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HomeNewsJaws who? The mystery of Manly’s phantom shark

Jaws who? The mystery of Manly’s phantom shark

Shortly before sunset on 2 January, Manly resident Barry Brown saw a fishing boat come close to shore near North Steyne, at the northern end of Manly Beach. Curious, he grabbed his binoculars, and from his apartment balcony he  says he watched the crew haul aboard what he believed to be a large shark, about 15 foot.

Barry contacted Manly Observer to report that he witnessed a dead shark reeled-in from one of the two shark deterrents (either the nets or a drumline) off North Steyne, and asked if we were able to look into it.

We did, but the Fisheries department of the NSW Department of Primary Industries (DPIE) claimed no such thing occurred (see quote below).

Tiger Shark. Photo: Koa Matsuoka / Flickr

Barry was adamant his eyes didn’t deceive him; nevertheless, maritime authorities, whom we contacted again for clarification, insisted no shark was caught in the vicinity, alive or dead around that period.

Barry seemed a reputable fellow, so Manly Observer wondered if something fishy was going on, so we set about trying to solve the mystery of the large shark-shaped marine creature seen hauled from the sea off Manly Beach around sunset on 2nd January. Perhaps it was a dolphin or a seal?

Maritime mystery

Barry lives in an apartment at the northern end of Manly Beach which has commanding views over Queenscliff Beach and North Steyne.

North Steyne, Manly, Queenscliff SLSC in the distance. Photo: Alec Smart

Barry told the Observer, “On dusk, as it was just getting dark, I saw the boat that picked the shark up had its full spotlights on… I could see a shark hanging on the side  of the boat as they pulled it up on a pulley system, some sort of lift.”

He continued, “It looked like the boat that is used to roll up the shark nets, not the boat that picks up the drum lines, which is just a speedboat that collects those orange buoys.”

Although the sun was setting, through his binoculars Barry could read the lettering on the side of the vessel hauling aboard what he is certain was a shark entangled in what he assumed was a drum line below. The boat was the MV Miss Charlotte G.

Barry further revealed that after the shark was taken from the ocean, he traced the movement of the Miss Charlotte G through a maritime app, Marine Traffic. He observed the vessel sail from Manly into Sydney Harbour, then eventually under Anzac Bridge, where it docked near Sydney Fish Market in Blackwattle Bay, Pyrmont, its home port.

Confirmation of vessel

Manly Observer contacted DPIE, gave the name of the boat Barry saw, and asked if it was one contracted by the Fisheries Department.

A DPIE spokesperson confirmed: “The Miss Charlotte vessel is currently used for the shark net contract between Manly and Narrabeen. It is one of seven net contractors between Newcastle and Wollongong that service the nets every year from 1 September to 30 April.”

VesselFinder’s tracking of the MV Miss Charlote, a NSW Govt-contracted shark vessel, from 28 Dec 2023 – 5 Jan 2024

Barry believes the shark he saw was a tiger, due to its shape (tigers are not as stocky as bull sharks and have large pectoral fins).

Was the shark dead or struggling when it was hauled aboard?

“No, it was dead, definitely dead,” Barry confirmed. “It was like the shark from two years ago that was pulled out of the nets in the water off Manly Beach – closer to Queenscliff than North Steyne… That was a 15-foot tiger shark. This one looked very similar, and the boat looked similar to the one used to haul the shark out of the water two years ago.” (See photo below).

A shark carcass being removed from the shark net at Manly Beach in March 2021.

DPIE deny shark

Manly Observer asked the NSW DPIE Fisheries if they could confirm a shark was removed near Manly Beach early evening on or around 2 January 2024, we also enquired what happens to the sharks when they’re snagged on drumlines or in the nets.

A DPIE spokesperson said, “There were no sharks caught in the Manly nets on 2 January. Sharks removed from drumlines are taken back to sea or retained for further scientific purposes.”

According to the NSW Government’s Disaster Dashboard website, the morning after Barry saw the shark there was no drumline at North Steyne (location: -33.794684, 151.287463). The entry for 3 January recorded: “No SMART Drumlines between Manly and Turimetta Beach.”

We asked the DPIE whether the North Steyne drumline might have been removed because it was damaged after a shark got caught in it the night before, and was it being replaced or repaired?

A DPIE spokesperson said, “There were no smart drumlines set in Manly due to inclement weather conditions.

Where’s Barry’s shark?

Vesselfinder website, which tracks worldwide shipping via AIS (Automatic Identification System), recorded that Miss Charlotte G departed port (in Blackwattle Bay, Pyrmont) at 17.47hrs on 2 January, returning at 19.47hrs. We needed to confirm it visited Manly Beach during its two hours at sea.

We paid VesselFinder for a digital printout of Miss Charlotte G’s movements (see below). The Voyage Analyser shows the vessel left port near Bank St Pyrmont, at 17.11 hours (slightly earlier than the public record, which allows for minor adjustments) on 2 January. From there it travelled east through Sydney Harbour at an average speed of 12.7 knots, passing through Sydney Heads approximately 17.48hrs.

Once in the South Pacific Ocean, the MV Miss Charlotte headed north and appears to halt for several minutes off Narrabeen Beach (east of Loftus St), at 18.28hrs. It then continues south, stopping off Dee Why Beach (east of Howard Ave) at 18.48hrs. It reaches North Steyne at 19.22hrs, where Barry claims to have spotted it shortly before sunset.

VesselFinder’s tracking of Miss Charlotte G’s maritime route on the evening of 2 Jan 2024.

The sun set at approximately 20.10hrs on 2 January, so it would have been low on the western horizon when Miss Charlotte G was at North Steyne, and Manly Beach and the inshore waters would have been in shadow. This would explain why Barry recalled he saw a spotlight on the vessel.

It would appear from VesselFinder’s Voyage Analyser that Miss Charlotte G was inspecting the shark nets between Narrabeen and Manly on the evening of 2 January. Of course, if this is what it’s contracted to do, it’s not great revelation. But it confirms the boat was where Barry said it was at the time he saw this phantom shark.

Secret catch?

The DPIE insist no sharks, alive or dead, were hauled from the water near Manly on either 1 or 2 January 2024. A DPIE spokesperson added that no drumlines were set in Manly for the first few days of 2024.

Who cares?

It is entirely possible that no impropriety has occurred, but when a story doesn’t stack up it raises our suspicions.

Is it possible the boat crew hauled a shark aboard and didn’t report it?

On 9 January, a drone operator released film footage of shark contractors in Queensland stabbing a tiger shark off Kings Beach on the Sunshine Coast. The stabbing failed to kill the shark, which writhed in pain, so it was hauled aboard the contractor’s vessel while its blood reportedly flowed into the water near swimmers.

Manly Observer is not suggesting that the crew of the Miss Charlotte G behaved illegally or irresponsibly, but the Queensland incident is a reminder that contractors employed to monitor drumlines and nets may operate outside the remit of the government guidelines on shark management.

The concern would be if sharks are being killed on drumline tech and not being recorded, giving the false impression of their efficacy. Or large marine animals, a shark or other large creature, caught in the nets and not being recorded.

Or perhaps we’ve been spooked by an event that did not happen? A shark or large marine creature death that did not exist. A spectre of the sea.

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Manly Observer is an experiment in providing non-sensationalist hyperlocal news on Sydney’s Northern Beaches. We cover the big news across the LGA, but with a hyper focus on the Manly electorate encompassing Balgowlah, Seaforth, Freshwater, Brookvale and Curl Curl up to Dee Why. It is run by those living in the community for the benefit of an informed community. We care about an informed and connected community. That’s it. Simple. Thank you for your support in keeping quality local news alive!

Kim Smee, Editor

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