Posted by on December 17, 2004 at 16:16:32:
In Reply to: Road deaths 15,000, shark attack deaths 1 posted by on December 17, 2004 at 06:41:43:
SYDNEY (AFP) - Sharks have long stirred a primeval fear among humans, and the great white -- the largest predatory shark -- holds a special place in the nightmares of Australian surfers and swimmers.
Capable of killing with a single bite of its mighty jaws, the great white has been depicted feasting on humans everywhere from the walls of Indonesia's ancient Borobudur temples to Steven Spielberg's pioneering Hollywood blockbuster "Jaws".
But experts said tales of great white sharks developing a taste for human flesh and turning into rogue maneaters are a myth. They also point out that on average more people die in Australia every year from bumble bee stings (three) than in shark attacks (one).
According to records kept by Sydney's Taronga Zoo, there have been some 190 fatal shark attacks in Australia over the past 200 years.
South Australian shark researcher Andrew Fox, whose father survived a great white attack more than 40 years ago, said sharks were unlikely to deliberately target humans.
He said they most likely mistake them for sea mammals such as seals, then spit them out once they realize their mistake.
"We (humans) don't have the energy content of dolphins, whales and snappers," he said. "They don't tend to become rogue sharks because there has never been a case when a shark has taken a liking to eating people."
The problem with great whites, also known as white pointers, is that they are so powerful that their "test" bite is often fatal, sometimes ripping the victim in half.
Less than one in three sharks attacks are normally fatal but Fox said the proportion rose to one in two in South Australia, scene of a killing Thursday, because of its high numbers of great whites.
The giant killing machines, which can grow up to eight metres (26 feet) long, are believed responsible for the deaths of two surfers in as many days off South Australia's rugged west coast on September 2000.
Last July, another surfer was killed off Western Australia in a rare joint attack by a pair of great whites, one of which was described as "the size of a car".
Little is known about the migratory or breeding habits of the great white, but numbers have been falling in recent years and the species is protected under Australian law.
Taronga Zoo operations manager John West said sharks were also attracted by disturbances in the water, such as swimmers' flailing arms and legs, which can mimic the signals given out by a fish in distress.
"Sharks are opportunistic feeders and if they do find something flapping around in the water, they're more likely to be attracted to that," he said.
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