Opinion: When Sharks Target Humans

It lives to kill! A mindless killing machine! It will attack and devour…

Rogue sharks in Western Australia? Human-eating sharks? Well, maybe.

For the benefit of those looking to gain an informed opinion, how about listening to a few experts? That is, people who have been deeply involved with the sea all their lives and know from their own direct experiences what the situation really is like.

I don’t have much time for well-meaning but largely misinformed and sentimental types who are opposed to getting rid of a couple of big rogue great whites that, in recent years, have developed a taste for human flesh.

If you don’t agree then please at least take the time to read the comments from these very two experienced ocean men, both veterans in their chosen field, who provide chilling accounts of the growing number of sharks in WA waters.

I have known third-generation rock lobster fisherman Leo Sgherza since I was a kid hanging around at my cousin’s place in Fremantle. Leo reckons the number of sharks has increased “tenfold” in the past five years. He doesn’t swim in the ocean any more because of the “packs of sharks” numbering up to 40 following commercial vessels daily. These packs consist mostly of tiger sharks, bronze whalers, black tips, sandbars and hammerheads.

But Leo is also seeing big great whites weekly. He reckons recent moves to limit fish catches has dramatically increased the number of all species, particularly sharks, and they were venturing closer to shore because there was more for them to eat.

“Ten years ago, you’d see possibly a couple of sharks a day, then it was increased to three or four a day and now you’ll see 15 to 20 in an hour,” he says. “If the conditions are right and the tide is right, the amount you will see can get into cricket scores and that’s just the ones you can see in the top six metres of water. It’s quite mind-boggling how many of them you can actually see, and you need to teach your crew that you don’t fall over the side. You fall in here now and you’re not even going to get wet. You’ll be gone. I stay very dry.”

The biggest shark Leo has seen off his boat was a few years ago when he and his crew spotted a great white they estimated to be more than eight metres long. One of the crew members refused to go to work for the next three days. “He just sat alongside the boat and watched us for probably half an hour. You still remember the size of his eye, it was like a dustpan lid.”

Another West Aussie whose experience I value greatly is world-renowned diver, ocean photographer and author Hugh Edwards. Speaking in Perth magazine Starfish Hugh acknowledged that great whites were pretty much always on the move and covered great distances. That said, Hugh reckons there are still some cases of rogue sharks or cyclical attacks by the same animal.

“The five attacks we had in WA from 2011 to 2012 had a very similar modus operandi. We know it was a big shark involved in each attack. Two of the victims were swallowed totally, two were bitten completely in half. And the fifth one, if they hadn’t managed to get his remains into the boat instantly, I’m sure would have gone too. Now this is a large shark capable of eating the whole lot… and may have been the same shark.”

Those five attacks were chillingly similar. They were like the one where Geoff Brazier was killed at the Abrolhos Islands north of Perth. The shark hit him in the middle, ate one half, turned around, ate the other half and that was it. If you’d blinked your eyes, you’d have missed it. In the attack at Wedge Island, the guy was completely consumed, as well… gone after two hits.”

So please, for those wanting an informed opinion, listen to the experts like Hugh and Leo. Surfers and other informed ocean users are not calling for the senseless culling of as many sharks that can be killed off the WA coastline.

All I and many others who have enjoyed working and recreating in the West Oz coastal region for many years are asking for is the Government to do the right thing and help implement a well-thought out plan with a determined effort to eradicate a couple of big rogue white pointers that have quite obviously developed a taste for human flesh in recent years.

We acknowledge that death by great white is a possibility for anyone who enters the sea. But eliminating some of these big man-eaters that are obviously lurking around way too close to the shore will make the waters a bit more safer, at least to an acceptable risk.

And if you don’t think there is a problem in West Oz with an apex predator species that is flourishing in numbers, to the point of being almost out of control, because it has been wrongfully accorded “protected species” status, I will sign-off now with these few facts to consider (apologies and heart-felt condolences to all the families mentioned).

* November, 23, 2013: Surfer Chris Boyd, taken by a great white near Gracetown (North Point, South Point etc).

* April 2, 2013: Swimmer Martin Tann “disappears” off Mullaloo Beach in Perth’s northern suburbs.

*July 15, 2012: Surfer Ben Linden, 24, fatally mauled by a great white shark near Wedge Island, north of Perth.

*April 1, 2012: Father-of-two Peter Kurmann, 32, taken by a four-metre white pointer shark after a morning dive off Geographe Bay (near Yallingup) with his brother.

*October 23, 2011: American George Thomas Wainwright, 32, died after a great white attacked him while scuba diving off Rottnest Island (a dozen clicks off Perth).

*October 10, 2011: Perth businessman Bryn Martin, 64, disappeared while swimming off Cottesloe Beach. His shredded swimming costume was later found.

*September 4, 2011: 21-year-old surfer Kyle Burden died in Bunker Bay (near Yallingup) after his body was ripped in half by a shark.

*August 17, 2010: Nick Edwards, 31, bled to death after being attacked while surfing in Gracetown.

*December 27, 2008: Fisherman Brian Guest, 51, was taken by a shark when he was snorkelling at Port Kennedy in Perth’s south.

*March 19, 2005: Geoffrey Brazier, 26, attacked by a six-metre shark, believed to be a great white, as he snorkelled near the Abrolhos Islands, off Geraldton, 500km north of Perth.

* July 10, 2004: Surfer Brad Smith, 29, is attacked by two sharks believed to be a great white and a bronze whaler while surfing a popular reef off Gracetown.

* November 6, 2000: Businessman and father-of-three Ken Crew, 49, died after his leg was torn off by four-metre white pointer in waist deep water 10 metres off shore at North Cottesloe beach.

Surely this is enough evidence for any responsible Government and their agencies to formulate an effective plan and act decisively, now, before more unnecessary deaths such as these occur.

And, this just in (from Australia’s ABC News): The Premier (of Western Australia) will not appeal against the decision (to remove drum lines this summer), meaning the drum line program is effectively dead this summer. Instead, he said he would focus on strengthening the state’s imminent threat policy, which allows for specific sharks to be killed if they are judged as posing an immediate threat to humans.

Earlier this week, Mr Barnett flagged giving fisheries officers at the scene the power to issue kill orders on dangerous sharks. He said if a shark stayed in one area for repeated periods, it needed to be caught and removed.

The Premier said he remained concerned about the safety of South West beaches, where he said sharks often linger for long periods of time.

Acting Tourism Minister John Day also said sharks in that region posed a clear threat. Mr Day said while he would encourage people to still holiday in the South West, he personally would not stray far from the shore.

“If it was me, I would not be surfing or going swimming far off the coast,” he said.

About the author: Wayne Murphy grew up and learned to surf on Rottnest Island, a dozen clicks off Perth. Yeah, shark-y as all hell, you’d think, except no one got hit until 2011. After high school Wayne travelled around Australia and worked as a judge and commentator at various surf contests. Wayne also lived at Cactus in South Australia, infamous for its great white sharks, and helped build camping facilities for Paul Witzig, the surf film maker (Evolution). Wayne has worked as a columnist for Tracks magazine and the Sunday Times newspaper in Perth. He has lived in Ireland for the past 13 years.


Kelly Slater curses surfers

Witchcraft? Santeria? Voodoo? All of the above.

Don’t look now but Kelly Slater is sitting in second place on the WSL rankings and he has a secret weapon. Yes, the mental games the man plays are the stuff of legend. Surfers in the field swear that he possesses some sort of magical ability. That he can will them off their boards or that he can will waves his way. That he bends the forces of nature to suit him. I spoke with Matt Wilkinson once on the Gold Coast and he claimed that Kelly sat behind him in the line-up and stared at the back of his head until he could feel it. He could feel those powerful blues burning holes.

But what does Kelly say?

“Ummm (pause) that is…ahhh…the ownership of that (being mind controlled) is totally on them. I’m not gonna say I’m not a competitive guy but, you know, if they’re getting mind fucked that is because they are not in control of themselves for whatever reason, so that is not my problem (laughs). That is their problem. Like, Parko the other day, Parko had a wave down at Lowers and he’s coming down the line and I was paddling back out and I was paddling fast to try and kind of get out of his way and I was thinking in my head, “Oh what’s he gonna do? How is he gonna use that section? How’s he gonna come around it and…” I was thinking about what are his choices were gonna be. And he kind of didn’t commit to any one turn, he kind of… he was stuck between two kinds of turns and he fell. And he came up and said, “Ahhh you fucking did that to me!” And I was like, “Really? I didn’t do anything. I was just watching you ride a wave.” But you know, people say that all the time and for whatever reason, I guess, I don’t know if Parko ever says that but…If people say that then they kind of got this idea ahead of time and I think that…I don’t know what that is. I don’t know (genuine moment of reflection). Each person it would be different for.”

Kelly’s mind games definitely work on Parko but will they work on Gab Medina? Do they translate into Portuguese? For that, we must all wait and see. Or travel to the OuterKnown. The answers to everything are there.


Kalani Robb on life as an extra in a world of stereotypes. And why he quit so soon!

It’s ten years now since this very handsome professional surfer split the tour in a huff. (“Those judges! Goddamn ’em all to hell!“) He wanted to join the circus of Hollywood.

Oh but if life was that simple! Kalani was once one of the highest-paid surfers in the world but now lives in southern California, duking it out at casting calls with some success (cameos in Forgetting Sarah Marshall and Blue Crush), surfing Lowers instead of Teahupoo and Fiji, and learning all about the American legal system as fights to get his wealth back from the parents he’d employed to caretake his money while he surfed.

BEACHGRIT: You were contemptuous of the tour and you left well before your time after Marcelo Nunes beat you in Japan in 2005, at least according to the esteemed judging panel. It was so premature. But we miss!

KALANI: Yeah, I was bitter. Pissed off. Like anyone else would be on tour that gets a bum call. But, it’s how it goes. For me, I had earned my stripes as far as my reputation. There wasn’t much more to do. I’m not, like, stupid. Kelly is the best guy in the world. Everybody knows that. Even if I was to win a world title, like everybody had touted me, that guy is still the best guy in the world… I wanted to shake up surfing, to expand all of our world into TV and the movies. I wanted to be the soldier. Surfing’s big but Hollywood’s… huge.

BEACHGRIT: In hindsight, do you wish you’d hung out a little longer, picking up y’one mill or so a year? Taj is still top five, still succeeding and still ogling and fiddling…

KALANI: I love Taj. I live vicariously through Taj, secretly. He’s my boy. We grew up together. Half the finals I made growing up, we traded off firsts and seconds. I think that if I had that support that he did, maybe it would’ve been different. I went kinda rogue. I went for… Fox. That was the craziest thing right there. I wanted to prove to myself that I could literally ride for a company that’s dirt-biking and make it a surfing industry thing. And look at where Fox is today. I’ve singlehandedly brought them to where they are. For eight years I was their sole rider. Maybe it wasn’t the smartest thing to do.

BEACHGRIT: How well do you think you moved from the tour to real life?

KALANI: I will completely admit I didn’t transition over as soon as I should of. I did a lot of stupid moves. I work on emotion a lot of the time. It made it a ballsy move but I wanted to make that move when I was young so if I fuck up, at least I’ll be able to pull off what I want to pull off. I always want to be in surfing. Let’s be reasonable. The best asset I have is to show my surfing and surf the best I can and have someone that can market that. That’s what I’ve been born and bred to do. I’ve been born and bred to be a surfer. I grew up on the North Shore, I grew up around the best guys in the world, I was groomed by the best guys in the world, I became one of the best guys in the world. I was one of the most invested-in surfers in the world with all these big companies that spent millions of dollars on me. I’m kinda like a product of surfing.

BEACHGRIT: When Bobby Martinez blew up, were you shrieking into the television, “Noooo! It ain’t easy this life after pro surfing!”

KALANI: Bobby’s way was a little bit more gangsta. But his message was still the same: he’s not down with the politics. He said it how it was. I was fucking cringing when I heard him say it, but the truth of the matter is, a lot of people agree.

BEACHGRIT: The thing about guys like Bobby, who wear their hearts so brilliantly on their sleeve, is the reality of making a stand. A month later no-one cares about the point you so gallantly, so vociferously made… And pro surfing is the easiest way in the world to make six figures…

KALANI: Very, very good. Absolutely. Absolutely. Let’s be real, that’s the nature of the beast. But as the surf industry says, there’s a younger kid that’s 15 years old that will surf twice as long as you, go bust his ass for less than you to prove himself, that’s for absolute sure. But Bobby, he was rare. He was a diamond in the rough. He’s a rare, rare breed. If he wanted to stick with it, I tell you what, man, living here in California, and seeing the Hispanic neighbourhoods, he’d be the biggest thing…ever. He had the potential to be the…biggest… surfer…ever.

BEACHGRIT: How do you see the sponsor money breakdown at the moment? It ain’t what it used to be. Just ’cause your pretty good doesn’t warrant a salary anymore…

KALANI: They took the lower-class out, the middle-class is gone and now it’s just the upper-class making the millions. When I made my money it was more like hundreds of thousands, close to millions, but when you got close to millions, you’re like, whoa, they’re the gnarly guys. We used to always talk about millions and millions and millions and millions and it’s good to finally see it. I’m really proud of how far surfing’s gone.

BEACHGRIT: Y’don’t ever lament being born 10 years too soon?

KALANI: I have nothing to complain about! If I complain I’d be the biggest shithead ever! I had it good. If anything, I’m shocked I was making high six figures. That’s what I was used to my whole life. I was making top dollar back then. Fuck, I’m glad I didn’t grow up in the seventies.

BEACHGRIT: Are you surprised by the brevity of fame

KALANI: I don’t give a fuck about any of that fame or nothing… I wasn’t caught in that scene or ever thought of it… As a matter of fact, if fame is the word, I think that I have more fame or more popularity now than in my entire life. I crossed into being on television shows, being in movies, commercials. To tell you the truth, I literally would be more famous than ever. That’s what’s a little baffling to me.

BEACHGRIT: Were you smart with your money in that golden period?

KALANI: Ohhhhhhh! You would not believe the shit and drama over here in America. I mean, I’m not Sunny (Garcia), not paying taxes and going to jail, but I had some weird trips. I’ll put it to you like this. I entrusted everything from my money to my houses my whole thing to my parents. Every son believes their mother and father has their best interests at hand. And to make a long story short, they didn’t have my best interests at hand. And in the last couple of years I got married and when I told ’em, hey guys, I got married, I’ve moved on with my life, than you very much for handling my taxes, handling my real estate and taking care of my money. I actually had to pay my mom a salary for it. And I said, I want to get everything together, I want to handle my shit, and it was like, “No, it’s my shit now. It’s not yours.”


KALANI: …yeah, and I was like, okay, fuck…long story short, my parents are living in my house and I live my life and I have to deal with a lot of attorneys and shit like that. It’s the lamest family position you could possibly be in, having a brand new marriage, having a brand new baby. It was a bummer and embarrassing. But, if anything, it’s a good warning to kids. Young kids have to be really careful.

BEACHGRIT: How does it affect the relationship, this estrangement from your very parents?

KALANI: Oh, dude, it’s like a bad movie. It’s like you’re watching a bad movie and you want to change the channel because it fucking sucks  and you can’t and you gotta sit there and watch the whole movie unfold, and be part of it. It doesn’t seem real. But, since it happened other famous athletes have said, hey dude, this has happened to a lot of people. It’s sooo…common. Some parents get caught up in the kid’s lifestyle and they think that it’s their lifestyle and it’s their life and their money, especially when you go, hey, can you control this for me? And let’s be reasonable, when you’re sitting in a house rent free, a very…nice house… rent free, and you have a bank account that’s just blowing up and you’re sitting there and it’s not yours but you can use any money you want because it’s my son’s, you become accustomed to that feeling. And you don’t wanna give that up. This is mine now. You’re my son, you don’t know shit. It’s bizarre.

BEACHGRIT: What did it teach you?

KALANI: That in life, y’gotta pay attention.


Anastasia Ashley Gets Pounded (plus Maxim shoot!)

Surf gal with ass as precious as bone china hunts hurricanes, gets barrelled, ain't afraid to wipe out.

San Clemente by way of North Shore surfer Anastasia Ashley is known for many things. Twerking, half a million Instagram followers, pictures in Sports Illustrated’s Swimsuit edition and Playboy, sexy commercial spots for hamburger chain Carl’s Jr. etc. etc. etc. She is famous and will become more famous shortly.  But at the end of the day, she is simply a San Clemente by way of North Shore surfer. Just like Laird Hamilton, (except very much better).

She hunts swell, she runs into hurricanes, she gets frothed over too scientific wave forecasts, she gets barreled. And while you are free to draw any conclusion based upon her social persona, I have known Anastasia for the better part of seven years and can say she is nothing if not a charger. First on a bodyboard (at age 4) then on surfboard (at age 7) and now, sometimes, on a big ol’ gun. She surfs Sunset, she surfs Waimea, she surfs thumping Mexican beachbreak. And right here, exclusively, she can be seen taking a thick lip to the head.

“It was bad…” she told me while we sipped happy hour margaritas. “…I took this one and got totally smashed. And when I came up, I got stuck in the impact zone. It wasn’t pushing me to shore. I wasn’t getting pulled back out. I just sat there and took wave after wave after wave on the head. It wasn’t very fun.”

I’ve never been smashed by a wave that big but can’t imagine it would have been. In fact, I would have retired from the surfs forever. Anastasia, though, is not me (and, thankfully not Laird). The upcoming Pacific forecast is for even bigger surf and she is planning on running back to Mexico to get some more. A charger, I tell you. And while Terry Richardson may photograph her (more on this later) and while her fame may exceed that of Julia Roberts, she is at the end of the day, a surfer. And our little world is better off for it.

Update: Back in July, and straight off the plane from Miami fashion week (rigorous!), Anastasia shot with Blossom Berkofsky for the sophisticated men’s title Maxim. The magazine is currently on the shelves in the US. Watch the vision from the shoot here!







Tiger shark gets caught by baited hooks in Western Australia
Killing ain't a pretty biz. Here, we see a tiger shark that's been caught on one of the WA gov's baited hooks. But let's think for a second. Let's utilise our enormous human brain capacities. How do you think that sushi on that plate in front of you got there? Or that delicious fish burger before it was flame grilled and served with chilli mayonnaise? If y'against killin', you're against killin'. | Photo: Sea Shepherd

Killer Sharks Get Free-ish Pass in WA

No more baited hooks in Western Australia. But great whites might still get iced if there's more killins… 

Western Australia has a shark problem. That ain’t news. Eight deaths since 2008 (on surfers, bodyboarders, snorkellers and swiimmers), and attacks spiking off the charts since 2000, isn’t good for tourism or the beach lifestyle Australia’s biggest state is famous for.

But it ain’t news.

What is news is that the Environmental Protection Authority has scuttled plans by the WA government to re-deploy baited hooks off Perth and south-west beaches.

Yeah, the stats aren’t pretty. Instead of cleaning up great whites, the hooks killed 64 tiger sharks and various other fish. And, visually, the sight of ensnarled sharks being hauled up the starboard side to receive a bullet to the head or knife to the guts belly was always going to be a tough sell.

Yeah, but still.

WA’s premier Barnett had planned to roll out 72 freshly baited hooks come November. He also was pushing for a wider exclusion zone around the contractors (hello Sea Shepherd!) and the freedom to bring the hooks closer to shore if deemed necessary.

No way, said EPA Chairman Dr Paul Vogel, pointing instead to a “high degree of scientific uncertainty” and inability by the Barnett Government to provide a “high level of confidence” to the EPA that his multi million dollar program was indeed an efficient way of dealing with the shark menace. “The EPA has adopted a cautious approach by recommending against the (Government’s) proposal,” Dr Vogel said.

Barnett bit his lip and promised any rogue shark would still be dealt with, “destroyed and removed”, to be precise.

Either way, sure is great news for the white pointer, better still perhaps for the scores who joined the masses on the foreshore, banging drums, blowing whistles and and pleading for the sharks to be left alone to go about their business.

“More chance of being run over by a car!” they shrieked. “You’re in their environment!”

Don’t you dare suggest the removal of a few apex predators is going to help you sleep better at night. Who cares about you and your pre-dawn surfs, your late arvo glass-offs, your kiddies and their comps.

#Save the Great White Shark!

#I Know I Eat Sushi But Sharks Are Special! To hell with tuna!

Surfing WA Chairman, Bob Welch, was one of few who held firm when he learnt of the surprise ruling by the EPA. “We are very disappointed,” said Welch. “Our members will expect us to continue a pro-active stance in considering their safety while in the ocean. We will continue to work with the government on investigating all possible strategies to maintain safety.”

And for now, that means helicopter patrols over Perth’s metro beaches and a paranoia-inducing Twitter feed which provides up-to-the-minute updates on any shark sighting. Feel like a surf? Head to Twitter and discover there’s two great whites offshore. But, yes! It’s their ocean!

For surfers in the state’s south-west, particularly in and around Margaret River, the proposed helicopter patrols will prove little comfort given the clumsy system in place should a shark be sighted.

Guidelines set out by Fisheries WA in 2012 state it will only act on a sighting if verified by “experienced commercial fishers, Surf Life Saving WA representatives or Fisheries officers.”

The guidelines say that sightings from that select group, “have tended to be more reliable than reports from the general public.”

“I can’t really say having a helicopter buzz over every couple hours made me feel any safer,” says surfer Dino Adrian of last year’s rush to ease a scared populous. “I can’t really say that the hooks made me feel any safer either, but something had to be done.”

And therein lies the real issue. Something had to be done. But what?

Chris Boyd was killed while surfing at Umbis in November 2013, a beautiful wave known for throwing up throaty barrels located a stone’s throw off the beach along the Ellensbrook side of Gracetown.

His death, like every other, sent a chill down the spine of every surfer in Margaret River, given it’s ferocity and the fact it occurred on an absolutely stunning spring morning, throwing every preconceived idea of when and where attacks occur out the window.

The area surrounding Umbis came under immediate suspicion. Two other surfers had been killed a short walk away and every surfer  has a story about being chased out of the water by sharks with eyes “as big as oranges”.

“It was a pretty hectic period,” says Adrian of the aftermath left by Boyd’s death. “I was glad when Barnett did something but it freaked me the fuck out that Chris was killed where he was. There’s so many good waves over that side of town, but I don’t surf there anymore – except North Point but even that’s a bit of a gamble.”

Similarly, another well-regarded surfer Chris Ross, himself no stranger to deep water and all of its ghastly inhabitants, recalls a growing sense of dread at the spike in sightings.

“I grew up in Margs and I can’t recall it (shark menace) even being a problem when I was a kid,” he says. “But I think that white pointers have been a protected species for long enough that there population just grew and grew and it’s just gotten to the point that there’s so many of them. You’d have to say it’s out of control.”

The stats back Ross up. Before 2004, in the hundred or so years of records being kept? No fatal attacks. The great white shark has been a protected species since 1999.

Ross, like Adrian and like a lot of others down this way who would rather remain nameless, want action.

Ross suggests taking the white pointer off the protected species list for a while, Adrian favouring a scientific approach.

“The drum lines were a bit of a knee-jerk reaction,” says Adrian. “But good on Barnett I reckon, he had to do something quickly and he did. I’d just like to see more research into why there’s so many big sharks all of a sudden.”

And so, as the whales start to appear off the coast on their annual path down south, the surfer in the south-west can only look out to sea and imagine what follows those beautiful big blubbery mammals and hope that dark shape below is just a dolphin.

Just a dolphin.