Thu, Jan 25, 2007 - Page 19 News List

Large shark strikes fear into Australian event organizers

AP , MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA

Organizers of three ocean swimming races are concerned about the safety of competitors after a 6m shark was sighted in the area and as a remarkable escape from an attack elsewhere in Australia made headlines.

Government officials ruled out letting water police carry rifles when patrolling the area where the races will be held off the coast of southern Victoria state, saying the great white shark -- the most threatening to humans -- was a protected species and could not be harmed.

Greg Scott, a spokesman for Lifesaving Victoria, said yesterday a great white had been sighted three or four times over the past week around Cowes, a popular tourist area on Phillip Island about 140km south of Melbourne.

The races, which are expected to attract several hundred competitors, are two 500m events on Feb. 3 and Feb. 18 and a 1.2km swim from the Cowes pier to the beach on Feb. 17.

beaches evacuated

"We have had to do some surveillance in the area after the shark was spotted," Scott said. "We evacuated the beaches as we would normally do."

Scott said surf lifesaving officials would make a decision on the day of each race on whether safety issues would prevent them from being held.

"Obviously there would be some concerns if there was a shark sighting around the time of the race," Scott said. "We would send out our surveillance aircraft and shore craft ahead of the race, as we always do, and report anything to the organizers."

But Scott said he doubted the shark will interfere with the races -- "usually the noise of the craft would scare it away."

Graeme Burgan, a senior ranger at the Phillip Island Nature Park, was quoted in the Age newspaper as saying police with rifles could shoot the shark if it became a problem during the races.

firepower

"The police representative said he had a pistol, which won't stop anything," Burgan said. "I suggested a .22 [rifle] with blunt-head ammunition, because to kill a shark that big you would need an explosive to go off in its head."

Victoria's Environment Department issued a statement that didn't directly address the suggestion of rifles, but said there would be a range of other measures to protect competitors, including aerial surveillance, and boats and jet skis that could be used to ward of the shark.

"It is important that people realize this is the shark's natural habitat -- it is usual that they frequent the waters around Phillip Island," the statement said.

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