Dolphins Tried to ‘Push’ Surfer Being Stalked by 20-Foot Shark to Shore

Dolphins tried to “push” a man to shore while he was being stalked by a 20-foot shark in Australia.

Bill Ballard was surfing at Wallagoot Beach, on the New South Wales coast, when he noticed that the dolphins—who were feeding on a swarm of salmon in the area—began acting differently than usual, The Courier reported. Ballard had encountered dolphins in the area before, so he was well versed in their usual behavior.

“It’s hard to describe, but they kept coming up to the surface to look at me and also began swimming back and forward, coming closer and trying to push me towards the shore,” he told the newspaper.

Shortly afterward, an aircraft—which had been watching the dolphins’ feeding frenzy from above—swooped down to warn him that a 20-foot shark was lurking in the waters nearby, The Courier reported.

Stock photo Dolphins and a Shark
In this combination image, A stock image of dolphins and a stock image of a great white shark
iStock / Getty Images

As the two passengers hung out of the low-hanging aircraft, they screamed at Ballard, “Shark, shark!”

They also pointed at a large shadow of something lurking in the waters nearby.

The aircraft, which had flown too low to ascend, then crashed into the water a few meters from the beach. Ballard, who had caught a wave that brought him to shore, went over to check on the passengers’ condition and spoke to one of them.

“She kept saying, ‘That shark was so close to you, so close, and it was the biggest one I’ve ever seen. It must have been around 20 feet long,” Ballard told The Courier. “I am so thankful. They were like guardian angels coming to save me.

“At first, I thought they must have mistaken it for a dolphin, and I kept asking if they were sure it wasn’t, but the pilot said, ‘No, I’ve been flying for years and I know exactly what a shark looks like,” Ballard told the newspaper. Neither passenger was significantly injured in the crash.

The species of the shark was not confirmed, but Leonardo Guida, a shark scientist at the Australian Marine Conservation Society, told Newsweek that this area of Australia is home to several species, including the “iconic big three—white, tiger and bull sharks.”

“Dolphins and sharks in the same area is not at all uncommon as they tend to be after the same food or hunt in similar areas. Generally speaking, it’s not in an animal’s best interests to engage in conflict when it can be avoided, so it could be that the dolphins are keeping their distance and an eye on a potential competitor whilst still being able to get their fill of fish,” Guida said.

He continued: “I’m not a dolphin expert nor do I know what a dolphin thinks, but the dolphins may have even seen the surfer as a possible competitor for food, and ‘pushing’ him to shore could have been a way of intimidating him to stay away from their food rather than protecting him from a shark.”

Big schools of fish, including the salmon in the area, are a big drawcard for sharks, Guida said.

“They form a high concentration of a relatively easy-to-catch food. Australian salmon are actually one of the species of fish that can make up to around a third of the diet of juvenile white sharks on the east coast, and it’s entirely possible one was in the area doing what it naturally does and following the school of fish,” he said.

According to the Florida Museum’s International Shark Attack File, Australia is one of the most likely places in the world for shark attacks to occur. In 2021, 12 unprovoked shark bites were reported.

Sharks do not look to hunt humans but conflicts can occur. A shark may approach a surfer after mistaking it for something that it may want to eat, or out of curiosity.

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