2010 starts off with the return of the “monster shark” to the news

The Courier Mail is starting off 2010 with a spin-off story involving the “monster” great white shark reportedly responsible for a shark-on-shark attack on another great white back in October. As everybody knows, sequels generally don’t live up to the original, but that hasn’t slowed down the Courier Mail. According to the article, surfer Russell Specht survived a “terrifying” encounter with a “monster” white shark off of Main Beach, North Stradbroke Island (Queensland, AUS). The article also states that Specht, local lifesavers, and boardriders fear that this was the same shark responsible for the “horrifying” shark-on-shark attack in October. Specht, who described the animal as approaching “like a submarine,” estimated that the shark was at least 4m (13′) in length. Four other surfers were with Specht when someone spotted the shark (or “monster” as it is referred to in the article). Specht’s mates immediately headed toward the beach leaving him alone in the water with the approaching shark. Specht said the shark passed directly underneath him, as he sat motionless on his board, at a depth of about 1m (3.3′) before veering off and swimming away.

Some more non-monster great white sharks. At least, I don't think these are monster sharks.

The article goes on to mention that the co-ordinator of Surf Life Saving Queensland Gold Coast services, Stuart Hogben, supports Specht’s suspicions that he saw the same great white shark responsible for the shark-on-shark attack in October. However, neither Hogben nor the article’s author make mention of any evidence as to why they believe this is the same shark, other than to say that Hogben witnessed several sharks in the 2-3m range about 200-300m offshore of the island’s surf side, during a helicopter flight last weekend.

The Courier Mail has pulled out all the stops with this story. It’s filled to the brim with sensationalism. The author throws in words like “terrifying,” “horrifying,” and “monster.” The story seems crafted to play up the fear angle that was also exploited when the initial shark-on-shark attack story broke, yet this story fails to contain any facts or evidence to support the theory of Specht and Hogben. There is no mention of the discrepancy in the size of the shark believed to be responsible for the shark-on-shark attack compared to the size of the shark Specht encountered. The estimated size of the shark involved in the October attack as being 5-5.2m (16.4-17′), according to Queensland Primary Industries and Fisheries manager, Tony Ham. Ham’s team estimated the shark’s length based on the bite wounds to the shark carcass from the October attack. Specht, on the other hand, reported the shark he saw as being at least 4m (13.1′). Granted, the term “at least” does leave some wiggle room for the shark’s actual size, but we’re talking about a difference of at least 1m (3.3′).

Then there’s this whole issue of “monster” sharks. A 4m white shark is certainly a large shark when compared to the size of human, but for a species known to reach lengths of 6m (19.7′), it escapes me how the shark that Specht saw has achieved its “monster” status. Perhaps, the “monster” title is independent of size. However, if that were the case, it would seem that the “monster” status would have to be earned based on monstrous behavior. In the case of Specht, the only thing the shark reportedly did was swim in close proximity of Mr. Specht and some other surfers, which hardly seems to be monster-worthy activity. Despite the lack of any real confrontation between the shark and Specht, the Courier Mail article is adorned with a headline that mentions a “face-off” between Specht and the shark. Since there was fortunately no reported confrontation between the shark and Specht, we can only assume that the two were beginning a friendly game of hockey. Now, THAT would be a newsworthy shark story.

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