Wed, Jan 14, 2009 - Page 5 News List

Australia coastline on high alert against sharks

THE GUARDIAN , SYDNEY

If Australians ever thought it was safe to get back in the water, three shark attacks in 24 hours at the height of the summer season — the most serious on a 13-year-old girl off Tasmania — have given them pause for thought. Beaches have been placed on high alert, and stretches of coastline have been closed to swimmers.

In the first attack on Sunday off the northern coast of New South Wales, Jonathan Beard, a 31-year-old surfer, was bitten on the leg but managed to swim ashore.

A few hours later, off a popular beach on Tasmania’s east coast, Hannah Mighall, a junior lifesaver, surfing offshore with a relative, was attacked by what is thought to have been a 5m long great white and, in a scene inevitably described as being straight out of the film Jaws, was dragged underwater several times.

Her cousin Syb Mundy, who has been called a hero for saving her, told the Australian newspaper: “She just flew up in the air and got dragged under — the shark had given her a nudge and she disappeared. She came back up and went down again a few times and I saw the shark come up out of the water.”

“It was thrashing her around like a rag doll, but she kept her head together. I can remember seeing the shark’s eye come out of the water and the head and I was going to try to poke it in the eye if I could get close enough,” he said later in a radio interview.

After releasing the girl’s leg, the shark grabbed her surfboard, which was attached to her ankle by a leg rope.

“The shark started circling us and coming up underneath us and when it did that we stopped and turned to face it so we could push it out of the way,” Mundy said.

“Luckily a wave came along and she was on her back and I said: ‘Hannah, no matter how weak you are, try to hang on, this wave is going to save our life.’ But the shark actually got on to the wave ... this thing started surfing towards us and we just headed straight to the beach,” he said.

“I don’t think we had anything to do with it — we were just powerless against it, it was such an intense creature. I think it just didn’t like the taste of her,” he said.

Mundy told journalists he didn’t believe the shark should be killed.

“We’re in their territory; they’re not in ours,” he said.

Mighall was in hospital on Monday night, suffering from a badly bitten leg, but was undeterred in her ambition to become a marine biologist.

Following the Tasmanian incident, a man was attacked by a shark while snorkeling at the mouth of the Illawarra river, near Wollongong, south of Sydney.

Suffering 40 puncture wounds to his leg, Steven Fogarty told how he survived the attack by punching the bull shark in the face.

“Something just grabbed me from behind. I saw the blood all over both feet and had a quick look to make sure both legs were there and they were there,” he said, adding that he “started swinging” punches at it.

“I think I got one of them in. That’s probably what got rid of him,” he said.

Bleeding heavily, he flagged down a boat and was taken to hospital.

The three attacks, just two weeks after a snorkeler was killed by a great white in western Australia, have created panic, closed stretches of the Australian coastline and fueled debate whether overfishing has caused the problem.

There appears little consensus, as an alternative theory holds that less polluted inshore water attracts the fish shoals on which sharks prefer to feed.

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