CANBERRA, Australia — Shark hunters set baited hooks off Australia’s southwest coast on Sunday hoping to catch a great white that killed an American recreational diver in the area’s third recent fatal attack.
Department of Fisheries manager Tony Cappelluti said crews took the extraordinary step of setting six lines with hooks off the picturesque tourist haven of Rottnest Island, where witnesses saw a 10-foot great white nudge their dive boat after George Thomas Wainwright of Texas was killed Saturday.
Wainwright, 32, had been living in a beachside suburb of the west coast city of Perth for several months on a work visa. Police released his identity Sunday but did not disclose his hometown in Texas.
“If the shark’s in that vicinity, it may or may not take those baited hooks,” Cappelluti told The Associated Press.
He said a decision would be made later Sunday on whether to continue the hunt, which has the potential to worsen the local shark threat.
“Because the hooks are baited, there is a possibility they might attract a shark back to the area,” Cappelluti said. “We don’t want to leave them there for a long period of time.”
Scientists have warned against an overreaction to the third fatal shark attack off Australia’s southwest coast in less than two months. Australia averages a little more than one fatal shark attack a year.
Barbara Weuringer, a University of Western Australia marine zoologist and shark researcher, urged against a shark hunt, saying there was no way of telling which shark was the killer without killing it and opening its stomach.
“It sounds a little bit like taking revenge, and we’re talking about an endangered species,” Weuringer said.
She said that the increase in shark attacks could reflect the human population increase in the southwest, and suggested that a more productive response would be to move up shark spotting flights from their November start date.
But a southwest coast-based diving tourism operator called on the Western Australia state government to kill sharks that pose a threat to humans.
“The nuisance sharks — the problem sharks that move into an area and are aggressive — should be dispatched to remove the risk of future attack,” Rockingham Wild Encounters director Terry Howson told the AP.
Howson has been campaigning for government action on sharks since one of his tour guides, Elyse Frankcom, was injured in a shark attack last year.
“It’s absolutely hurting the tourist trade,” he said. “Australia is getting a name for itself as being full of dangerous animals.”
In Saturday’s attack, the shark struck near a dive boat 500 yards north of Rottnest Island, which is 11 miles west of a popular Perth beach where a 64-year-old Australian swimmer is believed to have been taken by a great white on Oct. 10.
Authorities cannot say whether Wainwright was killed by the same shark that is believed to have taken Bryn Martin as he made his regular morning swim from Perth’s Cottesloe Beach toward a buoy about 380 yards offshore.
But an analysis of Martin’s torn swimming trunks recovered from the seabed near the buoy pointed to a great white shark being the culprit. No other trace of Martin has been found.
The two attacks follow the Sept. 4 death of 21-year-old bodyboarder Kyle Burden, whose legs were bitten off by a shark described as 15 feet long at a beach south of Perth. Witnesses were unsure of the type of shark.
Barry Bruce, a marine biologist and great white expert, said it was unlikely that the same shark was responsible for all three fatalities.
“A more plausible explanation is that this is the time of year when sharks move along the coast, and there are undoubtedly multiple sharks out there following this exact pattern,” Bruce said.
Western Australia state authorities have been allowed to kill great whites that endanger humans despite the shark’s endangered status since 2000, when Perth businessman Ken Crew was killed in front of hundreds of horrified beachgoers while wading in knee-deep water off Cottesloe. Officials believe the culprit was a 13-foot great white.
Sunday was the first time authorities have exercised the legal exemption to hunt a great white.
Western Australia Premier Colin Barnett said Saturday that his government would consider shark culls in the future.
Great whites can grow to more than 20 feet long and 5,000 pounds . They are protected in Australia, a primary location for the species.