SCU student wins government grant to study sharks at Byron

Published 24 July 2003

Seeing a 2.5-metre shark swimming at her with its jaws wide open is one of the ‘coolest’ things grant-winning Southern Cross University (SCU) student Arliah Hayward has ever seen.

Ms Hayward, 22, an honours student in SCU’s School of Environmental Science and Management, was among the four student grant winners for 2003 announced yesterday by the NSW Minister for Agriculture and Fisheries, Ian Macdonald. The grants aim to encourage research into conservation and management of threatened fish and marine vegetation in NSW.

Ms Hayward was awarded the maximum grant of $1,500 for her research into the behaviour of Grey Nurse sharks and scuba divers in the presence of each other, at Julian Rocks off Byron Bay. Julian Rocks is one of 10 critical habitats in NSW for Grey Nurse sharks, which are critically endangered on the east coast of Australia (and vulnerable on the west coast).

“Getting the grant is good because now I get to go out diving more often,” said Ms Hayward, who lives in Byron Bay. “I love the sharks, they’re so magnificent. They’re graceful underwater. I’m surprised every time I see them.

“Once when we were diving we saw one and I stopped to watch. The shark started turning and as it swam towards me it yawned. I was about a metre away and I could see all its teeth and down its throat. It then swam off and rolled in the sand.

"People asked if I was scared but I said no, it was coolest thing I’ve seen ever”.

Grey Nurse sharks are listed as harmless, and have not been known to attack people.

Ms Hayward plans to do about two dives a day, four or five days a week, depending on diving conditions, with the Byron Bay Dive Centre, between now and around the end of September. She has to hand in her paper at the end of October.

“I’m looking at the behaviour of the sharks as well as the divers, for instance if the shark swims away, or swims towards us, and whether the divers are still or swimming when this happens,” she said. “Sharks exhibit other recognised behaviours like tail cracking (a quick burst of movement causing a loud sound like a whip cracking), yawning and rolling in tbe sand.”

Ms Hayward also plans to compare the sharks’ behaviour at Julian Rocks with sharks in captivity, at the Sydney Aquarium.

Her supervisors are Associate Professor Stephan Schnierer, in SCU’s School of Environmental Science and Management, and Dr Nick Otway, a Grey Nurse shark expert with NSW Fisheries, who runs the Grey Nurse tagging program for research purposes.

For more information contact Sara Crowe, Media Liaison, Southern Cross University, Ph: 6620 3144.