Australian authorities have shut down a major international surfing event after recreational surfers were attacked by sharks near the site of the competition on the country’s southwest coast.
The World Surf League cancelled the remainder of this year’s Margaret River Pro, which began April 11 and was to finish on Monday. The decision came after the two surfers, who were not in the competition, were mauled in separate attacks earlier this week at surf spots only a few miles from the event’s main venue in West Australia.
In announcing the cancellation, the WSL said the safety of surfers was paramount and that the attacks had “crossed the threshold for what is acceptable” risk for competitors.
“If we decided to continue the event under the current circumstances and something terrible were to take place, we would never forgive ourselves,” WSL chief executive Sophie Goldschmidt was quoted as saying by The Sydney Morning Herald.
On Monday, Alexander Travaglini, 37, was knocked from his board at Cobblestones off Gracetown by a suspected great white shark. Fellow surfers helped him to shore. He required surgery to both legs but is reportedly in good condition and recovering.
According to the Australian Broadcasting Corp. (ABC) surf photographer Peter Jovic said he witnessed the attack.
“‘[I] saw the guy who had been attacked get separated from the [surf] board and then start to paddle for an inside wave, which he managed to body surf all the way in.
They got him to shore and started working on him to stem the bleeding.'”
Hours later and just a mile and a half away from the first attack, 41-year-old Jason Longgrass was bitten on the leg at Lefthanders break. In a report by Australia’s Channel 7 cited by The West Australian, Longgrass is seen in cell phone video as he fights to escape the shark.
Once ashore, Longgrass is ambulatory, but with a deep bite mark on his right thigh.
The Herald says that the attacks add to uncertainty about the future of the Margaret River event, where “beached whales [attract] sharks” and contribute to their “aggressive behaviour.”
According to the newspaper, “One-time world champion Gabriel Medina expressed fears about re-entering the water following the shark attacks and current world No.1 Italo Ferreira echoed his sentiments.”