Ghastly reports of shark attacks trickled up from Down Under this past fall following three fatal incidents in a span of six weeks. All attacks were reportedly the work of the fearsome great white shark (carcharodon carcharias), called white-pointer (and occasionally “great white death”) by Australians. Great whites grow to 20 feet in length and can weigh three tons.
On Nov. 6 a trio of swimmers were enjoying their 20-minute daily swim off Cottesloe Beach, the most popular beach off Perth, Western Australia, when one of the men, 46-year-old Ken Crew, was attacked without warning. He was swimming approximately 80 feet from shore in waist-deep water when he reportedly noticed an animal swimming toward him.
“Is there something out there?” he asked his friends in what were to be his last words. Moments later there was a great swirling of water followed by clouds of blood as the victim disappeared from sight. The 15-foot shark dismembered the man in seconds, removing both legs, according to witnesses, many of whom were enjoying a meal at Cottesloe’s Blue Duck Café. He was not completely eaten, however, and rescuers pulled his remains to the beach, where he was pronounced dead. The last incident off Cottesloe was the mauling of two surfers in 1997. Both survived, however. A 20-mile strip of beach remained closed for several days as authorities searched for the shark in an attempt to have it destroyed. Great whites are a protected species in Australia, but special permission had been given by authorities for fishermen to hunt the animal. It had not been found at press time.
Local officials are puzzled over this latest attack, and speculation over the cause points to several possible reasons. One theory suggests that a dead humpback whale buried in the sand five years ago could be leaking oil into the waters of Cottesloe and agitating shark populations.
Two young surfers were killed in a 24-hour period off South Australia, just six weeks before the incident at Perth. The first, a 17-year-old boy, was surfing with two friends off Elliston, South Australia, on Sept. 24 when he was dragged from his board by what witnesses said was a large great white shark. His body was never found despite an exhaustive search by local police and fishermen.
The previous day a 25-year-old New Zealand surfer was reportedly swallowed whole as he was attempting to paddle in from surfing off Cactus Beach, a popular surf spot just up the coast from Elliston. Witnesses on the beach and in the water reported to the surfer web site Standing Room Only (srosurf.com) that the man had obviously seen the shark circling his board and was quickly moving toward shore when the animal attacked from behind. The surfboard was shredded into three pieces, but the man’s body was not found.