The recent Whitsundays shark attack prompted the usual calls for lethal control measures, but would they have made any difference?
The terrifying triumph of the film Jaws was how its opening scene unfolded without a glimpse of the shark. Thrashing, screaming, spluttering. And the fear of a killer lurking beneath that has lingered in swimmers minds for decades.
Shark attacks remain exceptionally rare. But when one occurs off Australias coast, the reaction is often hysteria, as dramatic and phoney as when the fake shark finally did raise its head.
What will it take for government, tourism and council leaders to stand up to greenies who are turning the turquoise waters of the Great Barrier Reef blood red? wrote Courier-Mail columnist Peter Gleeson after two British men were bitten during a boat tour of the Whitsundays in north Queensland.
The newspapers front page, in line with coverage in most Australian news outlets, directly linked the attack to the removal of drum lines lethal baited traps from the Great Barrier Reef marine park after a tribunal decision a few months earlier.
A small but consequential detail: the Queensland lethal shark control program has never been run in the Whitsundays. The nearest beach to ever have regular drum lines installed is 110km to the south, at Mackay.
Another fact: this weeks attack took place at an ocean site almost 30km from the mainland, where drum lines are not designed to work.
And another: experts say there is no scientific evidence the baits prevent or reduce attacks.
Human life comes first, says George Roff, an ecology professor from the University of Queensland. But shark control has become a wedge issue, a greenies versus common sense issue.
That is based on an assumption that culling works … this understanding that if you kill sharks, then people will be safer. Its a largely untested assumption and with the advent of modern technology there are smarter ways of keeping beachgoers safe.
Roff experienced the thin end of that wedge last year, after he authored a study about declining shark numbers in Queensland.
We found 70% to 90% declines in the abundance of sharks caught off the coastline. The media polarised the debate as valuing shark populations over human life.
On Channel Nines Today program to talk about the research, Roff found himself speaking in front of a superimposed footage of shark attack victims.
He thought his mate grabbed him by the leg
On a clear day looking out to sea from Airlie Beach, there are shadows on the horizon. The Whitsunday Islands a collection of white-sand resorts and nature reserves set among coral reefs are the peaks of drowned mountains that went under at the end of the last ice age.
The mainland hub at Airlie is the jumping-off point for the jumble of islands; for snorkelling and sightseeing charters, and for bareboating, where tourists pilot their own vessel into the ocean.
The area provides an experience of Australia that international tourists crave. And in the past year, everything they also fear.
The most recent shark attack victims, Britons Alistair Raddon, 28, and his friend Danny Maggs, 22, were on a snorkelling trip. Raddon had his foot bitten off by a shark at Hook Passage, which is about 30km from the mainland.
A crewman on the rescue helicopter, Grant Bollington, told the ABC the two men had been play-fighting in the water.
[Raddon] thought his mate grabbed him by the leg really hard, turned around and saw there was blood in the water and realised he was getting bitten by a shark, Bollington said.