Kill any attacking sharks, says group

Sophie ElliottBusselton Dunsborough Times
Shark drum lines/tagging announcement of trial similar to what's used in NSW. Keith Halnan, the head of the group known as South West Safe Sharks, at Gracetown
Camera IconShark drum lines/tagging announcement of trial similar to what's used in NSW. Keith Halnan, the head of the group known as South West Safe Sharks, at Gracetown Credit: Picture: Simon Santi, Simon Santi The West Australian

The convenor of the South West’s Shark Safe Group has slammed the State Government’s immediate response to last Sunday’s fatal shark attack in Esperance.

Local diver Gary Johnson, 57, was in the water with his wife Karen Milligan when he was mauled about 1pm near Cull Island by a great white shark.

SW Shark Safe Group’s Keith Halnan said the threat of a fatal shark attack off the Capes coast was “very real”.

He said the attack highlighted the Government’s poor imminent threat policy.

There was no attempt to catch the shark which killed Mr Johnson.

On Wednesday, WA’s newly promoted Fisheries Minister, Peter Tinley, said he would not rule out ordering the killing of great white sharks found repeatedly near popular beaches.

The State Government would require an exemption from environment laws from the Federal Government to kill great whites, which are a protected species.

Mr Tinley met with Esperance Ocean Safety and Support Group members, who have been lobbying for the targeted removal of great whites that pose a threat to people.

A five-metre great white shark circled Darren Fissioli's boat last week off the Esperance coast near where Gary Johnson was killed.
Camera IconA five-metre great white shark circled Darren Fissioli's boat last week off the Esperance coast near where Gary Johnson was killed. Credit: Picture: Darren Fissioli, Darren Fissioli.

Mr Halnan agreed and said he believed after an attack, beaches should be closed for 24 hours and three “catch-and-kill” drum lines should be deployed, one at the site of the attack, and two others 500m north and south.

“After the attack at Cobblestones last year, a Fisheries vessel was sent out and it didn’t have anything on board to negate the threat,” he said.

“A surfer at Lefthander got chomped after, by what was likely the very same shark. The surfer shouldn’t have been in the water but due to Fisheries’ inaction, it could have been a fatality.”

Mr Halnan expressed his condolences to Mr Johnson’s family and the Esperance community, but believed attacking sharks should be killed, despite the family’s wish that they be left alone.

“While I empathise with them and respect their stance, this is about public safety and there is nothing in place to protect the public — what about other ocean users,” he said.

“People say ‘how do we 100 per cent know it is that shark’. I say how about the Government err on the side of public safety.

“There is heaps of precedence about sharks staying in the area after an attack. It is actually a failure, and lack of duty of care, from Fisheries at the moment.”

In the City of Busselton, the local government has taken its own shark mitigation measures and an electromagnetic shark deterrent was recently installed off the Busselton Jetty by Ocean Guardian.

The number of shark sightings off the Capes this week.
Camera IconThe number of shark sightings off the Capes this week.

Mayor Grant Henley expressed his sympathies to the Johnson family and said the City installed seasonal swimming enclosures in popular swim areas in both Busselton and Dunsborough to provide peace of mind to the public.

Shire of Augusta Margaret River president Ian Earl also sent his thoughts to the family and friends of Mr Johnson, and said shark mitigation policy was determined and managed by State Government, with the Shire acting as a response agency.

Vasse MLA Libby Mettam said there were concerns about the McGowan Government’s approach to the imminent threat policy.

“The new Minister for Fisheries now has an opportunity to give some confidence back to beachgoers; with that comes an expectation that there will be a more sincere approach to this important public safety issue,” she said.

According to the SharkSmart WA website, there have been 12 great white sightings between Bunbury and Augusta in the past 30 days and more than 20 shark sightings in the past week.

Monitoring network receivers are installed off Bunbury, Busselton, Meelup, Smiths Beach, Cowaramup Bay (North and South) and Lefthanders.

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