Champion US surfer Kelly Slater has warned about increased shark activity off WA’s South West coast as the state’s Tourism Minister took a swipe at the decision to abandon the rest of the Margaret River Pro.
The World Surf League on Wednesday decided to cancel the competition with five days remaining over fears about aggressive sharks in the area, after two recreational surfers were attacked near Gracetown on Monday.
The move has split the surfing community and prompted concerns about whether shark attacks are damaging WA’s international reputation.
Speaking before the event was cancelled, Slater said he thought the competition should continue, before later throwing his support behind the WSL.
“I’ll go with backing their decision,” the 11-time world champion said.
“I can only speak for myself if I were there and I would choose to surf.
“But there were 100 whales washed up 20 minutes south of Margaret’s just a month ago which I’m sure is gonna make surfing around there a bit sharkier in coming months and years.
“So maybe the two shark instances the other day were just a precursor to the larger issue they might experience in the west in the near future.
“I hope not but we’ll see.”
Almost 150 pilot whales died in March after a mass stranding at Hamelin Bay, about 35 kilometres south of Margaret River and 50 kilometres from Gracetown, with authorities issuing a shark advice alert for the area.
Slater points to world rankings
Slater also suggested there were differing opinions about why some competitors did not want to carry on at Margaret River.
“There are a few theories about who did and didn’t want to surf and the larger effects on the [world] rankings,” he said.
“The most vocal against haven’t had a great record at Margs so we can only be left to wonder if that played into the fear of surfing.”
Former world champion Gabriel Medina and current WSL ratings leader Italo Ferreira took to social media with their safety concerns in the immediate aftermath of the attacks.
Medina later ramped up his comments, saying Margaret River was “not safe” and the most dangerous place to surf in the world before adding he was unlikely to return.
Video has since emerged of what witnesses described as a four-metre shark circling a boat off nearby Dunsborough.
SHARK SCARE: “It’s just had a go at the motor!”🦈Check out this footage of what witnesses describe as a 4-metre great white shark, 2km off Dunsborough this morning. Credit: Sara Brown
Posted by ABC South West on Thursday, April 19, 2018
Surfers should surf: Minister
Tourism Minister Paul Papalia, who earlier backed the WSL’s decision, has questioned how much it was influenced by the views of some surfers.
“They’ve effectively decided that some surfers can drive which events they hold or not,” Papalia said.
“That would be the equivalent of tennis players saying they’re not going to play the Australian Open because the weather’s too hot or something.”
Papalia said the WSL was putting its business in jeopardy by cancelling events because of shark incidents.
“I support the WSL … it was their decision to make, but I would just caution surfers, professional surfers, that their business is surfing,” he said.
“If you then put at jeopardy your future business because of a view, a personal view about one particular site, as opposed to any other particular site, then you’re putting at jeopardy your business.”
The WSL has been contacted for comment.