Surfing contest hit as riders tell world of shark fears
One of Australia’s biggest sporting events, the Margaret River Pro surfing tournament, has been dealt a major blow after two of the world’s best professional surfers said they felt unsafe training and competing there in the wake of two nearby shark attacks on Monday.
The Margaret River Pro, which attracts tens of thousands of spectators and millions of international viewers each year, is sponsored by the West Australian government as a way of promoting the state’s beaches and attracting tourists.
This year’s tournament has been rocked by the attacks on 37year-old Alejandro Travaglini and 41-year-old Jason Longrass at separate beaches in Gracetown, about 15km away from the event site. Mr Travaglini, who remains in Royal Perth Hospital, had been working as a crew member at the Margaret River Pro.
The Department of Fisheries has closed all beaches in Gracetown and yesterday removed a whale carcass from Lefthanders beach, the scene of one of the attacks on Monday.
Three sharks — believed to be two tiger sharks and a great white — circled the carcass for about 30 minutes as it was towed from Lefthanders to a boat ramp.
Brazilian surfer Gabriel Medina, the 2014 world champion, told his six million followers on Instagram he did not feel safe in the water around Margaret River.
“Leaving my opinion before it’s too late,” he said ahead of the expected resumption of the tournament this morning. Another Brazilian, joint World Surf League ratings leader Italo Ferreira, also voiced his concerns.
“Two shark attacks in less than 24 hours here in Australia, just a few kilometres from where the event is being held,” the Brazilian surfer told his 200,000 followers on Instagram. “Is the safety of the athletes not the priority? We’ve had plenty of alerts. Life is worth more than this. I hope this doesn’t happen to any of us. I don’t feel comfortable training and competing under these circumstances.”
In response to the surfers’ concerns, the WSL said yesterday it would continue to assess the situation. “We have actioned our well-established safety protocols and are gathering all the latest information to determine the next steps,” it said. “We will continue to liaise with all involved, most importantly the surfers. Their safety (is) paramount,” the WSL said.
It also emerged yesterday that the WA government might bow to pressure to act on beach safety in the wake of the Gracetown attacks, revealing it could follow NSW in deploying state-of-the art SMART (Shark Management Alert in Real Time) drumlines off the state’s beaches.
Deputy Premier Roger Cook warned that a trial of the nonlethal drumlines would cost millions and might be too expensive for the cash-strapped Labor government. In the first sign the McGowan government is prepared to move on shark mitigation beyond its policy of subsidising personal deterrent devices, he said the government was interested in seeing the results of the smart drumline trial in NSW.
He said a trial in six locations in WA would cost about $10,000 a day. “It’s quite an attractive proposition from the point of view that it makes intuitive sense that it would be an effective way to do it,” he told ABC radio today. “It’s also a very expensive one.” Federal Environment Minister Josh Frydenberg said it was time for WA to act.
Shark attack survivor Alejandro Travaglini with his son Indi, wife Tanya Hawthorne and daughter Mali yesterday
Brazil’s Gabriel Medina told followers of his shark fears