark off Bondi Beach.

The great white shark was released by fishing contractors off Bondi Beach. Source: DroneSharkApp

Iggleton’s video shows the shark being freed from a drum line that had snagged it near Mark’s Park at the southern end of Bondi Beach. Two men can be seen tying the shark to the side of the boat and then releasing it.

The juvenile shark is visible for just a few seconds before disappearing beneath the murky waters. White sharks are known to swim great distances, and Iggleton believes they may have left the area by now.

The drum lines are baited with mullet that are designed to catch sharks that venture close to shore. But some believe that instead of keeping beaches safe, they could actually attract them closer to shore. However, the Department of Primary Industries, which implements the NSW shark mitigation programme, maintains there is no evidence to support this claim.

In the case of this great white shark, Iggleton believes it could also have been attracted by a sudden influx of wild salmon spotted nearby.

DPI confirmed with Yahoo News that a great white shark was caught on a drum line in 2019. And since that year, 14 others have been caught between Cronulla and Palm Beach.

“In addition to this, white sharks have been detected at marked shark listening stations in Cronulla, Maroubra, Bondi, Manly, North Narrabeen and Palm Beach,” a DPI spokesperson said.

“These detections are then sent in near real time to the public via the SharkSmart app and Twitter. Eleven white sharks have also been caught in shark nets at Bondi and nearby Bronte since 1991.”

The DPI warned beachgoers that white sharks can be present “anywhere along our coast at any time of year,” but noted that juvenile sharks have been recorded migrating throughout the year.

“More than 1,173 white sharks have been tagged by (DPI) since 2015, and researchers can now see a general pattern of movement thanks to the network of 37 tagged shark listening stations linked by satellite,” a spokesperson added.

“Our tagging program has shown that most juvenile white sharks head north in late fall to spend the winter, and then head south in late spring and early summer, back to the waters coldest in the southern states.

The population of white sharks along the east coast of Australia and into New Zealand is thought to be just 750 adults, according to the CSIRO.

There is still much to learn about the species. More white sharks do not equal more attacks on humans.

In Florida, Australia and South Africa, attacks occur on beaches where the numbers are lower. But in California, surfers often swim past them without being bitten, and that’s something he’s seen repeated on the New South Wales south coast.

“I see some whites down there and the sharks go right by the surfers,” Iggleton said.

“I’ve seen a surfer fall off the wave and land almost on top of one. The shark just walked away. Some of the little ones can be quite shy.

“What you have to worry about is the bigger one in deeper water. But little ones have been known to give a swimmer a test bite, and that can be fatal.”

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