TOURISM operators in Western Australia demanded a shark cull, following the fourth fatal attack in seven months and amid warnings that the state's beaches are now the most dangerous in the world for shark attacks.
State fisheries officials said they believed a 13-foot Great White shark killed Peter Kurmann while he was diving for crayfish off Stratham Beach, 145 miles south of Perth, on Saturday morning. Great Whites have been blamed for the three previous deaths since 1 September off the south-western coast of WA.
Rory McAuley, a senior shark research scientist with WA Fisheries, said the spate of deadly attacks in the area was unprecedented.
"I'm not aware of any series of fatal shark attacks, this number, in such a short period anywhere in the world," he said yesterday. "Last year was particularly bad. This year has already started very tragically."
With its combination of beaches, wineries and forests, the south-west of WA is a popular visitor destination. But tourism operators say the shark attacks are frightening people away.
"There is absolutely no doubt that it is impacting on our tourism," said Ian Stubbs, the mayor of Busselton, a small coastal town where Mr Kurmann lived with his wife and two young sons.
"These sharks that come in close need to be exterminated. The state government needs to act, and they need to act now. How many more of these tragic deaths can we continue to have?"
The state Premier, Colin Barnett, said that while he opposed a cull, it was possible that commercial fishing restrictions could be relaxed, despite the Great White being a protected species.
Mr Kurmann, 33, was diving with his brother, Gian, about a mile offshore when he was fatally mauled. Beaches in the south-west of the state were closed all weekend, but will reopen today after a fruitless search for the killer shark was called off.
Australia experiences an average of one fatal shark attack a year along its 22,000-mile coastline. Mr McAuley said various factors, including a rise in the human or shark population, could be to blame for the surge in attacks.
"It's very hard to tease out what might be due to the increase in shark numbers and distinguish that from the increase in human population," he said.
Shark experts believe different sharks, rather than one or two "rogue" predators, will have been responsible for the recent run of attacks, which began last September when a 21-year-old bodyboarder, Kyle Burden, was killed off Bunker Bay, west of Busselton.
The following month, Bryn Martin, 64, disappeared while swimming off Perth's main Cottesloe Beach and is believed to have been taken by a shark, and a 32-year-old Texan, George Wainwright, was fatally mauled while scuba diving off Rottnest Island, near Perth.