Being attacked by a white shark in the waters off WA is a one in a million chance.
That is the conclusion of a major study of every attack on a human by a white shark in WA in the past two decades. Of the 10 fatalities in that time, the most recent five occurred in just over 12 months.
WA’s Department of Fisheries today released the results of the second part of a $1.7 million, three-year study - which comes amid an unprecedented spike in deadly shark attacks in the past year.
The five fatal attacks since September 2011 prompted the Government to widen the powers of Department of Fisheries boss Stuart Smith to make a “catch and kill” order.
The research results have busted some myths about who is most likely to be attacked in the water, and when.
Dr Rick Fletcher, who led the study, said while the risk of being attacked by a shark in WA was still very low, it was increasing.
“We are still talking about a very low risk of attack - but over the 20-year period there has been an increase in shark attacks greater than the increase in population,” Dr Fletcher said.
The study figures show annual rate of risk of attack has increased from 0.4 per million people in 1995/96 to 1 per million in 2010/11.
The rate for 2011-12 was about double the long-term trend at 2 per million.
The belief dawn and dusk are the most likely times for an attack may prove a fallacy. The research shows deeper and cooler water is more risky, but sharks don’t seem to care about the time, or the weather, when they attack.
“The lowest level of risk seems to be when you are swimming close to the coast in water temperatures over 22 degrees - but that does not mean there is no risk,” Dr Fletcher said.
“If you go out thinking that if you avoid dusk and dawn you are at a substantially lower risk, then that is not what the data suggested.
“There was only one shark attack within 30m of the mainland coast, and there was no correlation with wind or rain or overcast conditions.”
Snorkellers and divers have been the targets of the most attacks in WA in the past 20 years, followed by surfers. Swimmers are the least likely to be killed or injured despite being most prevalent in the water.
Mr Smith said the increased powers to order a shark be caught and killed were nothing to do with a “cull”, listing specific dangers that would need to be evident for an order to be made.
Surfer Ben Linden, 24, was fatally mauled in July some 180km north of Perth, three months after 33-year-old diver Peter Kurmann was killed by a shark off the south-west coast.
Last year, bodyboarder Kyle Burden, 21, died near Bunker Bay, Bryn Martin, 64, was taken while swimming off Cottesloe, and American George Thomas Wainwright, 32, died after an attack while scuba diving off Rottnest Island.