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"Shark mania' hits Australian beaches

The word sends shivers down the spine of those raised in Australia's beach culture.

SHARK!

Rumor has it that a shark in a front-page headline can boost newspaper sales by 10 to 20 percent.

But most Australians have never seen a shark, and few will be attacked by one.

Yet the country is currently gripped by shark mania. Why? Several incidents in the past week are responsible.

Saturday: Therese Cartwright was killed by a 12-foot great white shark while diving with seals off Tasmania. Her husband and five children, including 6-year-old quadruplets, watched from a boat.

Monday: Television stations showed an estimated 800 sharks, including tigers and hammerheads, feeding on schools of fish they had trapped against a cliff on the western Australian coast.

Wednesday: A 16-foot great white killed newlywed scuba diver John Ford. Ford's wife said the shark attacked her husband after he pushed her out of its way.

Thursday: Headlines blared. "SHARK TOOK MY HUSBAND _ HONEYMOON BRIDE TELLS OF ATTACK;" "ATTACKS ON RISE AS MORE GO DIVING."

Friday: The shark believed to have killed Ford was seen. Hunters raced to the area but failed to find it.

Ford's death had all the ingredients of the movie Jaws.

He and his wife, Deborah, had been taking a morning dive east of the tourist town of Byron Bay, 370 miles north of Sydney, when the shark attacked.

"It was a massive shark. It was a monster," Ron Boggis, one of the fishermen who battled the shark, said Thursday.

"I've seen sharks all my life but only seen one as big _ 20 years ago and it attacked another shark," Boggis told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.

Local fishermen hooked the shark but were dragged almost 4 miles out to sea; then the shark escaped after a steel fishing cable snapped.

Senior Constable Daryl Rodgers said that when sighted Friday, the shark was swimming erratically, possibly due to injuries inflicted by the fishermen.

"We don't know where it is now ," Rodgers said. "Maybe it is dead or dying on the bottom."

The great white, or white pointer as the species is known in Australia, has enough power in its jaw to lift a car. Scientists have recorded the "bite power" of a 10-foot shark as equivalent to 1.5 tons of pressure.

During the 1{ hour battle with fishermen off Byron Bay, the shark disgorged Ford's remains.

"While we had it up next to the boat it spewed up the torso, what was left of it, and his face mask," said Boggis.

Experts, meanwhile, have flooded the media with warnings. Businessmen at Byron Bay, one of Australia's most popular tourist destinations, feared a backlash.

Veteran shark photographer Col Johnson warned that the shark, probably about 50 years old, would return to Byron Bay.

"He will come back. He has disgorged what he had engorged and he will still be hungry," Johnson said. "They have to get him because he's like a rogue tiger or lion or any wild beast that has become old and knows an area where he can find easy food."

Johnson said the great white, which measures about 5 feet at birth and can grow to 19 feet, is the most aggressive shark.

"They are the perfect hunter, scavenger of the sea," Johnson said. "The more they eat, the bigger they get, the more they eat. It is no good getting emotional about them, they have no emotions."

Since records were first kept in 1792, 182 people have been killed in shark attacks in Australia.

There are fewer than 12 shark attacks each year in the United States. Of those, usually only one or two are fatal.

Experts say a person's chance of being struck by lightning is 50 times greater than that of being attacked by a shark.

_ Information from the Associated Press and Times files was used in this report.

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