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Shark killings spark hunting debate

The sudden death of an American diver in the jaws of a great white shark off Australia's south-west coast has raised the spectre of a rogue man-eater preying on a renowned aquatic playground and killing three men in two months.

Scientists said three sharks more likely are responsible, and the three cases are unfortunate encounters with nature.

Australia's south-west corner has been better known for whale and dolphin-watching cruises, white sandy beaches and world-class surf breaks than for fatal shark attacks.

"This is a unique set of circumstances, and I'm desperately ... praying this is not the beginning of a new trend ... and we're going to have these on a regular basis," Western Australia state fisheries minister Norman Moore said, referring to the three recent deadly attacks.

The latest was on Saturday when American George Thomas Wainwright, 32, was attacked while diving solo off a boat near Rottnest Island, a few miles from the city of Perth in Western Australia state.

As a child, family members said Mr Wainwright was always on the water pursuing his loves: boating, fishing and diving. In Panama City, Florida, he was among the youngest residents to get his captain's licence and later ran a charter boat business, his younger sister Wanda Brannon, 30, said.

He moved to Australia six months ago, taking a job as a project manager with a marine company. Ms Brannon said her brother loved Australia's beautiful landscapes and relished his new adventures there. He had recently emailed family members about returning to Florida for a Christmas visit.

The Western Australia state government has set tuna-baited hooks off the island, the first time authorities have used an emergency legal exemption from the state protection of great whites as an endangered species in the interests of protecting the public.

Western Australia premier Colin Barnett also said his government would consider shark culls, responding to locals' complaints that shark numbers are increasing off bustling beaches in one of Australia's fastest growing population areas.

But Barry Bruce, a federal government marine biologist with extensive research experience in tracking the movements of tagged great whites via satellite and in examining their behaviour, said it was unlikely that a single, lurking predator killed the three recent victims.

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