PERTH, AUSTRALIA – FINA has ordered spotter planes and armed scuba-divers to be used to protect competitors in the long-distance ocean events at next year’s World Championships after a recent string of shark attacks off Western Australia.
Race co-ordinator Kevin Holtom told Reuters on Tuesday that local organizers had been told by worried FINA officials to take every possible precaution against sharks. “We told them that each competitor will have their own support boat and there will also be back-up crews with life boats and rubber duckies as well as officials’ boats and media helicopters,” Holtom said.
“We also agreed to get a surveillance plane to fly overhead to look out for any sharks and even use a team of scuba divers armed with spear guns.” Holtom said FINA officials were satisfied with the organizers’ existing precautions but became alarmed after seeing reports of three recent attacks off the coast of Western Australia.
Holtom said the extra precautions were mainly to ease the fears of the competitors themselves. The most serious incident occurred in August at the same site where the ocean racing events will be held when a 51-year-old man was attacked by a great white shark. The man escaped with a scratched face but the incident sparked a statewide shark alert.
The world championships are scheduled to take place in Perth from January 8-18. Four races will be held off-shore with the men’s and women’s 5k race scheduled for January 8 and the 25k races on January 11. Holtom said around 80 swimmers from about 25 countries were expected to compete in the long-distance events.
“None of the swimmers have rung to say they’re worried. They are all ocean racers after all, and know that if you race in the ocean there’s going to be other things out there,” Holtom said. “The information we have is that our precautions are more than enough and that no self-respecting shark would want to come near all that.”
A shark expert at Sydney’s Taronga Zoo agreed there was little chance of an attack occurring during the race. John West told Reuters there had been only 10 recorded fatal shark attacks in Western Australia state since 1803 and the most recent in Perth, where the ocean races will be held, was in 1925. “Most sharks travel south in January to follow the whales’ migration patterns,” West said. “The general chances of a swimmer being bitten or eaten by a shark are very, very remote.”