February 12, 2010

Wobbegong The Culprit Of Shark Attack

A docile wobbegong, a species of carpet shark that usually avoids humans, was mistaken by witnesses as a juvenile great white, after seeing the fish grapple with a surfer in the waters off the coast of Sydney.

AFP reports that surfer Paul Welsh was treated for cuts at a hospital and had a tooth removed from his leg. The attack led authorities to temporarily close Mona Vale Beach, where the 46 year-old surfer and his 10 year-old son encountered the six-foot fish.

Steve Whan, state minister of New South Wales, told AFP that a government scientist confirmed the tooth belonged to a wobbegong carpet shark. Wobbegongs lie on the sea bed and only attack if disturbed. "Wobbegong sharks are a docile bottom-dwelling species," he said. "This species is not aggressive and is not known to attack humans."

"I was pushing my son on to waves and it just belted me from behind," Welsh told local reporters. He added that he grabbed onto a rock and held on as the shark tried to drag him out. Luckily, "I won," he said.

Witness Michael Brown said he saw a lot of "thrashing in the water" before the shark appeared from below. "It's launched straight up into him, knocked him out of the water and then latched onto his leg," he told state radio.

According to Sydney's Taronga Zoo, wobbegongs are very docile and usually only attack if stepped on. "It is highly likely that this poor fellow stepped on it," a spokesman told AFP. The species is not a man-eater by nature, and is unlikely to kill a human. "They are a very small shark."

Shark attacks are commonplace in Australia, where 80 percent of the population lives in coastal areas. 194 people have been killed by sharks in the past 200 years.

Image Courtesy Richard Ling - Wikipedia