Australian state to hunt down dangerous great white sharks

CANBERRA Thu Sep 27, 2012 4:56am EDT

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CANBERRA (Reuters) - Authorities will hunt and kill great white sharks which pose a threat to swimmers along Australia's western Indian Ocean coastline under a new plan to protect beachgoers after five deadly attacks in the past year.

Great white sharks have been a protected species in Australian waters for more than a decade, but the latest spate of great white attacks at Western Australian beaches have prompted the government to allow pre-emptive hunts.

"We will always put the lives and safety of beachgoers ahead of the shark," Western Australian state Premier Colin Barnett told reporters.

"This is, after all, a fish - let's keep it in perspective."

Barnett said the his state had recorded only 12 shark fatalities over the past 100 years, but five of those deaths happened over the past year.

The plan will allow authorities to catch and kill a shark if it is found close to beachgoers. Sharks could previously only be hunted if there had already been an attack on a swimmer.

The government will also buy more jet skis for surf lifesavers, and fund more helicopter patrols of beaches.

More than 100 species of shark are found in Australian waters but most are not aggressive. The white, tiger and bull sharks are considered the most dangerous, although they tend to live in waters away from popular beaches.

White sharks prefer the colder and temperate waters of Australia's south, while tiger and bull sharks are more common in northern tropical waters.

French authorities last month authorized a cull of around 20 sharks off its Indian Ocean island of Reunion after a series of attacks in the surfing hotspot.

(Reporting by James Grubel, Editing by Jonathan Thatcher)

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