A grey nurse shark has been saved from certain death off the NSW Far North Coast, after a team of experts successfully removed a fishing gaff that was embedded in its throat, Minister for Primary Industries Ian Macdonald said today.

Mr Macdonald said a team from the NSW Department of Primary Industries, the Marine Parks Authority and Sea World learned of the distressed shark yesterday afternoon, after scuba divers saw it swimming near Julian Rocks in the Cape Byron Marine Park.

“This was an extraordinarily difficult and dangerous operation and I congratulate everyone involved in the rescue for their professionalism and speedy response,” Mr Macdonald said.

“A crew of three divers had to catch the shark using a lasso which was tied around its body.

“The shark was then encouraged into a perspex tunnel and brought to the surface and lifted on to the boat using a crane.

“Finally, the animal was placed into a holding tank where it was examined and the gaff removed.

“Despite the circumstances, the 2.97-metre long female grey nurse shark is in good health.

“There was no bleeding when the gaff was removed and the shark was given a dose of antibiotics as a precautionary measure.

“She was pale, which you’d expect after such an ordeal, but once released swam back to the other sharks.

“A pop-up satellite tag has been attached to the shark so that its movements and recovery can be monitored by scientists.

“Local divers and Marine Parks staff have volunteered to keep an eye on her.”

The Grey Nurse Shark is an endangered species. There are thought to be less than 500 remaining in NSW waters.

“Julian Rocks is one of 10 grey nurse shark critical habitats established by the NSW Government in 2002, which is subject to special fishing and diving rules to help protect the species,” Mr Macdonald said.

“These sharks regularly visit the Cape Byron Marine Park, particularly during the winter months.

“Grey nurses are placid sharks, not aggressive to humans and a delight for divers to watch in the water, helping to boost tourism in the area.

“The NSW Government is continuing to look at innovative ways to recover the grey nurse shark population.

“One such measure is a cutting-edge breeding program to boost numbers of grey nurse sharks.

“NSW scientists will be the first in the world to attempt to raise shark pups in artificial uteri to overcome intra-uterine cannibalism which occurs in grey nurse sharks.”

Grey Nurse Shark protection measures:

  • The NSW Government was the first in the world to protect the grey nurse shark, placing it on the protected species list in 1984.
  • It is illegal to catch and keep, buy, sell, possess or harm grey nurse sharks without a specific permit — penalties can include fines of up to $220,000 and up to two years in prison.
  • NSW has 10 critical habitat areas along the coast that are subject to special fishing and diving rules which minimise any potential impact on the grey nurse shark.
  • These critical habitats were established as early as 2002 and stretch from Julian Rocks near Byron Bay in the north to Montague Island near Narooma in the south.
  • Grey nurse sharks are also protected in the sanctuary zones of the NSW’s six marine parks: Cape Byron, Jervis Bay, Lord Howe Island, Solitary Islands, Port Stephens-Great Lakes Marine Park and the Batemans Marine Park.

PICTURES: How the shark was rescued. Pictures courtesy of NSW Fisheries.