Australia’s latest fatal shark attack has scientists pondering the causes and remedies. On Sunday, Police in Western Australia confirmed the surfer fatally attacked while surfing near Wedge Island on Saturday was 24-year-old Ben Linden, of Osborne Park, a suburb of Perth. Linden (see photos) was Western Australia’s fifth shark fatality in the past 10 months. He made the 100 mile trip north with his friend to surf some more remote breaks in the beautiful Wanagarren Nature Reserve for the day.
The horrifying attack occurred shortly after 9 a.m. Saturday morning, and was witnessed by Matt Holmes, another surfer who was towing a friend into nearby waves with his jetski. Holmes told 10 News in Australia the shark looked “like it was eating a seal. It just threw its body out of the water for this guy. I turned and looked back at my mate, and I just thought, ‘is this real?’”
After Holmes rushed his own friend to safety, he raced back out into the surf with Linden’s buddy, whom he’d never met. They spotted Linden’s body in the bloody water, and tried to retrieve it, but the massive shark was still circling, and turned on them, even bumping the ski. Holmes told reporters, “I don’t know if it was trying to knock me off, or just keep me from the body…but I did another loop, and when I came back to the body, the shark took it.”
Holmes emphatically identified the shark as a white pointer, AKA great white, and estimated its size to be 12-feet-long.
The spike in fatal shark attacks makes Western Australia the most dangerous place for surfers in the world. The surfing community has long considered the Indian Ocean the most dangerous because its undeveloped coastlines along Western Australia and Africa. With far fewer big cities lining the coasts, sea life is much more abundant.
On the other side of the Indian Ocean, in Durban, South Africa, city officials installed an elaborate shark net system as early as 1952 to put an end to the high number of fatal attacks they were suffering. The nets have had the desired effect in Durban, but attacks are still common in more rural stretches of coast.
On Sunday, Western Australia Fisheries Minister Norman Moore expressed concern at the trend of fatalities, telling the press, “We have allocated some Aus$14 million ($14 million) extra to get a better understanding of the great white sharks and the reasons why the fatalities are occurring.”
“I wonder if research might tell us that there are now much greater number of great whites than ever before, and maybe we should look at whether they should remain a protected species.
Meanwhile, Dr Rory McAuley, a shark research scientist with the W.A Fisheries Department, has suggested the higher number of attacks could simply be due to the human population expanding. “Not only is it getting larger, it’s getting more dispersed,” he told Coastal Watch. “So people are getting into the water over a greater area of the shark’s range.”
In the past, culling programs have been ruled out by state premier Colin Barnett, who said it was impossible to protect all people at all times. After the last fatal attack in March, Barnett declared, “The ocean is the domain of the shark and we go there with a risk always.”
Perth is Western Australia’s largest city (the fourth largest in Australia), and home to 74% of state’s population. Though Australia’s mining boom in WA has contributed to a significant amount of urban sprawl over the past decade, it’s easy to escape the bustle and find beaches that look the same way they did thousands of years ago, and more people are doing exactly that.
With perfect surfing conditions on tap Saturday morning, the Wedge Island portion of the Wanagarren Reserve was crowded with other surfers who’d made the trek north for a weekend beach getaway. The exact break where the incident occurred is called Dolphins, a popular spot for surfers.
After emergency crews arrived on scene, they spent the remainder of Saturday looking for Linden’s body in vain.
Linden was a devoted surfer, talented musician, and cherished friend of many. When he wasn’t at work making cabinets, he was busy surfing or playing with his band, Fools Rush In. His Facebook page was flooded with touching tributes, none more moving than Alana Noakes’, his girlfriend of eight years.
“I’m devastated to let everyone know that my beautiful man, Ben Linden, was the surfer who was taken by the shark at Wedge this morning…
“Ben was the most amazing man, he lit up the lives of all who knew him.
He was the most talented, good-natured, beautiful person I’ve ever met.
“He was the love of my life, my best friend, my rock and my soul mate.
“I, like everyone who knew him, absolutely cherish every moment of the last 8 years I spent with him.
“He has helped me to be a better person, to learn to ‘ride the waves’ of life.
“Let’s remember that he was doing something that meant the world to him. Surfing was his soul, his life, his culture and his passion.
“He loved mother nature in all her glory and is now in her arms eternally. Let’s rejoice in that.”
Photos of Ben Linden (top and bottom) are from his Facebook page. Search crew photo courtesy The West Australian.