CANBERRA, Australia — The death of a Florida 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 unfortunate encounters with nature.
George Thomas Wainwright, 32, an avid diver and boater from Panama City, died on Saturday.
Australia's southwest corner is known for whale and dolphin-watching cruises, white sandy beaches, world-class surf breaks and the peppery shiraz of its Margaret River premium wineries.
"This is a unique set of circumstances, and I'm desperately … praying this is not the beginning of a new trend," Western Australia state Fisheries Minister Norman Moore said on Sunday, referring to the three attacks.
Wainwright 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 Wainwright was always on the water pursuing his loves: boating, fishing and diving.
In Panama City, he was among the youngest residents to get his captain's license and later ran a charter boat business, his younger sister Wanda Brannon, 30, said on Sunday.
"His love and passion was being on the water," she said.
Wainwright also helped with the oil spill cleanup and even appeared in a BP video after an oil rig explosion in the Gulf of Mexico last year, she said.
He moved to Australia six months ago, taking a job as a project manager with a marine company.
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 behavior, dismissed theories of a single man-eater as unfounded speculation.
"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.
A great white shark is believed to have killed a 64-year-old Australian swimmer off Perth city's Cottesloe Beach on Oct. 10. The man's remains were not found.
On Sept. 4, a bodyboarder was attacked by a shark at a beach south of Perth.