News State Western Australia News WA shark victim’s wife opposes culling in emotional tribute

WA shark victim’s wife opposes culling in emotional tribute

Gary Johnson and wife Karen Milligan were diving together when he was attacked by a shark. Photo: ABC
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The wife of WA shark victim Gary Johnson says the experienced diver loved the marine world and was opposed to culling sharks.

Mr Johnson was mauled to death by a suspected great white shark on Sunday just off the coast of Esperance while scuba diving with his wife Karen Milligan.

It was a grim death he had accepted as a possibility during his dives, blaming dwindling fish stocks for impacting the ocean predators.

Esperance man Gary Johnson was diving near Cull Island when he was fatally attacked.

Reading an emotional statement on behalf of Ms Milligan, her daughter Hannah said Mr Johnson would consider himself “unlucky” if he met his end in the jaws of a shark.

But despite losing her partner in this way, Ms Milligan’s statement said he had opposed shark culling and she still did too.

“We were always aware of the risks, and often told each other that if we were attacked by a shark, that would just be unlucky,” she said in the statement,” read out by Mr Johnson’s stepdaughter Hannah.

“We were completely against shark culling, and I still am.

“We have watched with dismay the reduction of fish stocks over the years. We believed that if fish stocks were better protected, then the risk to people in the water would be reduced.”

The statement said Mr Johnson’s dream had been to open a marine park near Esperance where he died while scuba diving near Cull Island.

“Gary was my rock. He was a kind, gentle, strong man,”

“He only ever saw the best in people. He will be so truly missed by me, by his family and his friends, and the world will be a poorer place without this most beautiful man.”

“He and I were at home in and on the ocean,” she said. “We would go out diving in our boat whenever we could, most weekends. We took photos, not fish.”

Shark victim Gary Johnson’s step-daughter fronted media to read a statement on behalf of her mother who had been diving with Gary. Photo: ABC

Esperance Senior Sergeant Justin Tarasinski said the couple had anchored their boat at a depth of 15 metres and were descending through the water when the shark attacked at about 7m.

Ms Milligan put out the mayday alert and was taken to Esperance Hospital to be treated for shock.

Sgt Tarasinski said the search for his body was continuing. So far a dive tank, flippers, vest and part of a wetsuit had been recovered.

A dive tank was recovered from the ocean floor. Photo: ABC James Carmody)

Esperance Shire president Ian Mickel said Mr Johnson was well liked in the community.

“It’s a real shock to know a person as experienced as Gary has lost his life while he was doing what he loved,” he said.

Long-time friend Jaimen Hudson said he was heartbroken for Mr Johnson’s family.

“Gary would always ask me about my family and I would do the same. He was just a genuinely really great guy,” Mr Hudson said.

“I couldn’t believe it when I found out. It’s a terrible tragedy.

“He dived every good weather day when he wasn’t working.”

Mr Johnson was president of the Esperance Dive Club, a member of the Esperance Squash Club and worked for a local farming machinery retailer.

“He will be dearly missed … the Sunday hits will never be the same,” a post on the squash club’s Facebook page read.

In a social media post from November 2017, Mr Johnson said he was often asked whether he was worried about sharks.

“I personally wear a shark protection device (many don’t) just because it gives me peace of mind, much like buckling up a seatbelt in the car,” he wrote.

“I can honestly say that in my nine years diving in Esperance (most weekends – weather permitting) I have only seen one shark – a bronze whaler who showed absolutely no interest in me.”

Fisheries Minister Peter Tinley would not comment on whether Mr Johnson had been wearing a shark shield.

“They are no different than anything else that we put around ourselves for protection, like a motorbike helmet,” he told reporters.

“It is not a fail safe system, sometimes it doesn’t work … about nine out of 10 times it does work.”

Mr Tinley said there were 110 islands off Esperance and in this case drumlines would have had limited use.

The future of the smart drumline trial is due for consideration in February.

“We’ve tagged over 105 white pointers … (it’s) a fantastic achievement,” Mr Tinley said.

The shire has erected shark warning signs from West Beach to Twilight Beach.

The Esperance area is a notorious for shark attacks.

In April 2017, Laeticia Brouwer, 17, died after she was bitten while surfing with her father at Kelp Beds.

In October 2014, surfer Sean Pollard lost his left arm and right hand after he was mauled by two white sharks at Kelp Beds.

-with AAP