Sharks, tubes and spearguns

Another shark attack in Western Australia on Tuesday rocketed the state’s coast into the headlines yet again. It came six weeks after a 24-year-old surfer was killed by a five-metre great white 160km north of Perth – the fifth fatal attack in WA in 10 months.

Photo // Sacha Specker

Meanwhile over in the French island of Reunion, the fear of men in grey suits has gripped the surfing population so fervently, that one local recently resorted to carrying a spear gun with him in the tube. Reunion made international headlines earlier this month when the mayor of St Leu authorised the fishing of bull sharks following another shark attack death in the island’s waters – the seventh attack and third fatality since the start of 2011. His aim was to make waters safer for the island’s inhabitants, but conservationists were up in arms. Soon after, the mayor backed down on his decision to pay fishermen to hunt and kill the sharks because it contravened French conservation law – you’re not allowed to fish or hunt in protected marine areas.

Then, two weeks later, there was another attack. The guy didn’t die but his hand and foot were badly mauled. The supporters of a shark-cull were vocal again, and 300 local wave riders demonstrated in front of a local police station demanding a cull be authorised, according to news agency Reuters. Mat Milella, a Reunion local and 2010 World Champ Amaury Lavernhe’s best mate, told Riptide it was clear that the number of bull sharks around the island had increased in recent times.

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Amaury mid-flight in last year’s Reunion comp.

‘Yes I think the number of sharks have been increasing even if I can’t assert that there are thousands or just a bunch of intelligent ones who have understood that the surfing human is the easiest prey around,’ he said. He said pre-2008 the shark population was regulated by fishing one or two sharks a week to feed the local market and it was time for bull shark numbers to be ‘regulated’ again. ‘Tagging the sharks and fishing those who are taken twice is a good way to put pressure on them and show we’re around too.’

It’s a murky issue – conservationists are outraged at the prospects of a cull and are spouting the ‘it’s the shark’s territory we’re surfing in’ line, while others say killing some sharks is necessary to protect the human population. What is clear is that Reunion Island riders are surfing in fear.

‘Early this year I was checking this sick right-hander where the first attack happened in February 2011,’ Milella said. ‘I took a spearfishing gun along with me, rode a barrel with it, to tell you how hectic the situation is! There is a lot of fear for sure, maybe 10 per cent of guys have kept surfing and they are really taking precautions. If you want to score Reunion by yourself it’s now or never!’

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West Oz’s latest shark attack victim, he survived but suffered severe wounds to his arm and stomach. Source: here

Closer to home Western Australia seems to have taken the mantle from SA as Australia’s shark attack capital. Great white sharks are a protected species, but the WA and federal governments have agreed to investigate whether their numbers are recovering, which could potentially lead to the protection being lifted. WA Premier Colin Barnett yesterday told Australian Associated Press the WA government would also consider easing restrictions on the number of sharks professional fisherman could catch, and culling large great whites that lurk close to swimming areas.

What do you think? Kill ’em or leave ’em be?