West Australian Editor Defends Controversial ‘Shark Attack’ Front Page

The editor of the West Australian newspaper has gone on the defensive regarding his publication’s recent highly controversial front page image, which depicted a photoshopped shark chasing several children out of the water following two fatal attacks in the last week.

The front page image graced the West Australian’s June 8 issue and followed repeated calls by the paper for government intervention after two separate fatal attacks, as the Guardian notes. The West Australian has advocated for the state government to reinstate a highly controversial shark culling policy, which was shuttered in 2014 after a negative review by the Environmental Protection Authority. Prior to that date, baited hooks were routinely anchored off Perth’s beaches in an effort to catch and kill great white, tiger, and bull sharks, which could have posed a potential threat to beachgoers.

The West Australian’s front page depicted several children fleeing the surf while the dorsal fin of a large shark pursues them, underneath the headline “Will it take this?” The publication was almost immediately accused of fear-mongering and sensationalism, though Editor Brett McCarthy asserted that the controversial image was intended to spark debate.

Speaking to Perth’s Fairfax Radio, he noted that in the paper’s view, the government has a responsibility to address the issue of shark attacks off their coastline.

“One of the things that has been said to me time and time again … from our readers and people I have spoken to in the community is: is it going to take an attack on a child at one of our popular beaches for something more to be done?”

Although the shark cull policy was suspended in 2014, Western Australia’s government is still permitted to catch and kill sharks (even protected species like great whites) with baited drum lines under the equally controversial imminent threat policy. Just last week, following a fatal attack on surfer Ben Gerring at Mandurah beach, the Department of Fisheries deployed drum lines and successfully killed a 4.2-meter-long great white shark, as the Inquisitr previously reported. Critics of the practice swiftly noted, however, that due to the difference in time between the fatal attack and the shark’s death, there is no way to know if the great white killed was the same animal responsible for the incident.

Gerring was only the first beachgoer to fall victim to a shark in Western Australian waters last week. On Sunday, 60-year-old university lecturer Doreen Collyer was killed while diving north of Perth by a large great white thought to be more than five meters long. The search for that shark continues and has even prompted Fisheries officials to take the highly unusual step of deploying drum lines for the third day in a row.

While McCarthy suggested that either the shark cull policy could be re-instituted or commercial fishing for great white sharks could be opened in that part of Western Australia, state premier Colin Barnett has ruled out the possibility of another cull. According to researchers, data shows that the great white shark population off Australia, which declined by as much as 60 percent in the latter part of the 20th century, may be stabilizing or even growing. Great white sharks, however, are still “decades away” from being removed from the threatened species list, according to professor Peter Harrison of the Southern Cross University’s Marine Ecology Research Center.

“There are no clear indications of the current population status of white sharks in Australian waters so on that basis there is no rational basis for its removal from the threatened species list.”

Barnett acknowledged that in light of the recent attacks, the local community is experiencing an understandable degree of fear and “having a rethink” regarding the difficult and, at times, divisive issue of properly interacting with the native population of great white sharks.

[Photo by Ryan Pierse/Getty Images]