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Reef Report for Friday, December 17, 2004

Spear fisherman Killed by Sharks on the Great Barrier Reef

The town of Cairns was shocked this past weekend by the death of a local man, who died after being bitten by a shark while spear fishing on the Great Barrier Reef.

Mark Thompson, a 38-year old Cairns resident, was spear fishing with friends off Opal Reef, a large reef area off of Port Douglas, when he was bitten. Mark was the only person in the water at the time, his friends were nearby, and quickly came to his aid after hearing his cries for help. They hauled him our of the water, gave first aid for a massive leg wound, and called for assistance, but the victim died prior to the arrival of the rescue helicopter.

Experts speculated that the vibration of speared/wounded fish and blood in the water attracted a shark, which then bit the victim, probably mistaking him for a wounded fish or competitor for food. The most probable suspect would have been a bronze whaler, tiger or bull shark.

Such attacks are quite uncommon in Australia, in itís 200-year history there have been just188 fatal shark attacks, and our research only can find one other attack on this section of the Great Barrier Reef. Australians have a greater risk of dying from a lightning strike or bee sting. Still, itís a tragedy for the family and many friends of the victim.

This is the second fatal shark attack in Australia this month, just a few days after this attack a surfer was attacked and killed in South Australia. Almost on the other side of the country.

In browsing the news reports we noticed two interesting reactions. Reporters were pressing the Queensland Premier, Peter Beattie, about how this attack might affect tourism in the area, and he quite rightly stated, "Iím more concerned about the individual and his family to be perfectly honest."

In the case of the attack on the surfer in Southern Australia, the father of the victim was quoted as being against the revenge killing of sharks in the area. The father, Philip Peterson, when asked about it, said, "We acknowledge that the sea is in fact the shark's domain and we don't, and I certainly personally don't, advocate the indiscriminate killing of any shark," he said.

We donít anticipate changing our diving habits, but have never been very comfortable with the idea of spear fishing due to the potential for this activity to attract sharks. We recommend that you educate yourself, as any search online for information will give you all sorts of information. Here are a few that we found.

Australian Shark Attack Statistics

Information About Australian Sharks

Recommendations for Diving Around Sharks

Shark Research Institute

(C) DiveTheReef The weekly reef report is written by Joel Groberg of DiveTheReef.com, who compiles them from the many conversations he has with dive staff in the area, as well as† many other local sources in the dive community.

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