NOT A SHARK: Swimmers in Shaw's Bay, Ballina, have been surprised by a Shovelnose ray.
NOT A SHARK: Swimmers in Shaw's Bay, Ballina, have been surprised by a Shovelnose ray. Contributed

Metre-long 'shark' lurking in Ballina swimming spot

IF YOU are swimming in Shaws Bay at Ballina and you see a dorsal fin in the water, there's no need to panic.

It's probably just a resident shovelnose ray.

And don't worry, you won't be on its menu.

These harmless creatures grow to 1.2m and they might resemble a shark, but this is where the similarity ends.

Their diet consists of prawns, crabs and other crustaceans, as well as fishes and molluscs.

What creatures are lurking beneath these calm waters?
What creatures are lurking beneath these calm waters? Graham Broadhead


But this hasn't stopped people doing a double-take while enjoying a dip.

An Alstonville man spotted the ray while swimming with his two boys at Shaws Bay on Sunday.

"It was huge, definitely over a metre," he said.

"We thought it was a shark, it looked like a shark... we got out of the water pretty bloody quickly.

"The boys were excited to have something to tell the other kids at school."

Keen snorkellers have also reported spotting the shovelnose on several occasions and regular walkers have been treated to a sightings in recent weeks.

The same one?

In 2015 The Northern Star reported on a spate of sightings of a "shark" in Shaws Bay.

Ballina Shire Council received a number of reports and police even considered closing the bay and asking the council to erect warning signs.

At the time, Richmond Local Area Command Inspector Bill McKenna said the move was prompted by a report of a shark sighting late in the day.

"In consultation with council, Fisheries NSW, and Surf Life Saving (Far North Coast), a decision was made to conduct an inspection of the bay at first light the next morning," Inspector McKenna said.

"The inspection of the bay didn't reveal anything untoward, and the bay remained open."

Fishy tales

There have been many reports of strange creatures in Shaws Bay.

One of the more popular rumours is that fishermen catch sharks in the nearby Richmond River and then dump them in the bay "because they think it's funny".

Swimmers often report being rammed by giant trevally - these fish become quite territorial and aren't afraid to launch themselves into their human enemies.

By another name

According to the Australian Museum, the shovelnose ray is also known as Australian shovelnose ray, banjo fish, Bank's shovelnosed ray, common shovelnosed ray, eragoni, guitarfish, long-snout shovelnose ray, shovel-nosed ray, shovelnose shark and Southern shovelnose ray.

It's all in the looks

The Eastern shovelnose ray can be recognised by its wedge-shaped disc, its long triangular snout and its colouration. It is usually sandy-coloured above and may have darker blotches. The lower surface is white with irregular dark flecks.

You can encounter a Shovelnose Ray from southern Queensland to southern New South Wales.

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