Australia set for 'war on sharks' after death No 3

US tourist becomes third victim since September, prompting calls for cull of endangered species

BY Kieron Monks LAST UPDATED AT 14:26 ON Tue 25 Oct 2011

AUTHORITIES in Western Australia are hunting for a great white shark after a third fatal attack in less than two months. The species has protected status but fishery officers have been given exemption to kill the man-eater, prompting concerns from conservationists.

The mutilated body of American tourist George Wainwright, 32, was discovered in the waters of Rottnest Island on Saturday, within 20 miles of Cottesloe Beach, where Bryn Martin, 64, died earlier this month. Kyle Burden, 21, was also killed in Western Australia a month earlier. There are fears that a single 'rogue shark' was responsible for all three attacks.

WA Premier Colin Barnett described the trio of incidents as "unprecedented" and refused to rule out a cull. For the time being, fisheries officers have been given orders to hunt and kill only the man-eater, even though the 'rogue shark' theory is widely seen as unlikely.

Yet there are also fears that more sharks are entering human areas and becoming more dangerous. "I'm desperately praying this is not the beginning of a new trend," said Fisheries Minister Norman Moore.

Conservationists and scientists deny that the attacks are unprecedented and reject the need for a cull.

"There is no scientific evidence to suggest that the short time period between these attacks is a reflection of an increased population of white sharks," said Dr Charlie Huveneers. "It could simply be the seasonal fluctuation. White sharks might naturally be occurring more often around the populated Western Australian coastline at this time."

Ryan Kempster, marine neuro-ecologist at the University of Western Australia, says swimmers must take responsibility. "Being aware of the conditions and acting appropriately will dramatically reduce the already minute risk of being attacked".

Of the three victims, all were swimming alone. One of them was attacked late at night, and another was killed close to a seal colony.

But local communities, including surfer groups, are lobbying for a cull. "I think the Cottesloe attack was the last straw," said surfer Brett Hardy. "Before then, I was leaning towards the side of just leaving the sharks be. But with all these sightings and that attack, I think action should be taken to protect the people."

Great white sharks have held protected status in Australia since 2000. According to the Australian Shark Attack File they are responsible for 52 fatalities in the past 50 years. · 

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