Don't shoot: family of dead surfer pleads with authorities to spare the sharks that killed him

Bradley Smith was a popular and experienced surfer. At the weekend he met an horrific end, mauled to death by two sharks off Western Australia. Yesterday, as fisheries officers armed with rifles searched for the fish, Australians agonised over whether they should be killed.

Mr Smith's brother, Stephen, believes not. He said that killing the pair - believed to be great whites, or possible bronze whalers - would be "an act of senseless revenge". Bradley had died doing what he loved best, he said.

"We're still in the process of coming to grips with what happened," Stephen Smith said. "But I don't believe the shark should be killed for the sake of what's happened in this situation. I don't believe that Brad can be revenged by killing a shark."

Mr Smith, 29, was attacked by the sharks as he was surfing near Margaret River, south of Perth, on Saturday. Witnesses said one shark knocked him off his board and savaged him while another circled.

Great white sharks, which can grow to up to 23ft in length, are listed as endangered species in many parts of the world. But authorities in Western Australia said yesterday that orders had been given to shoot the pair if they were found. The state's Fisheries Minister, Kim Chance, said: "If they can be identified beyond reasonable doubt, then they will be destroyed." He said examination of Mr Smith's surfboard, which had been bitten in half, would aid identification.

With large sharks able to cover more than 100 miles a day, the patrol is expected to continue for several days. Tony Cappelluti, a fisheries officer, said it would be preferable if they could be herded offshore. But he added: "If they're going to be a danger to the public, or if we believe they have been responsible for a fatal or serious attack, then the community would expect us to try to alleviate that risk."

The incident, the sixth fatal shark attack in Australia since 2000, has reopened a debate about the conflict between conserving sharks and protecting swimmers off the country's thousands of beaches.

While some large sharks have been hunted to the brink of extinction, smaller species are being devastated by fishermen who cut off their fins - a delicacy in some Asian nations - before dumping them back in the ocean to die. Conservationists want sharks to be better protected, but authorities in beachside suburbs are more interested in ensuring swimmers' safety.

Popular beaches on Australia's east coast are protected by giant nets. But critics say the nets catch whales, dolphins, seals and turtles, inflicting a death toll disproportionate to the actual danger posed by sharks. Last year just four fatal attacks, one of them in a canal near the Queensland Gold Coast, were recorded around the world.

Some experts even question the efficacy of shark nets. Kate Davey, national co-ordinator for the Australian Marine Conservation Society, said there was no proof that nets prevented sharks from swimming to the shore. Their main purpose was to make people feel safer, she said.

"What we actually need is a public education campaign to teach people how to live with sharks," she said. "They are a fact of life, they rarely attack humans, but occasionally it does happen. Instead of avoiding the issue, let's start educating the public about it."

Other experts suggested that protecting large shark species increased the danger of attacks on humans, since it meant the ocean was thinned of fish and sharks looked for different food. Rory McAuley, a shark research scientist with the Western Australia fisheries department, said the attack did not mean that the sharks involved were now more likely to target humans.

Mr Smith suffered such extensive injuries in the 45-second attack at the popular Left Handers surf break that he was dead by the time he was brought to land. Witnesses said he tried to fight off the sharks. An autopsy is to be carried out today.

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