As a killer cyclone rages across Australia, a television news crew arrives in the town of Ayr to report on the devastation. Suddenly, they spot something bizarre in the middle of a flooded road. It’s a tragic victim of the freak weather conditions that have blighted the region, but it’s not of the kind that you might expect.
The story began on March 24, 2017, when a Tropical Cyclone Formation Alert was issued by the Joint Typhoon Warning Center in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. During the previous few days, an area of low pressure had formed over the Coral Sea, close to Papua New Guinea. And now, the weather system looked set to create gale-force winds.
By March 26 the cyclone had reached Category 2 in severity. That classification indicates a risk of power failure and minor damage to homes. But the next day the cyclone was upgraded to Category 3. At this level, winds can be very destructive, with small structures such as caravans often destroyed.
On March 27, the day before the cyclone hit land, meteorologists were predicting winds of more than 170 mph. Indeed, that night the warning was upgraded again, this time to Category 4. That meant significant damage, airborne debris and severe power failures were likely. What’s more, in some areas of the eastern coast, residents were evacuated from their homes.
Then on March 28 disaster struck. The storm, now dubbed Cyclone Debbie, took an unpredictable turn to the south. Consequently, it hit areas where no evacuations had taken place. Indeed, across Queensland it tore roofs from houses and pelted the ground with torrential rain.
In some parts of Queensland, winds in fact reached a staggering 163 mph. And in North Queensland’s Pioneer Basin, more than 3 feet of rain fell over a 48-hour period. That’s well above half of the average annual figure. Meanwhile, in the nearby Whitsundays, 300 tourists were stranded when a jetty was destroyed.
And as Cyclone Debbie moved south towards New South Wales, it continued to wreak havoc. In total, at least 12 people lost their lives during the storm, mostly through drowning in the extreme floods. Tragically, even more are missing and presumed dead.
In Ayr, a town in North Queensland, residents were lucky enough to escape the worst of Cyclone Debbie. But when a local journalist arrived in the area to cover the damage caused by the storm, he was in for a shock. Indeed, after severe flooding had hit the area, one unfortunate soul had been left high and dry.
Philip Calder, a journalist for regional television network WIN News Townsville, was on his way to cover a story on nearby Rita Island, where a community of people had been cut off owing to rising flood waters. However, it wasn’t the islanders’ plight that ended up making headlines around the world.
That’s because while traveling through Ayr, Calder spotted a large bull shark – improbably stranded in the middle of the road. And on closer inspection, the animal was revealed to be almost five feet in length. Sadly, however, it had been out of the water for too long for it to be revived.
“We were pretty amazed,” Calder said in a March 2017 interview with news.com.au. “We were turning up to shoot a flooding road, we weren’t expecting to see wildlife at all.” Clearly, audiences across the globe shared his amazement, too, as a photograph of the shark posted by the Queensland Fire & Emergency Services Twitter account soon received more than 3,000 retweets.
According to Calder, bull sharks are a common predator in the region. They furthermore often live in rivers and creeks surprisingly close to inhabited areas. In fact, locals apparently informed him that the Burdekin River is frequently teeming with the animals. “They [the people] never go swimming in it,” he told the Brisbane Times.
And although there are no official figures on the river’s shark population, it’s clear why the locals might be wary. Currently, bull sharks, along with tiger and great white sharks, are one of the main perpetrators of fatal shark attacks on humans. In fact, they are thought to have been responsible for as many as 100 deaths since records began.
Typically, bull sharks live in shallow, warm waters located close to coasts. However, they’ve also been known to travel up rivers – and have sometimes been found as far inland as the Mississippi in Illinois. In the Burdekin River, meanwhile, they are thought to share the waters with barracudas, turtles and a variety of other marine life.
Calder believes that extreme weather conditions may have disorientated the ultimately stricken shark, causing it to lose its way. “He must’ve gotten caught in a torrent and, confused, beached himself on the side of the road,” Calder told newscom.au. Tragically, it was to be a fatal mistake.
Because the carcass of the shark appeared clean and relatively free from decomposition, Calder surmised that it had not been out of the water for very long. However, it soon began drawing attention as locals flocked to get a better look at the fearsome creature.
In a video uploaded to Twitter, a man could be seen encouraging a young girl to touch the animal’s skin. What’s more, at one point some locals apparently arrived and removed one of the shark’s teeth with a knife. According to Calder, they intended to keep it as a souvenir.
And as the stranded shark’s fame began to grow, local authorities seized the opportunity to warn the public about the dangers of flood water. On Twitter, the Queensland Fire & Emergency Services subsequently began using the hashtag #ifitsfloodedforgetit, accompanied by a photograph of the unfortunate animal. “You never know what lurks beneath the surface in a severe storm,” read the accompanying comment.
Amazingly, though, it wasn’t the last time that a bull shark would find itself in trouble in the aftermath of Cyclone Debbie. Just a few days later, in fact, a specimen dubbed Bruce managed to beach itself on the roads of Logan City, a suburb of Brisbane in South East Queensland. In a Facebook post, local councilor Steve Swenson shared a video of the creature along with a warning to “stay out the water.”
Yet although some seemed to take the threat seriously, others online have been quick to notice the similarity between these events and the comedy movie Sharknado. Released in 2013, the film tells the tale of a storm that leaves a deluge of angry sharks on the streets of Los Angeles. And while Queensland has yet to suffer anything quite as dramatic, there’s no doubt that some residents will think twice before venturing into its murky waters.