Surfer Ben Linden this weekend became Western Australia's fifth shark attack fatality in just 10 months, with experts now wondering if shark behavior is changing, such that the often-enormous predators are more likely to go after humans.
Twenty-four-year-old Linden of Osborne Park near Perth was surfing near Wedge Island. Jet skier Matt Holmes watched as the shark bit into Linden "like it was eating a seal," Surf on Grind TV reported. "It just threw its body out of the water for this guy. I turned and looked back at my mate, and I just thought, 'Is this real?'"
Holmes tried to retrieve Linden's body in the bloody water, but the shark — suspected to be a 16-foot-long great white — came back for more. It circled, crashed into Holmes' jet ski, grabbed Linden's remains and swam off.
As Holmes described, "I don't know if it was trying to knock me off, or just keep me from the body…but I did another loop, and when I came back to the body, the shark took it."
Western Australia Fisheries Minister Norman Moore said the shark that fatally attacked Linden should be killed if it's found, Radio New Zealand reported.
I think the bigger problem has less to do with this particular shark and more to do with human behavior. Sharks, as for us and other animals, are creatures of habit. If they see food around humans, it won't take them long to associate people with food.
Sharks, and especially great whites, are notorious for taking exploratory bites out of moving objects to see if they're worth pursuing. Their new association with humans and food, added to this exploratory behavior, could help to explain the recent attacks, especially now that more surfers and swimmers are in the water, and seeking heat relief at beaches.
Tourism operations could be fueling the problem.
Just a few days ago, before Linden's death, Moore told reporters that he's concerned tourist efforts to attract sharks are putting people in danger.
"While such ventures may generate direct or indirect economic benefits, there are also concerns that sustained activities to attract sharks to feeding opportunities have the potential to change the behavior patterns of those sharks," Moore said in a statement.
The Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization (CSIRO) has already investigated the matter, and found that chumming (tossing out bait for sharks) at cage diving sites in South Australia keeps sharks around longer in areas. The study did not, however, prove a direct link between chumming and attacks on humans, but my guess is that was a fault of the research. Don't you think it's common sense that if you can train sharks to associate food with humans, they are going to come toward us expecting to be fed?
Australia isn't the only country where you can cage dive with sharks. Tourist operations also exist in South Africa, known for its high number of shark attacks on humans.
As Moore said, even before Linden's death, "I would prefer to take no risks until more is known."
(Image: Shark attack victim Ben Linden, shown in a photo from his Facebook page)