Laetitia Brouwer (left) is the name of the 17-year-old teenager who died on Monday after being bitten by a shark off the coast of Esperance, South of Perth, Australia. It happened at a location called Kelp Beds, or "Kelpies", a popular surf break in a remote area also used for camping and four-wheel driving.
Laeticia, known as 'Teesh', had been surfing with her father and sisters when the incident happened during their Easter holiday. After the shark bite the girl’s father had paddled over to help his stricken daughter, dragging her to shore with the help of another teenager. Local media reported two sightings of a “medium-sized” great white shark in the area in the week leading up to the fatal attack, coming as close as 150 metres from the shore.
Shark attacks, that is unprovoked bites of humans by sharks. always receive a lot of publicity. This holds in particular for the Great White shark (GW), the shark with the most fearful reputation. The GW feeds on marine mammals with seals as a favorite. Attacks on humans are believed to be often ‘mistakes’ tiggered by the silhouette of a swimmer or surfer, resembling that of a marine mammal such as a seal. Usually the accidents occur in the surf zone or in murky water when the shark bites and then leaves; most victims do not even see the shark. GWs spot a passing figure on the surface from below and then launch a rapid vertical attack on its alleged prey which sometimes lifts its body above the water surface. Surfers often drift in the sea for long periods, paddling with their arms and legs while lying on their boards. Waiting for the moment when the big wave arrives, and then stand up to ride it. It is not surprising that shark attacks often occur in that critical period, when the GWs attention is attracted by the surfers arms and legs flapping around the surf board. The bite marks of the shark on the back of surf board of Teesh (see picture) suggest that the shark bit her left leg, probably dangling from the board in the water. The more surfers there are in the water, the less the risk for the individual surfer to get bitten by a certain shark prowling in the area.
The figures for Australian shark bite injuries and fatalities remain very small in comparison to other fatalities such as drownings occurring along the 11,900km beaches around Australia’s. According to the Australian Shark Attack File the risk of a fatality from a shark attack in Australia remains low, with an average of 1.1 fatalities per year over the past 20 years. The likely reason for the increase of casualties in the last two decades is the greater numbers of people in the water. This includes also ‘danger’ areas that are part of GWs territory. There is no evidence of increasing shark numbers that would influence the rise of attacks in Australian waters.
We feel sorry for Teesh and her parents who declared the Ocean was her passion, and seem to find some comfort in the fact she died doing what she loved. If there is a Heaven for surfers, she will definitely get a place of honour. Goodbye Teesh..
Source and links
Changing patterns of shark attacks in Australian waters John G. West. Marine and Freshwater Research, 2011, 62, 744–754