A 31-year-old Busselton man has died after being attacked by a large shark in Western Australia’s world famous Margaret River surfing region. A witness told police they saw the man riding his board out to sea, 300 metres from the South Point surf break south of Cowaramup Bay, near Gracetown. The witness looked up moments later to see the board floating on its own. About 10 minutes later, it washed up to shore after being bitten in half.
Police said the witness then saw the surfer struggling near the shore with a serious wound to his right leg and attempted first aid by applying pressure to his leg.
Local surfer Rick Jakovich said his friend had helped resuscitate the man, but was too shaken to speak to media.
“He said some seals got chased by the sharks into the corner of the bay,” Jakovich said.
“His thigh and calf got attacked pretty severely and he lost a lot of blood.”
He said about 15 people were out on the beach this morning, five of whom were surfing.
Cassandra Fisher was working at the Bay Store, Gracetown this morning and made the triple-0 call.
Police and the RAC rescue helicopter raced to the beach about 8.15am (WST) after the man was retrieved from the water.
He was rushed to Margaret River Hospital for treatment, but succumbed to serious injuries. Police are planning to release the man’s name later today after his family is notified.
The man is believed to have been attacked while surfing on his own, at a beach only accessible by four-wheel-drive vehicles.
Officers at the scene are currently interviewing witnesses, who reported seals – a common food source for great white sharks – in the area.
Notorious surf spot
The Gracetown area is a well-known and notorious surfing spot. A popular local surfer Brad Smith, 29, was killed by a shark while surfing at Lefthanders beach in July, 2004.
There were reports Mr Smith was attacked by two sharks, described as being great whites, but the type of species was never confirmed.
“That part of the West Australian coast is notorious for sharks and it’s also notorious for surfers, so unfortunately the two go together,” Sergeant Graham Clifford told radio 6PR.
World number two surfer Taj Burrow, who is currently taking a break from the world championship tour to holiday back home with his family in Yallingup, said news of the attack sent shivers down his spine.
“The waves have been absolutely pumping so to hear that was the most shocking thing ever,” Burrow said.
“The Bay is one of the spookiest place for sharks down here for sure, you always hear stories about them being spotted.”
Burrow said he’s had a couple of “spooky” moments with sharks both in Australia and overseas but it was something he tried not to think about. He will fly to Tahiti on Thursday to contest the Billabong Pro event.
“When something like this happens it really brings you back to reality,” he said.
“This is a terrible tragedy and my thoughts are with the friends and family.”
Surfer Paul Paterson, brother of former professional WA tour surfer Jake Paterson, said lone-surfing was usually not a problem during certain parts of the year, but sharks were known to follow whales and salmon to the area.
“There’s a lot of whales in really close and that seems to attract the sharks this time of year,” Paterson said.
“March, April and May is a very dangerous season because its the salmon season and it increases the probability of sharks.”
“That inquisitive bite tends to be a little bit more lethal than a taste unfortunately.”
He said South Point beach was a very protected spot and a good place to surf after a big storm.
“The last guy that got attacked by a shark was just around the corner, which is only about one or two kilometres away,” he said.
Big wave surf legend Mitch Thorson was surfing at the beach with his son last night and said the area isn’t any different to other spots when it comes to shark attacks.
“I reckon that most guys who surf get bombarded with so many shark images from the media, but you put it out of your mind when you’re out there,” Thorson said.
“It’s like getting in a car and thinking ‘if I drive out onto the highway I might be hit by a truck’. You just put it to the side.”
He said he expected most surfers would stay out of the water for the next few says out of respect for the man’s family.
“But I’d say (the victim) wouldn’t want people to stop surfing all together,” he said.
Search for a killer
A Department of Fisheries boat has left Busselton to track down and identify the type of shark, but weather conditions may force it to turn around.
Fisheries southern region manager Phil Shaw said the boat was on its way to Cape Naturaliste where it would be decided whether it would continue.
“The weather looks like it’s going to make it tough, there’s a three and a half metre swell and building, and the wind is coming up,” Mr Shaw said.
“That will make it difficult to see anything in the water.”
Mr Shaw said the department would make an assessment on the danger the shark posed if it could be found, but said that assessment was very subjective. He said the last resort would be to kill the shark.
“We’d have to determine what ongoing risk the animal posed if it’s hanging around and keeps going ashore,” he said.
“Normally (the sharks) disappear. Very rarely do we see them again afterwards.”
Mr Shaw said if the weather hampered today’s search another boat could be sent out tomorrow.