State and Federal authorities were grappling last night with how to respond to a shocking series of fatal attacks involving great white sharks off the WA coast amid fears the deaths may not be a statistical anomaly.
After surfer Ben Linden became the fifth person to be killed by a great white in WA waters in 10 months, the State Government admitted it knew remarkably little about the elusive creatures.
The admission came as the Government again resisted suggestions it should install shark nets off popular local beaches and as it all but ruled out a cull of great whites.
Instead, State Fisheries Minister Norman Moore said the Government would write to Canberra asking whether there was evidence to support removing great whites from the protected species list.
As divisions emerged whether shark numbers should be pared back, tributes poured in for Mr Linden, who was fatally attacked while surfing with a mate near Wedge Island, about 160km north of Perth, on Saturday.
Mr Linden's family issued a statement thanking those who assisted in the search for the 24-year-old's body, while Mr Linden's high school sweetheart, Alana Noakes, wrote of his love of surfing.
"Ben was the most amazing man, he lit up the lives of all who knew him," Ms Noakes wrote on Facebook.
At the scene of Saturday's incident, there was anger as Fisheries officers were forced to replace up to five shark warning signs that had been stolen in the wake of the attack.
There were also unconfirmed reports that a surfer had spotted a shark off a beach just north of the spot where Mr Linden was killed.
Describing his "dismay" at the latest events and his powerlessness to stop them, Mr Moore said he wanted to know whether great white sharks should still be afforded protection under Australian law.
"The fatality yesterday is very distressing . . . and I'm very worried because this is now five fatalities in a very short period of time and it calls on us to do something," Mr Moore said.
"But the more we work on this, the harder it seems to be getting."
WA Shark Fishers' Association president Neville Mansted said the predators should be taken off the endangered species list to which they were added by the Federal Government in 1999.
But Mr Mansted said culling them would be impractical.
Shark expert and author Hugh Edwards said it was notoriously difficult to identify, let alone eradicate, killer sharks.
He also said the recent series of attacks was caused by more than a jump in the animals' numbers.
Conservation Council of WA spokesman Nic Dunlop said culling white sharks was nonsensical because it was "biologically impossible" for their numbers to have increased much in the past 15 years.
Federal Environment Minister Tony Burke said he would be happy to look at any proposals put to him by the WA Government.