High Hazard

WA’s shark mitigation strategy is based on sophisticated science – so its hunt-to-kill policy for sharks that are “a serious threat” remains controversial.

Aftermath of a shark bite at Mandurah, WA.

Late in the spring of 2000, businessman and father Ken Crew had his leg torn off by a great white shark in shallow water metres off Perth’s Cottesloe Beach.

Another swimmer dragged Crew from the water, in full view of bystanders and Crew’s wife, but he bled to death on the sand.

“Making matters even worse was the water was full of blood and the shark, for whatever reason, stays there and circles,” says researcher Christopher Neff. “It’s breaking news in every home; everyone is screaming, ‘Kill the shark!’

“The government, after a long and unfortunate delay trying to contact the minister for permission, while the public is freaking out, then fishes – without success – for the shark, which is long gone.”

There have been 55 incidents of unprovoked shark bites in WA since the start of 2000, according to the Global Shark Attack File – 14 of them fatal. But Crew’s death, forming a cluster with the deaths of surfers Cameron Bayes and Jevan Wright off South Australia in the same year, was a tipping point for Western Australia, says Dr Neff, a public policy researcher at the University of Sydney whose professional life has revolved around examining people’s – and governments’ – responses to shark bites.

Read more in an interactive feature at WAtoday

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