The West

WA's fatal shark attacks and near-misses have added to the mystery of Australia as a place that terrifies and fascinates Americans, according to NBC correspondent Sara James.

But the award-winning journalist does not think WA's reputation will stop Americans heading to the State.

"People who come here - certainly from the United States - love everything they hear about Australia and actually great whites fit into this whole broader array of (dangerous wildlife) crocodiles, deadly snakes and great whites," she said.

"We have a combination of feelings about Australia, it's very exciting, it's exhilarating and it terrifies us a little bit."

James, who has covered shark attacks in WA since surf ski paddlers Brian Sierakowski and John Hanrahan escaped a great white in 1997, was part of a shark forum organised by Channel 7's Today Tonight program.

Panel members, including Premier Colin Barnett and Opposition Leader Mark Mc- Gowan, shark survivor Zac Golebiowski, shark attack victim Nick Edwards' widow Melissa and ocean experts, debated what was causing the tragic increase and what could be done to prevent more deaths.

Sharks have killed five people in WA in the past year.

Tourism operators say the attacks have put WA on the map - but not for the right reasons.

Perth Diving Academy director and panelist Simon Jones said the attacks had a big impact on business.

"People are scared, they don't feel confident going in the water," Mr Jones said.

"If you have five more shark attacks in Perth, people aren't going to come flocking here to see white pointers.

"They are going to go somewhere else."

Former politician Larry Graham said widespread coverage and the State Government's response to the recent deaths - more helicopter patrols and millions in funding - had added to public hysteria and were "disproportionate" to the problem.

But Mr Barnett said there was much demand for the Government to try to keep people safe. More helicopter patrols were a way to protect beachgoers, alerting authorities when sharks were in the area so they could get swimmers out of the water.

Footage was shown at the forum of a tagged 4m great white that forced the closure of Perth beaches after setting off receivers on Wednesday. It raised debate on new powers to kill great whites that posed an "imminent threat" to public safety and demand for details on what the guidelines were.

Surf Life Saving WA said Cottesloe beach was closed for an hour yesterday after a shark was seen.

The West Australian

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