CANBERRA, Australia (AP) - The sudden death of an American diver in the jaws of a great white shark off Australia's southwest coast has raised the specter of a rogue man-eater preying on a renowned aquatic playground and killing three men in two months.
Scientists say three sharks more likely are responsible, and the three cases are sheerly unfortunate encounters with nature.
Australia's southwest corner has been better known for whale and dolphin-watching cruises, white sandy beaches, world-class surf breaks and the peppery shiraz of its Margaret River premium wineries 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 on Sunday, referring to the three recent deadly attacks.
The latest was 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.
He moved to Australia six months ago taking a job as a project manager with a marine company. 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 set tuna-baited hooks off the island Sunday, 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.
But Barry Bruce, a federal government marine biologist, said it was unlikely that a single, lurking predator killed the three recent victims.
"What we've seen tragically is three cases of people by sheer bad luck being in the wrong place at the wrong time," he said.
"If you're in the path of a white shark that is in the process of hunting its natural prey, that's an exceptionally dangerous situation to find yourself in," he added.
He said the great white population was not growing but shifting around the world for reasons that scientists do not fully understand.
Bruce dismissed theories of a single man-eater as unfounded speculation.
"A more plausible explanation is that this is the time of year when sharks move along the coast, and there are undoubtedly multiple sharks out there following this exact pattern," Bruce said.