WE live on a continent surrounded by shark-infested waters, or so it would seem, given the numerous attacks this year, five in less than 12 months, all fatal, off the coast of Western Australia.
Where do we find the courage to plunge into the ocean, as so many of us do? Are we in denial of the dangers, rather like issues of climate change?
I put these questions to all-year-round Wonthaggi surfer Shane Simpson. After all, he has looked a great white in the eye, in a manner of speaking. This is his story:
"I started board surfing when I was 17 and from that very first day was infected for life. As with so many of us surfers, there was no looking back.
“Some 10 years later, in the late spring of 1988, we’re surfing off Kilcunda when that long, dreaded shadow glides between me and my mate Snapper. Whitey’s paddling back after catching a wave to join us behind the breakers and shouts, 'What're you blokes looking at?' when the great white circles back and carves his board in two. He’s left with his leg rope attached to about half a metre of board. The major portion’s been forced deep down with the attack and shoots up out of the surf with so much force it comes out 20 metres away. Whitey’s calling for help, his upper body rising and falling with the swell, and I'm wondering how much is left below the surface.
“We paddle over and retrieve the larger chunk, get Whitey undamaged, as we think, onto the board and the three of us make it back to shore.
'''You OK?' we ask.
"'Yeah,' says Whitey. 'Just got a bit of me wetsuit.'
"That's when we see the blood. Into the car, off to Wonnie Hospital and he’s patched up with 30-plus stitches in the bum."
Later, shark expert Vic Hislop inserts a tooth from an 18-foot great white into the tooth marks left in the board and deduces that the Kilcunda shark was even larger.
Of course they still surf.
"You will never know such freedom," says Shane, who will often go out alone of an evening (one of the danger times, so the experts say). "Sitting out there beyond the breakers, you get a whole different perspective, not just of the coastline but of life."
A very major part of life for Shane, who has surfed all over the world.
Ever scared? "No, not really. Anyway, look at the stats. Even though we surf isolated spots, the dangers are still minimal."
Still, he has never seen the movie Jaws and says he never will.
I check out some of those statistics. I discover that in the US in one year there were 3306 drownings to one fatal shark attack.
Think I'll give up paddling.