Toby Begg's surfboard, broken in half by the shark that bit him. Source: 9 News Australia // Youtube

Toby Begg’s surfboard, broken in half by the shark that bit him. Source: 9 News Australia // YouTube

The Inertia

An Australian surfer has reportedly lost his leg after fighting off a great white shark at a New South Wales beach. The man is currently in the hospital, where he remains in critical condition, writes The Independent.

Forty-four-year-old Toby Begg was surfing at Lighthouse Beach, Port Macquarie, NSW when the bite occurred. It was 10 a.m. on Friday morning and he was approximately 500 feet offshore, when a reported 12-14 foot-long great white shark began biting his lower body and legs.

“The reports are the man tried to fight this shark for up to 30 seconds and then swam himself to shore where he  realized he sustained significant lower leg injuries,” NSW police chief inspector Martin Burke told radio station 2GB.

After Begg arrived on shore, bystanders, including an off-duty emergency doctor, applied a tourniquet to his legs and performed first aid until paramedics arrived. He was then airlifted to John Hunter Hospital in Newcastle. Local media reported that he lost one of his legs and remains in critical condition.

The beach closed on Friday evening and was likely to remain shut for 24 hours.

As part of NSW shark mitigation efforts, Lighthouse Beach is has two SMART drumlines (Shark-Management-Alert-In-Real-Time) located around 1,600 feet offshore. These are long, baited lines attached to a GPS device that alerts authorities when an animal has been caught. Afterwards, the animal is dragged around 3,000 feet offshore and released.

While this most recent encounter would appear to be evidence against the efficacy of the lines, the case is not quite that simple. The lines theoretically work by reducing the number of sharks near to swimming beaches, rather than completely preventing them from accessing the same waters as humans. This means that encounters like Begg’s could still occur even if the lines were working as intended. Furthermore, one isolated anecdotal incident does not constitute scientific data.

On the other hand, there is also no scientific data conclusively proving that they do in fact reduce the likelihood of human/shark encounters. Many arguments for the use of the drumlines rely on anecdotal data, such as citing lower incidence of shark encounters at protected beaches, without any data proving a causal relationship to the mitigation measures.

The only fact we definitively know about the efficacy of the lines is that they have succeeded in catching both sharks and other non-target species. Data from July 2021-June 2022 shows nine sharks caught on the Lighthouse Beach lines (two of them being white sharks) and one leatherback turtle. This has led many to call for their removal, citing the damage to animals that can occur even when they are caught and released offshore, rather than being killed.


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