A HEIGHTENED fear of potential shark attacks in the Hastings would be irrational and unfounded following Wednesday's incident on Lighthouse Beach.
That's the view of shark researcher and marine ecologist doctor David Powter, who's been studying sharks for more than a decade.
Mike Porter was most likely at the unlucky end of a mistaken nibble, Dr Powter said, when a shark clamped on to his foot and through his rubber flipper at dusk on March 12.
The 40-year-old Port Macquarie man decided to swim out and take some photos of surfers just after 6pm, when he found himself scuffling with a shark.
But soon after latching on to his foot, the animal let go, and Mr Porter was left with no more than a shock to the system and eight stitches on his foot.
"It could very well have been a case of mistaken identity," the senior lecturer from the University of Newcastle said. "At the time the sun would have been fairly low in the sky, and with low visibility the shark's bite could have been more on the basis of movement, or reflection of light from his flippers or camera."
After analysis of Mr Porter's flipper and foot wound, the Department of Primary Industries identified the shark responsible as a wobbegong.
But Dr Powter had earlier suggested a bull-shark could have been the more likely culprit.
"It's pretty difficult to determine, but it does look like a decent sort of bite and the first thing that would spring to mind for me would be a bull or whaler shark of some sort."
Reports of shark sightings around the Port Macquarie-Hastings have been frequent in recent months.
Lighthouse Beach was closed a number of times after confirmed sightings in summer.
And, in one instance, lifeguards were forced to chase what was believed to be an agitated whaler shark from Watonga Rocks and out to sea. Boaties have told the Port News huge schools of bait fish have been running past local beaches and in close to shore.
Dr Powter said this, coupled with hyper-alertness following recent incidents, could contribute to more sharks being spotted. But realistically, he said, it would be unfounded to think the region was more "sharky" as of late.
"Sharks are predatory animals, and if there's a study supply of fish they'll follow the food source," he said.
"But just because there are sharks in the area where people are swimming or surfing, doesn't mean there's going to be an attack."
"They don't really tend to set-up residency," he added.
"It varies from species to species but sharks tend to travel significant lengths up and down the east coast."
Great white sharks have been tracked swimming as far as South Africa to Australia, but even smaller sharks often visit neighbouring states.
Ultimately, the risk of being bitten by a shark remains low.
Shark populations are generally declining, Dr Powter said, mainly as a result of fishing pressures and particularly due to the shark fin trade.
And, despite the increased number of Australians opting to surf or swim on our beaches, detailed records maintained by the Australian Shark Attack File (ASAF) at Taronga Zoo indicate that compared to fatalities from other forms of water related activity the number of fatal shark attacks in Australia has been low.
In the last 50 years, there have been 51 recorded unprovoked fatalities due to shark attack, which averages around one per year, the website said.
This is compared with an average of 121 beach drowning deaths annually.
"The reality is that humans are not ''on the menu'' and sharks are not the ''man-eaters'' portrayed in movies like Jaws and often implied in media reports each summer," Dr Powter said.
"Instead they are magnificent animals, superbly adapted to their environments, in which they play critical roles."