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Shark kills Aussie surfer on day helicopter patrols begin

November 25, 2013 Destination Global, Headline News No Comments Email Email

egtmedia59A 35-year-old surfer has been killed by a shark at a popular surfing spot near Gracetown in Western Australia’s South West, becoming the eleventh victim to die in that way in Western Australian waters since 2000.

The attack was the third in the Gracetown area since 2004. Beaches have been closed and the state’s fisheries department has issued an order to catch and kill the shark. The department warned of an imminent threat of more attacks in the area, Channel 9 News reported.

Western Australia is rapidly gaining worldwide notoriety as the planet’s deadliest place for shark attacks.

The day of the fatal attack was, ironically, the first patrol day this season for the Surf Life Saving WA (SLSWA) helicopter. The helicopter flights, designed to keep an eye on the coast between Bunbury and Augusta, are part of a WA government program in 2013-14 to reduce shark hazards, at a cost of over AUD 6 million.

Launching the new flight season in Busselton a day before the latest shark attack, WA Fisheries Minister Troy Buswell said the aerial patrols would operate every day from 23 November to 3 February 2014, as well as the March and Easter long weekends next year.

“The highly trained crew will be on the lookout for people or vessels in distress, incidents on beaches, as well as rip currents or marine life, including sharks, that could represent a safety hazard,” Buswell said.

He added that because Department of Fisheries’ tagged shark detection equipment was also now in place off Bunbury and Meelup, the helicopter could potentially be tasked to carry out checks of shark detections from the monitors.

“The shark monitors were installed last month and provide another early warning tool for beach safety,” Buswell said. “A third monitor for the South-West is planned to be installed off Busselton in coming months.”

Last year, the helicopter carried out 21 shark searches on South-West beaches, following alerts from the Department of Fisheries, Water Police and surf lifesavers.

After Saturday morning’s fatal attack, police and St John Ambulance were called to Lefthanders Beach, south of Gracetown. The victim, a local man and father of two, was pronounced dead at the scene.

Western Australian tourism operators, particularly those dealing in marine tourism, will be concerned about potential fallout from the series of attacks. Snorkel tours and swims with whale sharks are a popular WA attraction. Despite their impressive size, whale sharks are harmless filter feeders, but the word shark in the name may deter a few people.

Before this weekend, the most recent fatal shark attack in WA waters was in July 2012, when a “massive” shark bit a surfer in half off Wedge Island near Lancelin, about 110km north of Perth. That was fifth fatal shark attack off the WA coast in less than a year. Witnesses believed that shark was a five-metre great white.

After the July 2012 attack, the WA Fisheries Minister at that time, Norman Moore, ordered the shark hunted down and destroyed. He questioned whether great white sharks should still be on the protected species list.

The white shark, Carcharodon carcharias, is also known in Australia as the great white shark or white pointer and is fully protected in Australian waters under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999, in which it is listed as a vulnerable species.

Moore banned any move to introduce shark tourism, in the form of activities like cage diving, into Western Australia because of fears that it could lure even more sharks.

“I have decided that Western Australia will not be the place for shark cage tourism, like those currently operating in South Australia and South Africa,” Moore said.

The July 2012 attack followed another fatal attack, near Busselton in the state’s southwest three months earlier. The Mayor of Busselton said at the time that tourism would suffer unless the state government started killing sharks that approached the shore.

“I don’t want to build up too much of a scare campaign, but there is absolutely no doubt that it is impacting on our tourism and it’s not good enough,” Busselton Mayor Ian Stubbs told ABC News in 2012. “These sharks that come in close need to be exterminated. The State Government needs to act and they need to act now.”

The combination of tourist beaches and sharks evokes Steven Spielberg’s 1975 thriller movie Jaws, set in a fictional beach resort town that derives most of its income from tourism.

Earlier shark attacks in Western Australia include:

  • 30 March 2012. Local resident Peter Kurmann is killed by great white as he dives for crayfish with his brother about 1.7 kilometres off Stratham Beach near Busselton.
  • 22 October 2011: American George Thomas Wainwright, 32, dies after being attacked while scuba diving off Rottnest Island;
  • 10 October 2011: Bryn Martin disappears on his daily swim outside the Indiana teahouse at Cottesloe Beach, Perth’s premier coastal venue. A great white shark is suspected.
  • 4 September 2011: A shark kills Kyle James Burden while he bodyboards with friends at Bunker Bay near Dunsborough.

Eight other fatal shark attacks took place previous to those in WA waters since 1993.

Written by  Peter Needham

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