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      Now sonar shark alarm system under spotlight

Friday, November 17 10:14 AM SGT

PERTH, Australia, Nov 16 (AFP) -

A multi-million dollar sonar system may be used to warn Western Australian beachgoers of approaching sharks after a fatal attack at a popular Perth tourist beach last week.

Mayor John Hammond of the Town of Cottesloe, where a 49-year-old father of three was killed by a massive white pointer 11 days ago, said Friday his authority had established it was possible to set up a sonar system to detect movements of big fish through sonar beams.

"It is one of the options my council will seriously consider," he said. "It is environmentally friendly and does not look ugly. We are waiting for a proposal from the company making the system."

The sonar system could be used in conjunction with beach aerial patrols which began Thursday, he said.

The system, developed by a Canadian company, would cost several million dollars, meaning financial help from the Western Australian Government would be essential, Hammond said.

He said investigations had shown sonar beams, aerial patrols and anti-shark nets were the only ways to keep beaches safe.

"I have reservations about netting because it is not environmentally friendly and a lot of innocent marine life would be killed in the net," he said.

"The new patrols are a first step, but a lot more needs to be done, including examining sonar detection."

"Because Cottesloe is Perth's premier beach, it really must be protected from further shark attack.

The daily aerial patrols have been introduced as part of a plan devised by the Western Australian Government to restore confidence among beachgoers, especially overseas tourists.

Low-flying single-engine planes are scanning the Indian Ocean shoreline over a stretch of 50km (31 miles) from Burns Beach, in the north, to Waikiki, south of the port of Fremantle, for any shark activity.

Planes are linked by radio to beach-based lifesavers, who will also look out for sharks.

Beaches were closed for a week in the wake of the death of businessman Ken Crew, who died soon after having a leg bitten off by the shark, estimated to be almost 5m (16ft) long, during an early morning swim.

Authorities have said they are concerned about the economic impact of widespread reluctance by people to go to the beach.

Beaches were officially re-opened Tuesday, but the number of bathers is reportedly well down on the normal volume for the time of the year.

The recent fatality was the first shark-caused death on a Perth beach for 75 years, though there have been recent non-fatal attacks.

There have been several shark fatalities in other parts of Western Australia in recent years.

The State Government gave special authority to the Fisheries Department to search for and destroy the white pointer - a protected species - but the hunt has been unsuccessful.

Perth beaches, unlike many on Australia's eastern seaboard, are currently not protected by shark nets.

Copyright © 2000 AFP

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