Wednesday, April 17, 2024

Six big sharks accidentally found their way to an Aussie golf course. After that, they disappeared

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For golfers, avoiding the water can make a big difference in the game. In Australia, there’s a unique golf course called Carbrook in Queensland, where something extraordinary happened – the course had six bull sharks living in its lake.

Let’s talk about how these sharks ended up there. Even though the golf course is far from the ocean, about 14 kilometers away, bull sharks are known for adapting to various environments. They can handle different types of waters, from rivers to estuaries. What makes them special is their ability to survive in freshwater, something other sharks can’t do.

So, it wasn’t a shock for locals in the 1990s when these sturdy, blunt-nosed bull sharks appeared in the Logan River. This river flows inland from the sea, passing around the Carbrook golf club, which is located between Brisbane and Gold Coast. The sharks seemed to handle not just the river but also the occasional flooding without any problem.

Paired with the area’s warm climate, the club has faced frequent flooding since it started in 1978. It got submerged in water multiple times, like in 1991, 1995, and 1996.

During those heavy rains, the strip of land about 100 meters long, separating the river from the lake formed from a sand mine next to the 14th hole, was completely underwater. A new path opened up, and in one of those temporary openings, six bull sharks found their way into unfamiliar territory.

When the land bridge dried up again, it trapped the sharks. The door stayed closed for 17 years until another serious flood in 2013 created a connection to the river.

Carbrook’s Nessie
Towards the end of the century, rumors started circulating around Carbrook’s golf course, mainly originating from the 14th green.

People talked about loud splashes, big dark shapes swimming beneath the lake’s surface, and even dismissed claims of a tall fin cutting through the water. “The Carbrook Shark” became a sort of local legend, like Australia’s version of Bigfoot or Yeti, or more fittingly, a regional version of another famous mythical lake creature.

“The Loch Ness monster is pretty similar to what it felt like,” said Carbrook general manager Scott Wagstaff to CNN.

“It seemed possible but there wasn’t enough truth to it at that point.”

Back in the early 2000s, the Courier Mail in Brisbane turned a story into reality by printing a photo of a shark, as Wagstaff remembered. Even though he had been part of the club for years, he hadn’t seen the sharks himself when he started working there in 2010.

Wanting to satisfy his curiosity, Wagstaff went to the lake with his camera and some meat. As soon as the bait touched the water, a shark appeared.

Surprised, Wagstaff took some pictures and shot a quick video on his phone to share online. He admits the video was “not great,” but it became a hit on the internet, with over 2.3 million views on YouTube so far.

The club got a lot of attention from the media, and they really liked having sharks around.

They even put a bull shark in their logo and called their youth program the Junior Shark Academy. They would feed the sharks during events, like tournaments and parties. One time, all six sharks showed up at a special wedding in 2009, Wagstaff remembers.

Wagstaff liked the sharks, but he didn’t want to call them pets. He did give one the nickname “Patch” because of a marking on its back.

Compared to the crocodiles and snakes at other golf courses, Carbrook’s sharks were easy to take care of. They only did two things to be safe: they put up warning signs around the lake, and they didn’t let people dive for golf balls in the lake because it was too risky.

Wagstaff said, “It’s just not worth the little money we make each year to put someone’s life in danger.”

Amazingly, the excitement about something spread really far, reaching a scientist who loves sharks and works in Germany at Ruhr University Bochum.

Dr. Peter Gausmann shared his study about Carbrook sharks, called “Who’s the biggest fish in the pond?” in a journal about marine and fishery sciences in August 2023. He said that the sharks living there for a long time tell us new things about how flexible bull sharks can be.

Even if the people there don’t give food to the sharks, they aren’t hungry because the lake is big, filled with fish like mullets, tarpons, and snappers – it’s 700 meters long, 380 meters wide, and 15 meters deep.

Gausmann did some math and figured out that the sharks would need to eat half a ton of fish every year, or 0.44% of their weight each day, to have enough energy. When they first got there, they were young sharks, but by 2013, people saw that they grew to be a good size – between 1.8 and 3 meters long.

Bull sharks surviving in different water conditions is quite rare. Before this discovery, it was only known that bull sharks could last a few years in isolated water areas. A group lasted four years in Panama’s Lake Bayano during the 1980s, and another endured a decade in South Africa’s Lake St. Lucia with high salt levels after getting stuck in 2002.

What’s unique here is that some bull sharks stayed in low-salt water for at least 17 years, more than half their usual lifespan. This is the first time we’ve seen how long they can survive in such environments, according to Gausmann.

However, the mystery deepens as the sharks in Carbrook, Australia, where Gausmann conducted the study, have vanished. It’s been eight years since anyone saw a shark in the lake. Despite over 100 sightings with no signs of health issues, they disappeared after a fishing incident. Gausmann doesn’t think it’s a natural death but suspects illegal fishing as the probable cause.

The absence of sharks is felt by the golf club members. They used to enjoy having sharks in their unique golf course, and now they miss the excitement of spotting fins in the water. They hope to see the sharks again someday.

Last year, a big flood hit our course, making it the worst flood ever here in Wagstaff’s area. It was tough on our finances, and we had to close the club for two months. Surprisingly, it gave us a glimmer of hope that new sharks might have moved from the river to the lake.

We can’t be sure yet, but Carbrook is getting ready for a future without its mascot. We’re planning to fill in the lake and create a new course over the next ten years. All the marine life, even potential sharks, will be moved to other waters.

Now, about Michael Jordan’s private golf course story card. The tale behind his super-secret personal course.

Whether or not Wagstaff sees another shark fin in the lake, he’ll always remember “Patch” and friends warmly. They helped him conquer his fear. Once scared of the ocean because of sharks, Wagstaff recently went scuba diving in the Sunshine Coast reefs to meet some big grey nurse sharks up close.

“There’s this story about sharks being mean because they encounter humans, especially bull sharks in places like canals, creeks, and rivers,” Wagstaff said.

“But when you’re right next to them, you see how lovely and graceful they are. Now, I just find them fascinating, especially the bull shark.

“They’re skilled, adaptable, and seriously beautiful up close. It’s an amazing shark.”

 

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