Print and Go Back Surfing [Print without images]

Friday, July 20, 2012
Shark fear grips West Oz

By Jake Howard

Courtney Brown
Courtney Brown in Western Australia, taken the same day as the fatal July 14 shark attack.

After the fifth fatal shark attack in 12 months, the Western Australian surfing and diving communities have been left reeling. The latest, on July 14 at Wedge Island, a popular vacation destination approximately 100 miles north of Perth, took the life of 24-year-old Benjamin Charles Linden.

The shark, reportedly a Great White estimated to be 16 to 24 feet in length, has been nicknamed "Brutus" because of his size and ominous presence in the area recently.

"By the time I got out there half of him had been taken and the shark was circling," witness Matt Holmes told Riding a jet ski at the time, according to Holmes, Linden had been bit completely in half. His remains have yet to be recovered. "I tried to lean off the side and pull him on the back, but as I did that, the shark came back and nudged the jet ski to try to knock me off. When I came back the second time, he took the rest of him. I just thought about his family and if he had kids. I just wanted to get him to shore. I gave it everything I had."

"I received a phone call from my dad late Saturday morning. He wanted to know if I was OK," said ESPN Surfing contributor Russell Ord, who is a Western Australia-based surf photographer. "He just heard on the news that there had been another shark attack. Fifteen minutes later the phone call hit home when I could see the helicopters in the air above that very spot. It's very selfish to relate what had just happened to my work as a surf photographer, but it's hard not to at the same time when I spend so much time in the water in very secluded offshore locations, the amount of attacks in W.A. this year has certainly had me thinking more of my surroundings and what's sharing the same space."

On Sept. 4, 2011, Kyle James Burden was killed while bodyboarding at Bunker Bay, approximately 190 miles south of Perth. A month later, on Oct. 10, 64-year-old Bryn Martin disappeared while swimming at Cottesloe Beach in Perth. Twelve days later, 32-year-old American George Wainwright was hit while diving off Rottnest Island, near Perth. And on March 31 of this year, 33-year-old diver Peter Kurmann was taken in waters near Busselton.

"It's very much in the spotlight at the moment and the community at large seems to be very divided on what should happen next," said Ord. "Personally, for myself, I go back to a selfish way of thinking, drop it completely from my mind and prepare to swim two kilometers offshore to get the job done."

According to the International Shark Attack File (ISAF) there were 75 unprovoked attacks in 2011, down from the 81 unprovoked attacks recorded in 2010. Twelve of those resulted in deaths. Meanwhile, the ISAF estimates that approximately 30 to 70 million sharks are killed each year, either for their fins or as bycatch in large fishing nets.