Aerial shark patrols will extend to Rottnest and the South West in an unprecedented response to the weekend’s fatal shark attack.
From tomorrow a State Government-funded helicopter will begin patrols at Perth beaches until a dedicated Surf Life Saving WA aircraft is available next month.
The 32-year-old Texan man killed by a shark off Rottnest Island on Saturday had only moved to WA a few months ago with his two closest friends and was diving with the pair when he was attacked, his uncle has revealed.
George "Thomas" Wainwright was killed while diving from a boat about 500m off Little Armstrong Bay, prompting Fisheries Minister Norman Moore to instruct his department to hunt the shark believed to be responsible.
Jay Wainwright said his family had been devastated by the death of Thomas, who had left the US for Perth along with friends Justin and Allison Branner to work in the offshore gas and oil industry.
Speaking from his home in Panama City, Florida, Mr Wainwright said Thomas' parents George and Sharon Wainwright were struggling to come to terms with his death.
"They are just completely devastated," he said. "They're in a state of numbness."
Beaches at Rottnest Island will remain closed until at least this afternoon as the hunt for the killer great white continues.
Announcing the emergency aerial patrols this morning, Premier Colin Barnett said he was not aware of regular shark patrols being carried out at Rottnest and the South West before.
“This is an unprecedented situation to have had three fatalities in a matter of weeks,” he said. "...I think in this circumstance they are warranted, particularly over the school holiday period and so whether they are fixed wing or helicopter patrols, that’s not being negotiated between Government and Surf Life Saving (WA).
“There seems to be more than anecdotal evidence now that the shark population has increased and some sharks, large ones seem to be coming closer in.
“There will be some consideration to how we control the numbers of sharks, on destroying if necessary sharks if they pose a direct threat to swimmers and beach-goers, there may be some further consideration of shark nets, limited ones in particular locations, all of that will be looked at, but the most immediate thing will be to get patrols underway at Perth beaches probably around Rottnest and into the South West during the holiday period.”
After also ruling out shark nets less than two weeks ago, the Premier admitted nets could be installed at “particular locations” in WA.
Armed police aboard a boat and bait-laden traps are being used to carry out a State Government order to "destroy" the shark.
Mr Wainwright's friends Justin and Allison Branner said last night that Mr Wainwright had been in the water alone at the time of the attack.
"Thomas loved the adventure of the ocean, and was an incredibly talented and capable diver, fisherman, and boat captain. He had a quick wit and wry sense of humor, both of which were endlessly entertaining and uniquely Thomas. He had recently been using the phrase 'living the dream' to describe our lives here in Perth, due to the good weather and great times we had been having.
"All three of us had been diving that day, and although Thomas was the only one in the water at the time of the incident, we were continually monitoring him from the vessel.
"We immediately knew when something went wrong, and shortly thereafter it was clear that he was the victim of a fatal shark attack. We are still dealing with the reality of it all, and continue to lean on each other as well as our family, friends, and coworkers for support."
Mr Wainwright's father said Thomas' company, Oceaneering International, had offered to organise to fly his parents to Australia but they were unlikely to make the trip because they were too distraught.
Instead, Thomas would probably be cremated in Perth and his ashes taken back to Florida.
Mr Wainwright said Mr and Mrs Branner had been on the diving trip with Thomas, who is the third person to be killed by a shark in WA in four weeks.
He said the trio were "extremely close" having completed university together, worked alongside each other in Texas and then moved to Perth.
Mr Wainwright said Thomas would be remembered as a gregarious, fun-loving man who treasured his family and friends.
"He was a great young man and was just always happy, a very positive person," he said. "He was so well loved by everyone. I don't think I ever saw him have an ounce of hate in him.
"I went fishing with him a lot when he was younger so we were close."
Mr Wainwright said he had been comforted by the fact that Thomas had died in the ocean, which had been like his "second home".
Department of Fisheries spokesman Ashley Malone said the decision to re-open the beaches at Rottnest would depend on whether there were any shark sightings in the area this morning.
A fisheries boat has been on patrol since 6am.
Mr Malone said there were no hooks, designed to bait sharks, in the water at this stage but the boat was equipped to trap and kill sharks.
Tony Cappelluti, Regional Manager of the Fisheries Metropolitan Region, said he believed the victim of weekend’s shark attack had not been spearfishing in a marine sanctuary.
Prof Shaun Collin is WA Premiers Research Fellow and Professor of Neuroecology in the School of Animal Biology and UWA Oceans Institute at the University of Western Australia
UWA Oceans Institute professor Shaun Collin said the shark attack was “distressing” and “terrible” but he did not believe culling was the solution.
“Not only will this be indiscriminate killing of a protected Australian species…there is no way of being sure the sharks caught will be those responsible for the attacks,” professor Collin said this morning. “At present, there is no data to suggest that shark numbers are increasing off WA’s coastline and shark attacks in Australia have remained relatively constant over time, occurring at a rate of approximately one per year for the last 50 years.
“Sharks are apex predators and they play a critical role in the complex balance of oceanic ecosystems and their removal can have major impacts on other marine species.”
Professor Collin said education and surveillance were the best preventions against shark attacks until better repellent devices were developed.
“Non-lethal shark protection measures such as spotter planes and patrol boats should substantially improve the ability to identify large sharks and enable swimmers and divers to avoid them.”