Latest surfer’s death in Esperance takes 2020 toll to highest in 86 years.
"More Australians have been killed by shark attacks this year than any year since 1934.”
This disturbing statistic revealed by The Guardian in an article that looks at La Niña’s possible influence on white shark feeding and shifting hunting grounds comes off the back of yet another fatal shark attack in Australian waters.
On Sunday, police in WA called off the search for the body of surfer Andrew Sharpe after parts of his surfboard and wetsuit washed up on the beach near Esperance.
He was attacked in front of friends two days earlier.
Nick Carroll wrote that Esperance might be the most dangerous surf town in Australia right now.
But it feels like all of Australia for many surfers with Sharpe’s death the seventh from a shark bite in Australia in 2020 and the sixth from an unprovoked attack.
In the same article from The Guardian, Dr Phoebe Meagher, a wildlife conservation officer with the Taronga Conservation Society Australia, said the six deaths from unprovoked bites this year was well above Australia’s 50-year average of 1.02 deaths a year, but the general shark bite numbers were looking “smack bang on average”.
“There have been 17 unprovoked shark bites so far in 2020, the same as last year and one fewer than in 2018. In 2015, there were 22,” said Dr Meagher.
This year feels eerily like 2015 when WA and the Far North Coast of NSW saw a pattern of tit-for-tat shark incidents.
Mitch Capelli, the founder of the Esperance Ocean Safety and Support Group, has been lobbying for action on shark mitigation for years in Esperance.
The group is made up of ocean lovers and users that don’t want to see sea life being killed unnecessarily. But after the attack on local surfer Andrew Sharpe last Friday and the death of 17-year-old visiting surfer Laeticia Brouwer, also at Kelpies, in 2017 he told Carrol he wants to see more action from the state government.
“…there’s got to be a middle ground. When people are being killed, you can’t make that (green) argument, you don’t have a leg to stand on,” says Mitch.
Tracks reached out to WA Fisheries Minister, Peter Tinley, who visited Esperance following Friday’s fatal attack to speak with locals. Our questions have yet to been responded to at the time of print.
So far the WA government hasn’t committed to any new mitigation measures and WA Premier Mark McGowan has previously stated that shark protection devices remain the best option to deal with the threat of an unprovoked attack.
As we have reported previously Great white sharks have been protected since 1999 and reach breeding age at 12-15 years of age. Many fishos and surfers have reported a huge increase in great whites since the 2015 cluster attacks.
So where does this leave us?
The anecdotal evidence keeps building and the statistics for 2020 are an unwelcoming sign.
Arguments for and against revising Great White Sharks’ ‘vulnerable status’ devolve into a shouting match on social media between the “pro-cullers” and the “shark huggers” with neither side giving an inch.
Meanwhile, State and Federal governments remain silent.
Scientists see a healthy eco-system and say they need more population data on great white sharks to understand their patterns and behavior.
No one wants this to be the new normal. At what point do we cross the threshold of accepting these unprovoked attacks posed by surfing in the natural world and say enough is enough.