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believe an increase in fish stocks has caused shark
numbers to rise, there is no data to prove it.
Sharks mature at a late age and reproduce
slowly, meaning their populations cannot increase
rapidly in response to fish numbers.
Others argue there are more sharks in coastal
waters because depleted fish stocks are forcing
them to look for alternative food.
"Obviously there is a difference in opinion,"
says John, "and you cannot have it both ways."
Many still believe that the solution is to cull
According to Esperance shark fisherman Neville
Mansted, in days gone by sharks identified as hav-
ing attacked humans were hunted and destroyed,
unlike today, when they are generally monitored.
"I don't like the ones that bite you and I would
go out of my way to get rid of them," Neville, 61,
says. He owns one of around 20 boats in the state's
South West, which catch smaller, non-attacking
gummy and whiskery shark species for market.
But John says killing predatory sharks has dire
A study published in Science Daily in 2007 by a
team of Canadian and American ecologists found
that overfishing predatory sharks such as bull,
white, dusky and hammerhead along the Atlantic
Coast of the US led to a population explosion in
ray, skate, and small shark prey species who in turn
wiped out the bay scallop.
While Neville reckons sharks which attack
humans should be killed, he believes sharks in
their natural habitat should be left alone.
Which is why he gets annoyed when tour
companies in South Africa and South Australia
put people in cages so they can get up close and
personal with the sea giants.
"If you go on a safari in Africa the animals are re-
spected, not stirred up... it's just not right," he says.
Former professional surfing champion Tom Car-
roll is also firmly in the camp of leaving sharks alone.
Tom, 48, who now works for surf gear com-
pany Quiksilver but who still surfs regularly, says
unless sharks are "prowling" along the beach there
is no reason to harm them.
The way he sees it, if a human is attacked it is
because sharks, like dogs, like to defend their terri-
tory. Tom waxes lyrical about the grace of sharks.
"They are beautiful to look at, so serene and
perfect in their environment. They are extraordi-
nary, like ancient dinosaurs from millions of years
ago in their natural domain."
When he does encounter them, Tom says he
gets out of the water as fast as he can but still feels
as "slow as a turtle".
Pointing out that humans kill far more sharks
than the other way around, Tom says sharks repre-
sent "a classic reflection" of our own insecurity.
"We don't fear the shark itself, we just fear the
unknown," he insists.
While the shark attack statistics are reassuring,
as the thermometer rises, many of us will still be
asking what is being done to protect our beaches.
Many will call for shark nets.
John West points out that shark nets are not
environmentally friendly to other aquatic animals
such as dolphins, turtles, whales, fish and rays,
which tend to die along with the sharks if caught.
Surf Life Saving WA operations manager Chris
Peck agrees. Unlike Sydney, which is full of small
bays and beaches you can rope off, Perth coastlines
are long, straight and uncontainable.
Besides, you can't net a bay from the water
surface to the seabed and be sure a shark won't
"It's hit and miss," Chris says. "The public
wants to know something is being done but we
need to ask what works. Single strategies like shark
nets are not the answer, even if they make people
feel more comfortable."
SLSWA's air surveillance of Perth's major
beaches is far more pre-emptive and effective.
On an average summer's day, the Westpac
Rescue Helicopter flies over the most populated
beaches to check sea conditions and look for
everything from missing people and boats to
sharks, and keep an eye on medical issues which
might arise onshore.
With a population that spreads itself along the
coast on unpatrolled beaches, Chris says a helicopter
can respond quickly if trouble arises and, if a shark
is sighted at a remote location, can hover and use a
PA system to warn any swimmers to exit the water.
If a shark is spotted at a patrolled beach,
lifeguards are advised and a beach can be closed
quickly. Last year the helicopter had 23 "direct
FATEFUL DAYS: Left, the memorial for
Ken Crew, killed by a 4m great white in waist-
deep water at North Cottesloe in 2000.
Below: Beach closed signs go up after the
fatal mauling of father-of-three Brian Guest
o Port Kennedy in December 2008.
PORT KENNEDY PICTURE Colin Murty/Newspix
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