CORONERS ACT, 2003
FINDING OF INQUEST
An Inquest taken on behalf of our Sovereign Lady the Queen at Adelaide in the State of South Australia, on the 25th, 26th, 27th and 29th days of February 2008 and the 14th day of March 2008, by the Coroner’s Court of the said State, constituted of Anthony Ernest Schapel, Deputy State Coroner, into the death of Jarrod David Stehbens.
The said Court finds that Jarrod David Stehbens aged 23 years, late of 1/15 Arnold Drive, Mitchell Park, South Australia died in waters off Glenelg, South Australia on the 24th day of August 2005 as a result of injuries sustained in a shark attack. The said Court finds that the circumstances of his death were as follows:
and reason for Inquest
Jarrod David Stehbens was 23
years of age when he died on 24 August 2005. He was a Research Assistant employed by the University of
Adelaide (‘the University’) in its Discipline of Environmental Biology,
School of Earth and Environmental Sciences.
Mr Stehbens was employed on a full-time basis.
He met his death when he was taken by a shark during a University
diving operation. No trace of Mr
Stehbens’ body has ever been located.
The evidence reveals that Mr
Stehbens was a qualified and relatively experienced open water SCUBA
diver. Diving formed part of his
occupational activities in his employment with the University.
There was a suggestion in the course of the Inquest that his diving was
better characterised as an educational, as opposed to occupational, activity.
I reject that contention. While
the pursuit of knowledge may have formed part of, or even been at the
forefront of his diving activity on the day in question, the fact remains that
he was engaged in this activity in the course of his paid employment by the
University. Thus seen, the duties
and responsibilities placed upon an employer by virtue of the Occupational
Health, Safety and Welfare Act 1986, which include the provision of a safe
working environment and safe systems of work, applied.
There are intrinsic risks
associated with the occupation of diving in the open sea.
Among these risks is the possibility of injury sustained in an attack
by a predatory marine animal including a shark.
A significant body of evidence was presented to me about the risk of
shark attack as it existed in the waters of the Gulf of St Vincent at the
relevant time. Much of that is based upon the statistical infrequency of
shark attack and of sightings in this region.
I deal with this issue below. There
are, of course, other risks associated with diving such as drowning,
decompression sickness and injury caused by impact with a vessel.
Some of those risks may be heightened by a lack of competence or
training on the part of the individual diver or on the part of those
supervising the diver. I was not concerned in this Inquest with risks of that
The issue with which this
Inquest was concerned was whether the risk of shark attack associated with
this diving expedition had been fully understood and appropriately considered
and whether the necessary precautions had been taken in order to minimise that
risk. In particular, I examined
the issue as to whether the deceased ought to have been wearing an electronic
shark repellent device at the time he executed the fatal dive and whether if
he had been wearing such a device, the outcome in this case may have been
1.5. I say at the outset that these Findings and recommendations are not intended to address issues of risk identification and management in settings other than occupational settings. I have already referred to some aspects of an employer’s duty of care towards its employees. Differing considerations may well apply to diving in a recreational setting where such a duty may be either non-existent or different. Nevertheless, recreational divers and those training or invigilating over them may draw from these findings and recommendations their own conclusions as to the approach they should take to the possibility of shark attack.
The fatal incident
The fatality occurred in the
course of an expedition that involved four members of the relevant University
Department. All four of those
members were employed on a full-time basis by the University.
The four members were Jarrod Stehbens, Justin Rowntree, Melita deVries
and Bayden Russell. The deceased and Mr Russell were the most experienced divers
in the team. The purpose of the
expedition was to search for cuttlefish eggs.
The exercise was part of a Departmental project in which Ms deVries had
At their disposal was an
aluminium boat with twin outboard motors.
It was configured to enable divers to have easy access to and egress
from the water. The divers were
all in possession of the necessary equipment which included wet suits.
Also on the boat were two Shark Shield devices that belonged to the
University. These devices had been acquired by the University in about May
2002. They were meant to provide
some measure of protection against shark attack.
The particular models involved were the SeaChange Shark Shield Dive01
model. The Shark Shields were
stowed away on the boat. Their
presence on the boat was not exactly conspicuous and in any event not known to
any of the diving party. Neither
of these devices was used by any member of the diving party on the day in
question. I return to the utility
and state of repair of the two devices in due course.
The group set off at about
9:30am on 24 August 2005. Three
separate dives were undertaken during the course of the expedition.
The dives occurred at three different localities in the Gulf of St
Vincent. The first two dives were
undertaken without incident. They
involved different members of the party.
The first dive occurred at the Glenelg dredge which is approximately 6
kilometres offshore from Glenelg. The
second dive occurred on the Seacliff reef which is about 1 kilometre offshore.
The third and last dive occurred at approximately 3:30pm at a location
known as the Glenelg tyre reef which is 5 or 6 kilometres off Glenelg.
The Tyre Reef, as the name suggests, is constructed out of tyres and is
intended to form a reef that will attract marine life.
It is situated in approximately 17 or 18 metres of water.
The locality of the tyre reef was established by the group by means of
GPS coordinates. I was told that
both before and since the fatal expedition, recreational diving expeditions
have taken place at the Glenelg tyre reef without incident.
I was not told of the precise frequency at which such expeditions take
place, but I am prepared to infer that they were reasonably regular.
In any case, there is no suggestion that any of these expeditions, be
they recreational or otherwise, involved any dangerous incident.
Certainly no fatality has occurred there, and as far as I am aware, no
serious injury has ever been occasioned there as a result of contact with
marine life. On the other hand, I
have no information as to whether or not sightings of dangerous sharks have
occurred in the waters at that location, either below the surface or on the
surface. However, it is fair to
say that if sharks have been sighted regularly or even spasmodically at that
location, none of that was ever reported to me.
The dive at the Glenelg tyre
reef was undertaken by Jarrod Stehbens and Mr Rowntree.
Of the two young men, Mr Rowntree was the less experienced diver.
The dive was the shortest dive of the day.
This dive involved a joint final ascent from a depth of 17 or 18
metres. The location from which
they commenced their ascent was some distance from where the boat was
anchored. The ascent involved a
safety stop at 5 metres for a period of 3 minutes.
This is not a decompression stop, but is nevertheless routinely
undertaken by ascending divers out of an abundance of caution. As the two men were preparing to ascend the last 5 metres to
the surface, tragedy struck.
It appears that the presence of
the shark was first detected from the boat by Mr Russell.
Mr Russell, who gave evidence in the Inquest, said that from where he
was situated on the boat he could see the approximate position of the divers
as they were ascending. He was
able to determine this from their bubbles.
Mr Russell told me that before any evidence emerged that there had been
an attack below the surface, he saw what he described as a ‘big grey
in the water. This not
unnaturally caused him to start the motor of the boat.
Mr Russell had the impression that the big grey shape, which he
associated with the presence of a shark, was right on top of where the
deceased and Mr Rowntree were submerged.
Mr Russell drove the boat as quickly as he could to that location.
Mr Rowntree surfaced and yelled for help.
From Mr Russell’s evidence, it
appears that he may have seen the shark at a time before it actually attacked.
However, it also appears that he saw the shark at a location that was
in very close proximity to the two divers.
From Mr Russell’s observations, it is difficult to infer anything
about the shark’s behaviour before it attacked.
The actual attack was described
by Mr Rowntree who was at that stage still in the water with the deceased.
Mr Rowntree gave evidence at the Inquest.
As well, I received in evidence a signed record of interview that an
officer appointed under the Occupational Health and Safety and Welfare Act
1986 had conducted with Mr Rowntree on 31 August 2005.
A statement that Mr Rowntree had given to the police on 24 August 2005
was also tendered in evidence.
Both of these documents record very detailed descriptions of the events
with which this Inquest was concerned. In
his evidence Mr Rowntree confirmed that the two documents accurately recorded
the events in question.
A distillation of Mr
Rowntree’s account of this shocking incident from the no less than three
occasions on which he has been asked to describe it is as follows.
The pair were about to ascend the last 5 metres to the surface when Mr
Rowntree felt an impact to his back which was forceful enough to rotate him in
the water. He was looking at Mr
Stehbens at the time. At that point he saw a large body which he initially thought
was a dolphin or dolphins, but which was a shark.
After it struck Mr Rowntree it went straight for Mr Stehbens who
initially tried to strike it on the snout.
The shark seemed to retreat momentarily but came back and grabbed Mr
Stehbens’ leg below the knee. All
of this happened very quickly. Mr
Stehbens was pulled down deeper into the water by the shark. Mr Rowntree then surfaced and looked around for the boat.
At that point the boat was about 50 or 70 metres away.
Mr Rowntree called for help and the boat quickly motored to his
position. He was able to safely embark.
Although details of what then
took place differ slightly from one witness to the other, it is clear that at
one point Mr Stehbens ascended. Mr
Stehbens had clearly by then suffered serious injury as there was blood in the
water at the location where he ascended. The shark then took Mr Stehbens leaving his buoyancy control
device, regulator and tank, all still attached and intact, in the water.
Remarkably none of this equipment was damaged.
It was retrieved. Mr
Stehbens’ mask and snorkel were later found by a police diver on the bottom
at this same approximate location.
Although Mr Russell may have
seen the shark at a time before it attacked, Mr Rowntree, who was in the water
with Mr Stehbens, only became aware of the shark’s presence when it first
struck him on the back and then attacked Mr Stehbens. The shark was judged by Mr Rowntree to have been a Great
White Shark. Estimates as to its
size appear to put it around the 5 metre mark in length.
Great White Sharks are known to attack human beings aggressively.
There is little evidence of the
shark’s behaviour before it actually attacked.
The only thing that seemed to have deterred the shark was Mr Stehbens
initially endeavouring to strike its snout which, according to Mr Rowntree,
caused it momentarily to desist. In
any event, there is no evidence as to whether or not the shark had circled the
two men or had scrutinised them from a distance before its attack.
However, it is safe to infer that the attack was particularly violent
and involved a movement towards the two men at a significant velocity.
There is no evidence as to what, if anything, caused the shark to
identify Mr Stehbens in particular as an object of interest.
Emergency services were called
and attended the scene. In spite
of what appears to have been a thorough search, no trace of Mr Stehbens’
body has ever been located.
Other than Mr Stehbens striking
the shark on the snout, which seems to have only momentarily postponed the
attack, there seems that there was little that he could have done to avert the
fatal attack. There is no
evidence that Mr Stehbens witnessed the shark at any time before it attacked.
It seems highly unlikely that he did see the shark any appreciable time
before it attacked him because Mr Stehbens’ prior behaviour does not evince
any concern on his part.
While it is possible that the
cause of Mr Stebhens’ death was drowning, I think it is more likely that he
died as the result of the undoubted injuries that he sustained in the attack.
I find the cause of Mr Stebhens’ death to be injuries sustained in a
The risk of shark attack
associated with diving in open water in the Gulf of St Vincent
Sharks that are capable of
inflicting a fatal injury upon a person are present in the Gulf of St Vincent.
Although fatal shark attacks in the Gulf over the last one hundred
years have not been frequent, it has to be recognised that predators exist in
Gulf waters and that they may attack a human being.
The most recent fatal attack in the Gulf occurred just off West Beach
on 16 December 2004, about 8 months prior to the occasion with which this
Inquest is concerned. On that
occasion a young man by the name of Nicholas Peterson was fatally attacked by
a shark or sharks as he was being towed on a surfboard behind a boat.
This incident was well publicised at the time and not one person
associated with the events examined by this Inquest denied having heard about
it. On the other hand, thousands
of bathers enjoy the waters at Adelaide suburban beaches day in and day out,
year after year without incident. Reported
sightings of sharks at metropolitan beaches are not routine.
If the risk associated with bathing in the waters of metropolitan
beaches is measured in terms of frequency of attack or sightings of dangerous
sharks, and by the number of bathers who enter the water without incident,
then clearly the risk of shark attack is not very high.
Added to that is the fact that when one enters the water at a suburban
Adelaide beach there may be other beachgoers present, lifeguards and aerial
observers, who might alert bathers to the presence of a shark.
In addition, egress from the water can be achieved relatively quickly
and easily if the presence of a shark is detected.
In the open water, however, things are different.
A diver in open water is significantly exposed to whatever marine life
is there, and is at the mercy of the propensities that the species or the
individual creature might have to attack a human being.
One’s only refuge is the bottom or the boat.
In this case, the deceased was attacked when he and his diving
companion undertook a safety stop in 5 metres of water for 3 minutes having
ascended from about 17 metres. They
ascended at a point some distance from where their boat was anchored.
The separation from their boat naturally increased their exposure.
No doubt the length of time in the water and the frequency of
individual dives within the same expedition also affected the exposure.
I heard evidence from, and
received the report
of, a Mr Barry Bruce who is a Senior Research Scientist and Research Group
Leader with the CSIRO. Mr Bruce
is a diver himself. He leads a
group of 35 scientists whose specialties include the movement patterns and
behaviour of sharks. Mr Bruce has
been working as a Research Scientist for 24 years in a variety of institutions
including South Australian Fisheries. In
particular, Mr Bruce has spent many years examining the movement patterns and
behaviour of Great White Sharks. Mr
Bruce is a member of a number of committees that are dedicated to the study
and preservation of marine life including sharks.
He has alone or together with other experts published several papers
and journals concerning the movement, tracking and behaviour of sharks, in
particular Great White Sharks. Mr
Bruce is familiar with the location in the Gulf of St Vincent known as the
Glenelg tyre reef. He has himself
dived on the reef.
Mr Bruce expressed the view,
both in his report and in evidence, that the risk of attack by Great White
Sharks in the waters off Adelaide is very low. Indeed in his report he described the risk in relation to the
possibility of shark attack by Great White Sharks at the Glenelg tyre reef as
being, whilst not zero, extremely low. Mr
Bruce’s opinions in the main were based upon two considerations.
Firstly, Great White Sharks in the Gulf of St Vincent as compared to
other locations, such as identifiable feeding areas in the vicinity of Neptune
Island and other locations west of the Gulf, are not prevalent.
Secondly, in the last 108 years the incidence of shark attack in the
waters of the Gulf of St Vincent is low.
Since 1900 there have been nine such shark attacks, not all fatal, of
which five have been attributed to Great White Sharks.
These attacks include the attack upon the young man being towed on a
surfboard off West Beach in December 2004 and the fatal attack upon Mr
Stehbens. There was no evidence
before me of any attack, fatal or otherwise, since the attack on Mr Stehbens
in August 2005.
As to the first of these
considerations, Mr Bruce’s work with the CSIRO has included the tagging of
sharks and the monitoring of their movements by satellite once tagged.
Mr Bruce told me, and I accept his evidence, that Great White Sharks
have a tendency not to remain in the one location for a substantial period of
time, but that they tend to migrate from place to place, sometimes covering
extraordinary distances. Mr Bruce
told me that in South Australian waters there are a number of identifiable ‘hot
spots’ that appear to attract their fair share of sharks, for the most
part because of the existence of a ready supply of marine life upon which
Great White Sharks in particular feed. There
are obvious hot spots in the waters of Spencer Gulf and around the West Coast
generally where there are a number of seal colonies.
As to the Gulf of St Vincent, Mr Bruce told me that one such hot spot
has been an identified which he described as being between 10 and 30
kilometres off the coast of metropolitan Adelaide where there is believed to
be an abundance of snapper. Mr
Bruce did not purport to assert that the presence of Great White Sharks in the
Gulf of St Vincent waters created no risk of attack at all, but expressed the
view that as far as the Glenelg tyre reef was concerned, there was nothing to
indicate that it was or is a hot spot for the aggregation of Great White
Mr Bruce holds that view notwithstanding the fact that only a matter of
months prior to the attack upon Mr Stehbens another young man had been
attacked and killed off West Beach. Mr
Bruce opined that the attack in December 2004 had been no accurate predictor
of whether or not there would be a similar attack either in the shallow waters
off the beaches or in the open sea. However,
Mr Bruce did say in his report that the attack in December 2004 had at the
time been a tragic reminder that Great White Sharks are present in waters off
the Adelaide metropolitan coast and at times present a risk to public safety.
In assessing the risk presented today, Mr Bruce expressed a similar
view and said:
I think its just a tragic reminder that white
visit metropolitan waters and where the
evolve that put a white shark that is in
mode with a person that can lead to dangerous situations.'
Mr Bruce acknowledged what is
obvious, namely that his group of scientists was not able to tag and track
every Great White Shark in South Australian waters.
Although his research had established a loose pattern of behaviour as
far as the movement of Great White Sharks is concerned, the fact that a tagged
shark was not in a particular location did not of itself mean that there were
no other dangerous sharks at that location.
Clearly, that is simply a matter of common sense.
On the whole, in my opinion Mr Bruce’s evidence about the risk of
shark attack in the Gulf of St Vincent, based as it is upon the perceived
movement and behaviour of Great White Sharks, and upon the infrequency of
shark attack, establishes that the risk of attack both in August 2005 and now,
whilst not negligible, is not high. Whether
it is very low, extremely low or just low in my view is a matter of semantics. One has to recognise that within the space of less than a
year there were two fatal attacks off metropolitan waters. Such a statistic would render meaningless any estimate of
risk calculated in mathematical or even quantitative terms. Although these two
separate attacks appear to have been totally random and out of keeping with
the frequency and pattern of attacks that we know of over the past hundred
years or so, to my mind they very much put to the test the suggestion that
risk of shark attack in the Gulf is extremely low.
One matter that perhaps ought to be considered is the fact that for not
all of that hundred year period have divers had access to the open water and
been able to remain submerged for significant periods of time.
The technology that enables that to occur has only existed in
relatively recent times. On the
other hand, we hear of very few attacks upon divers in open waters in the
Gulf, although there has been one fatality off Marino Rocks.
Again, it is worth remembering that the Glenelg tyre reef in
particular, according to the evidence that I heard at any rate, is visited not
infrequently by divers without incident.
I am told that organised recreational expeditions to the tyre reef now
involve the wearing of Shark Shields. However,
it is clear to me, and ought to be clear to others, that the possibility of
shark attack when diving in the open water of the Gulf of St Vincent is a
matter to be seriously taken into account.
I heard evidence from Sergeant
Robert McDonald who is the Officer In Charge of the Water Operations Unit of
the South Australia Police (SAPOL). Sergeant
McDonald gave evidence about the utilisation of shark repellent devices within
his Unit. He also made certain
observations about the risk of shark attack in the Gulf.
Sergeant McDonald expressed what he described as a personal view that
sharks are a threat to divers and that they have to be given very serious
consideration in any underwater activity in sea water or where sharks are
likely to be. Sergeant McDonald
referred to the fact that heightened public awareness of the issue of possible
shark attack had resulted in SAPOL receiving reports of ‘quite a number
of sightings’ from all over South Australia.
Sergeant McDonald was of the belief that there had been an increase in
the number of reported sightings of sharks in South Australian waters over the
last few years, especially with better reporting mechanisms, to the point
where SAPOL were becoming more aware of their presence.
He referred to the snapper ground or grounds within the Gulf as a
source of food for sharks. Nevertheless,
I do not believe that this evidence impacts on the general position as
expressed by Mr Bruce that the risk of shark attack in Gulf waters was and
remains not high. Sergeant
McDonald was in effect articulating the view that the risk of shark attack was
a matter that needed to be guarded against, particularly in an occupational
Much of the questioning of Mr
Stehbens’ diving companions by Mr Slee, the OHW&S Officer, was centred
upon whether or not the group on 24 August 2005 had properly considered the
risk of diving in the open water on that day. Naturally, any risk assessment would necessarily involve a
consideration of the possible presence of predatory sharks, as well as an
evaluation of the possibility of an attack by sharks. How does one make such an assessment? In the absence of information about recent shark
sightings at a particular diving location it is difficult to see how a risk
assessment of that nature could ever be made with absolute precision, given
the random and apparently opportunistic nature of shark attack in these
waters. It would involve an
element of guesswork. It is very
much a case of not knowing what you do not know.
One would simply have regard to the fact that statistically such
attacks have been infrequent. That
is a matter that, unless something unforeseen occurs, will remain relatively
static. In addition, there does
not appear to be any reliable body of knowledge available at any given time as
to the frequency of shark sightings within the Gulf, and in any case at
particular locations. Some
evidence was given that efforts in the recording and reporting of shark
sightings are now being made, and that this data, such as it is, can be
accessed. In any event, apart
from the attack that had occurred off West Beach in December 2004, there is no
evidence that there was any body of knowledge available to the divers on 24
August 2005 that suggested that the risk of shark attack was so high that they
should not have entered the waters at any of the locations on which they
dived, including the Glenelg tyre reef. If
the suggestion were to be made that the divers should never have entered the
waters that day, I would reject that suggestion.
A proper risk assessment would not have dictated that they should not
have dived. That observation
brings me to a discussion as to whether there was any other circumstance that
could have prevented the attack once the waters were entered.
Precautions against shark
attack – Shark Shields
As seen earlier, the dive boat
utilised by the four divers was equipped with two Dive01 Shark Shields.
I heard a great deal of evidence about the utility of these devices.
The devices were designed, and their manufacture was initiated, by a
company known as SeaChange Technology Pty Ltd and its associated corporate
entities (SCT). SCT is a South
Australian company. It is said to
be one of the few, if not sole, distributors of such devices in the world.
The Shark Shield Dive01 device in question was first brought onto the
market in late 2001. The University acquired their pair of devices in about May
2002. In creating the Dive01
Shark Shield, SCT had adapted earlier technology that had been invented by a
South African entity which had furnished SCT with the licence to manufacture
and distribute the product. The
prototype, as originally distributed by the South African concern, was called
a Shark Pod. I heard evidence
during the course of the Inquest that the Shark Pod was effectively reworked
by SCT into a more user-friendly device.
The original Shark Pod was the size of a football and weighed several
kilograms and was very difficult, for the recreational diver in particular, to
wear. Secondly, there were some
reliability issues in relation to the mechanics of the device.
The Shark Pod was said to have been perfected by SCT into a less
cumbersome device that could be worn by both occupational and recreational
divers, and which could be used relatively simply. This was the Dive01 device.
I do not need to go into the
scientific detail as to how these devices are said to work.
Suffice it to say, the evidence before me was that the electronic
device, powered by a battery, creates an electric field around the wearer.
This field is detected by certain anatomical features of the shark.
As a result, the shark is said to be deterred from coming any closer to
the device as worn by the diver.
The use of shark repellent
devices, and in particular the use of a Shark Pod, the precursor of the Shark
Shield, has been the subject of coronial scrutiny in the past.
I refer here to the Inquest into the death of Paul William Buckland who
died at sea off Smoky Bay in South Australia on 30 April 2002 as the result of
an injury sustained in a shark attack. The
Finding and recommendation of the then State Coroner, Mr Wayne Chivell, was
handed down on 11 April 2003. Mr
Buckland had been wearing a Shark Pod while diving for scallops.
Evidence had been given during the course of that Inquest that Mr
Buckland had not been wearing the Shark Pod device in strict accordance with
the manufacturer’s instructions. The
State Coroner found that Mr Buckland had been wearing the device in such a way
that it may have been rendered less effective and may have robbed Mr Buckland
of the protection that it might otherwise have provided.
There had been no suggestion during the course of that Inquest that the
device, if properly worn, was anything other than an effective device as far
as its ability to deter the approach of sharks was concerned.
Indeed, the State Coroner made the following recommendation:
recommend, pursuant to Section 25(2) of the Coroners Act, that commercial and
recreational divers, when operating in waters where there is a risk of the
presence of sharks, should wear a shark repellent device of the ‘Shark
Pod’ or ‘Shark Shield’ type, provided that the equipment should be used
in accordance with the manufacturers instructions, and should be turned on for
the entire duration of time in the water.' 
Mr Buckland had
been wearing a Shark Pod. By the
time of the Inquest into his death and the consequent Finding in 2003, the new
and improved Shark Shield had been made available, and the Adelaide University
had taken possession of two such devices.
In considering the materiality
to the issues before me that Mr Chivell’s Finding might have, I bear in mind
that in the Buckland Inquest the idea that these devices actually deter the
approach of sharks was not seriously contested, and there was no suggestion
that as a concept they have no efficacy. This is to be contrasted with the situation before me where a
number of objections to the wearing of these devices was voiced, particularly
by the surviving members of Mr Stehbens’ diving party.
The two Dive01 devices that had
been on the University’s boat on the day in question were examined by a Mr
Michael Wescombe-Down who in 2005 was the Technical Director of SCT, the
distributor of the devices. By
the time of the hearing of this Inquest, Mr Wescombe-Down no longer had any
direct association with the operations of SCT, but it was clear that he still
retained a financial interest in the company, if not the technology.
In addition, it seems reasonably clear that in respect of one or more
issues Mr Wescombe-Down is in dispute with those currently responsible for the
operation of that corporate entity. Mr
Wescombe-Down gave evidence to the Inquest. I take all of those matters into
account in assessing his evidence. Mr
Wescombe-Down’s involvement in the investigation of Mr Stehbens’ death had
originally consisted exclusively of the examination of the two devices
belonging to the University. I
received into evidence a report that he had prepared in respect of that issue.
When Mr Wescombe-Down gave evidence to the Inquest he covered a number
of other issues including the intrinsic efficacy of the devices as a shark
As far as the two devices that
belonged to the University were concerned, Mr Wescombe-Down’s examination
revealed that unit M000286A functioned correctly, although the battery had
been allowed to discharge below the recommended voltage.
This had led Mr Wescombe-Down to consider as a possibility that the
battery had not been used for an extended period of time.
Indeed, the device had layers of dust all over its components.
As far as the second device is concerned, namely unit M000271A, it too
was heavily coated with dust. Like
the other device, the battery had been allowed to discharge below the
recommended voltage, leading to the possibility that it too had not been
utilised for an extended period of time.
Otherwise, this device was in proper working order.
Naturally, none of Mr Wescombe-Down’s observations about these two
particular devices indicated anything about its ability to repel or deter the
approach of a shark. As indicated
earlier, much of the evidence in this Inquest concerned the efficacy of these
devices as a concept. In other
words, do they work? Do they
repel sharks? Another question
raised during the course of the Inquest was whether, even if they did have an
ability to repel sharks, there were other contraindications to their use, such
as a supposed ability to actually attract the presence of sharks.
It was also suggested that the long term effects on a male wearer’s
fertility were not fully understood. This
latter objection to my mind was specious and in any case was unsupported by
I make it plain here that it is
no function of this Court to apply its seal of approval to this product or any
other product for that matter. Nor
does this Court act as a branch of the Consumer Affairs Office, if say the
suggestion were to be made that the general diving public were being duped by
false claims that the devices worked. However,
after carefully considering all of the evidence, I have taken the view that
there is good reason to believe that these devices have an ability, to a
greater or lesser degree, to repel or otherwise deter the approach of sharks
and that they do offer a measure of protection to divers.
As well, insofar as there were positive objections to the wearing of
these devices, over and above the mere suggestion that they did not work and
that therefore their use was superfluous, there is little or no evidence to
suggest that any such objection has validity.
Before I turn to an analysis of those issues, it is as well to examine
the practices and attitudes of the surviving three members of the diving party
and that of their supervisor, a Mr Sean Connell, who was not actually present
during the course of this expedition but was at the time working in
The wearing of shark repellent
devices had been the subject of a section in the Diving Procedures Manual of
the Discipline of Environmental Biology, School of Earth and Environmental
Sciences, University of Adelaide.
This document of some 50 pages deals with many aspects of diving
safety. One section in particular
is entitled ‘10.0 Other Hazards’.
Within that section is a section entitled ‘10.1 Sharks’.
I set out that subsection in its entirety:
attacks on divers can occur, most sharks do not present a hazard.
If diving operations must be carried out in an area of recent shark
sightings, the following precautions should be implemented:
should be given to the use of Electronic Shark Repellent Devices, which offer
a proven level of physical protection.
An injured or
bleeding diver should leave the water immediately; other divers should also
exit the water for a period of time following any blood in the water, this is
especially relevant in areas where there has been significant blood spills,
e.g., tuna transfers and harvesting.
should be given to diving around aquaculture farms that contain fish and are
known to attract sharks.
operations should be cancelled if there has been a recent shark attack in the
area of diving operations. ' 
It will be observed that this
subsection was only said to apply when diving operations were to be carried
out in an area of recent shark sightings. There is no evidence in this case that any of the areas that
were dived on on 24 August 2005 had been the subject of recent shark
sightings. The only matter that
may have given pause to anyone making multiple dives in the Gulf that day was
the attack upon the young man off West Beach in December 2004.
However, I have already made the observation earlier in these Findings
that there was, in my opinion, nothing that should have prevented the party
from entering the water on the occasion in question. Of particular note, however, is the claim in the manual that
Electronic Shark Repellent Devices ‘offer a proven level of physical
protection’. This claim,
promulgated as it was by the relevant University Department in question, seems
in practice to have been viewed with casual disregard if not cynicism.
Mr Rowntree had never used a Shark Shield device.
He was aware that they had been made available but he had not used
them. The University had provided
no training on the use of Shark Shields.
Mr Rowntree did not know what the University’s policy was in relation
to the wearing of Shark Shields in circumstances where there was a perceived
risk of shark attack. Mr Rowntree
received no instruction by the University to use Shark Shields when diving in
areas where there was the possibility of a shark attack.
He did not know that the Shark Shields were onboard the diving vessel
on 24 August 2005. Among Mr
Rowntree’s reasons for not wearing a Shark Shield during University diving
activities, and in particular on 24 August 2005, was the notion that one of
the shark’s sensory organs picks up electromagnetic pulses in the water such
that the shark was actually drawn to the device.
Mr Rowntree maintained in his interview with Mr Slee, the Occupational
Health and Safety Officer, that a shark expert in his laboratory had espoused
this theory. In evidence, Mr
Rowntree told me that when he had worn a device subsequent to these events he
had received electric shocks from the device.
In her interview with Mr Slee,
Ms deVries said that she had no experience with Shark Shields and that the
University had not provided her with Shark Shields when performing diving
activities in areas where there was a risk of shark attack.
She had no knowledge about Shark Shields being trialled by the
University and had received no training in relation to their use from the
University. She did not know of
any policy about the use of Shark Shields and was never instructed by anybody
at the University to use them. She
did not know that Shark Shields were onboard the diving vessel on 24 August
2005. When asked by Mr Slee as to
why she had not used a Shark Shield on 24 August 2005 in the dive or dives
that she had undertaken, she replied that they had never used them and that
they were ‘not really thought of’.
Ms deVries said that she had heard conflicting information about Shark
Mr Russell had been the most
experienced diver of the group. In
his interview with Mr Slee, Mr Russell indicated that he had used shark
repellent devices, but not as part of his University activities.
He told Mr Slee that the University had provided some training on the
use of Shark Pods, the predecessor to the Shark Shield.
His understanding of the University policy in relation to Shark Shields
was that if a risk of shark attack was perceived in respect of a particular
operation, then consideration should be given to using Shark Shields.
Mr Russell told Mr Slee that there had been no instruction by the
University management to wear Shark Shields during diving activities.
Mr Russell had not seen the Shark Shields onboard the diving vessel but
had learned at the conclusion of the expedition that they had been present.
When asked by Mr Slee as to why he did not use a Shark Shield on 24
August 2005, Mr Russell said that he had several reasons, among which was the
suggestion that they can cause a hazard with the cord becoming tangled, that
they often do not work and that there was ‘a certain amount of evidence
to suggest that at a distance they actually attract sharks’.
Mr Russell also raised the issue about the device administering
electric shocks. Mr Russell also
maintained in his interview that he did not believe there to be any evidence
that the devices actually deterred sharks.
In his evidence Mr Russell confirmed that he did not know about the
presence of the Shark Shields on the boat and said the following:
within the diving circles that I've been
with most people thought that there was no
to wear them, certainly, there wasn't a high
risk, and some people obviously thought that
probably didn't work anyway and other people
that there wasn't enough evidence to say that
did work. But I think the general
feeling in the scientific
diving circles was that they weren't necessary,
certainly. I mean that was my
personal opinion, was that the risk was so low that they weren't
Mr Russell told me that he
thought that Mr Stehbens’ attitude towards the wearing of Shark Shields was
very similar to his. He said:
think if you had have offered him a Shark Shield
to wear, he probably would've
said 'Well why, there's no real risk anyway'.
don't think he would've worn one had he have been given
None of the surviving members of
the diving party had considered that there was any intrinsic risk of shark
attack in respect of the dives that were executed that day.
In particular, no association between the fatal attack in December 2004
and the risk of shark attack during the course of their expedition was made by
any of them. In the light of
that, I suspect that for the most part none wore a Shark Shield that day
because it never occurred to any of them to do so.
Mr Sean Connell, who is a Marine
Biologist at the University of Adelaide, was at the material time the
University diving officer. He
gave evidence at the Inquest and in addition, a record of an interview that
had been conducted by Mr Slee was also tendered.
One of Mr Connell’s responsibilities as the diving officer was to
supervise postgraduate and undergraduate students in their diving activities.
Mr Connell specifically had managerial and supervisory responsibilities
over the four divers including Mr Stehbens.
Mr Connell stated in his interview that he had been aware of certain
responsibilities in his capacity as a supervisor to ensure that all
activities, particularly those in the field, were undertaken in a safe manner.
Mr Connell was an experienced diver himself.
He had been diving for 25 years and had undertaken thousands of dives.
He had dived extensively off the coastline of South Australia.
At the time of Mr Stehbens’ death, Mr Connell was working in
California. Mr Connell succinctly
summed up the responsibilities of the diving officer by saying that his duty
was ‘to ensure the efficient and safe collection of data’ which
included the safety of divers.
Mr Connell insisted in his interview that the University Dive Program
involved a ‘culture of safety’.
In his interview, Mr Connell was
asked about risk assessment and the fact that a dive proposal for an operation
did not specifically address risk of shark attack.
Mr Connell said that the risk of shark attack had been judged to be ‘infinitesimally
small’. He went on to say,
however, that the University had used Shark Shields in localities where there
was a higher incidence of shark attack and where the risk was ‘not
As far as Shark Shields were
concerned, Mr Connell acknowledged in his interview that they were present on
the dive boat. Mr Connell then
recited a litany of objections to the wearing of Shark Shields that included
reference to baited Shark Shields being eaten by a shark during trials, the
fact that some people are vehemently opposed to the use of them to deter
sharks, the possibility that the device would draw in the presence of sharks,
that it would be ‘naïve’ to think that they actually repelled
that they were incredibly uncomfortable, that they administered electric
and that there were possible ‘physiological’ consequences.
In his interview, Mr Connell also told Mr Slee that a diver had been
taken by a shark while wearing a shark repellent device and that the device,
although in operation, had not prevented the attack.
Mr Connell was clearly there referring to the death of Mr Buckland to
which I have already referred. However,
the Finding in the Buckland Inquest was that the device had not been worn in
accordance with the manufacturer’s instructions and, as well, there had been
the recommendation that they should be worn in commercial and recreational
settings of risk. As to ‘physiological’
consequences, Mr Connell evinced a belief that his fertility deficit was
accounted for by his having worn shark pods in the past.
As a result of that belief, he had stopped using them and had not
required other people to use them.
In this regard, Mr Connell seems to have had an idiosyncratic view
about shark repellent devices that does not appear to have been shared with
anyone else or by anyone else.
As to the clause in the Diving
Manual that had suggested that the official University view was that shark
repellent devices offer a proven level of physical protection, Mr Connell said
that the University was no longer of that view and doubted whether it had ever
entertained the view in the first place.
He acknowledged that he had been responsible for the inclusion of that
assertion in the manual but said:
that’s probably a silly thing to have put in there with the benefit of
Although shark repellent devices
were perhaps incongruously utilised in high risk scenarios if the objections
to their use in any circumstances had any validity, divers in less risky
scenarios had clearly received scant encouragement from Mr Connell to wear the
Shark Shields that had been acquired by the University for their protection.
Mr Connell told me that he
believed that Mr Stehbens had also been unenthusiastic about shark repellent
In his evidence it became clear
that much of what Mr Connell believed about shark repellent devices was based
on anecdotal material and rumour. For example, he had heard about trials where Shark Shields
had actually been eaten. I return
to this issue in due course, but suffice it to say at this stage this had in
fact had happened on one identifiable occasion.
An explanation for this was later offered to me in the course of the
evidence. Mr Connell could not
point to any material that suggested that shark repellent devices actually
attract sharks to the location of the wearer.
Mr Connell was asked this series of questions by me:
there is no evidence that the Shark Shield would attract the presence of
sharks and if there is a possibility that it might deter a shark from
attacking, or at least repel it, what possible harm can there be in wearing
No immediate harm, except for potentially your long-term health.
Where is the evidence that it may affect your long-term health.
It's like smoking, we don't have it.
We don't have that evidence now, in the early days of this technology,
so there is no evidence.
When you say 'long-term health', what aspect of one's long-term health
might be affected.
I raised it before, that is, people worry about, for example, their
health in relation to mobile phone towers.
Some people worry about using mobile telephones, don't they.
Is there any substance to that.
I don't know.
Is there any substance to the suggestion that a Shark Shield might
affect someone's fertility.
No, it's the same. I don't know, but my position, I'd have to leave that
Did you ever express that view to any of the members of your team at
I didn't have evidence to talk about it and we weren't mandating their
But you made them available, didn't you.
Did you not say to some of the members of your team, the male members,
'Well, look, there is no guarantee that this device will not affect your
I understand that one of your objections to this device was that very
Why did you not share that with the other members on your team.
Because it was something that I was aware of, but again, without
evidence, didn't know whether or not it was something that would be worth
raising, so I was reasonably unsure.' 
Mr Connell’s views about the
utility of shark repellent devices, as we will see, are at odds with the views
of Sergeant McDonald of SAPOL. Sergeant
McDonald’s attitude and that of the officers under his command, would not
sit comfortably with those of Mr Connell.
Mr Gerald Buttfield is currently
the Manager of Health, Safety and Wellbeing at the University of Adelaide.
He provided a statement to the Inquest
and he gave evidence. At the time
with which this Inquest is concerned he was the Manager of the School of Earth
and Environmental Sciences at the University.
Much of the material that Mr Buttfield produced to the Inquest
concerned a review of University diving procedures that was undertaken after
these tragic events. Mr Buttfield
had learned of a number of objections to the use of shark repellent devices
including reports that Shark Shields administered electric shocks and caused
muscle spasm. Nevertheless, Mr
Buttfield seems to hold the belief, now at any rate, that although it is still
not clear whether sharks are actually attracted by a Shark Shield in the first
appear to work to repel sharks that are curious and inquisitive at a
relatively low range. A Shark
Shield only gives you a relatively small radius of effect and a shark that is
coming in to have a look to see what you are or to assess whether or not you
are a potential food source would be repelled by the device.
However I have my doubts as to whether or not it would work against a
high speed attacking shark.'
I return later to Mr Buttfield
and his involvement with a revision of the University Diving Manual as far as
the wearing of shark repellent devices is concerned.
Mr Bruce, to whom I have already
referred, and who is by far and away the most authoritative person from whom I
heard evidence on the subject of shark behaviour, expressed the view that to
species of sharks, including white sharks, have been exposed to operational
Shark Shields and similar devices. There
are numerous reports of such ‘tests’ on various websites and promotional
literature that have demonstrated a response by sharks which usually results
in the shark swimming away from the area of the active unit, or reacting in a
way that suggests it has experienced some degree of discomfort.'
acknowledging all of that, Mr Bruce pointed out that there was certainly a
number of unanswered questions about the use of Shark Shields, and in
particular about their effectiveness in situations where a determined shark
attacks at high speed. Nevertheless,
Mr Bruce added, in the context of the risks associated with the dive at the
Glenelg tyre reef:
hazard assessment of this site would naturally conclude that the risk of shark
attack was very low. However, the
consequences of shark attack are high and the wearing of a Shark Shield,
whilst not offering unequivocal protection, may reduce the risk of shark
evidence, Mr Bruce said:
think the issue here with something like a Shark
Shield, there is no doubt that Shark Shields elicit
responses in sharks, you can see the footage, I know
tests have been done and sharks have reacted to the
Shark Shield field, whatever it is, in a way that
clearly suggests discomfort.'
repeated the observation that in his view it was highly unlikely that an
operational Shark Shield would prevent a determined and violent shark attack,
but he did not dispute the suggestion that Shark Shields do work in certain
circumstances and that they would deter a shark from approaching the wearer of
the device. It was also worthy of
note that Mr Bruce did not dwell to any great extent upon the claimed negative
aspects of shark repellent devices. I
thought that this was quite telling and reinforced my belief that most if not
all of the objections to the wearing of shark repellent devices lacked real
As well as hearing from Mr
Wescombe-Down, I heard from a Mr Rodney Hartley who still holds a current
association with SCT. He also
advocated the use of Shark Shields and gave a lot of detailed evidence about
their history. He provided the
Court with an affidavit and he also gave evidence.
Mr Hartley readily admitted that adverse publicity regarding the
effectiveness of Shark Shields that this Inquest attracted, was not in his
interest or that of the company. However,
taking all of those matters into account, including the obvious self interest
that both Mr Wescombe-Down and Mr Hartley have in respect of the use of Shark
Shields, I nevertheless find that I have no reason to doubt their stated
beliefs that Shark Shield devices do have a repellent effect on sharks.
Both men in my view quite genuinely hold those beliefs, notwithstanding
their either present or former association with SCT.
Mr Hartley was cross-examined at some length about the effectiveness of
Shark Shields, in particular about those designed for surfers and the about
latest model of the Shark Shield which is now known as the Freedom7 device.
We were not concerned in this Inquest with the effectiveness of the
Freedom7 device. The device in
question here was the precursor of the Freedom7, namely the Shark Shield
Dive01. None of what was put to
either Mr Wescombe-Down or Mr Hartley in cross-examination shook my view that
there is good reason to believe that Shark Shields do have a repellent effect
on sharks. One matter that Mr
Hartley did deal with was the suggestion that in one trial a device had
actually been devoured by a shark. Mr
Hartley explained, and he was not really challenged on this, that the reason
for this isolated instance had been identified.
It had occurred due to the peculiar configuration of the electrode on
the antenna of the test surf product. That
product, according to Mr Hartley, has not been put on the market as yet.
Mr Hartley is plainly passionate
about the use of shark repellent devices, but his attitude to the limitations
of the product can be summed up in the following passage in his evidence:
because at some stage in the early past when Shark Shield was first released of course the people to by
the early ones were very experienced and going to use
the term almost macho divers.
And we found that people were in
fact putting Shark Shields on and going swimming up to sharks with them which is absolutely
a bit like somebody saying I've got my
seatbelt on now I'll drive like a cowboy.
But you agree that your actual documentation was not guaranteeing
anything to the buyer, was it.
No, nothing can be guaranteed with wild creatures like
that, no.' 
Mr Hartley was
there referring to the distributor’s literature about the Dive01 product
which included as part of guarantee and indemnity documentation that while the
suppliers had taken all due care to ensure that the Shark Shield was
effective, it was not possible to guarantee its efficacy due to the
variability of the conditions under which the device may be used.
SCT also sought an indemnity from purchasers to the effect that the
wearer would not expose him or herself to harm. In particular, the wearer or purchaser agreed not to
participate in any activity involving any risk of exposure to harm from sharks
which the purchaser would not voluntarily engage in without the Shark Shield.
Mr Hartley’s company had never
had its attention drawn to any claim of short or long term illness that was
said to have been caused by the device. As well, he had never heard of any complaint or assertion
made by anyone to whom his product had been sold that the Shark Shield
actually attracted sharks. Mr
Hartley referred to a number of rumours to the contrary, but asserted that one
identified promulgator of the rumour had produced no evidence that what he was
saying was correct.
I also heard evidence, as I have
already indicated, from Sergeant McDonald of SAPOL.
Sergeant McDonald struck me as a pragmatic, sensible and professional
individual and I have absolutely no hesitation in accepting his evidence.
As seen earlier, he made no bones about the reality that shark attack
was a threat to divers. For that
very reason, the use of Shark Shields is now not only common practice amongst
his SAPOL Unit, but is in fact mandatory in diving operations in all
conditions in sea water. He
referred to initial scepticism and lack of enthusiasm on the part of his
officers, but their resistance was in due course overcome by the receipt of
convincing information about the efficacy of the devices.
He said that there are no complaints from the members of his Unit about
the wearing of the devices, and indeed Sergeant McDonald told me that he did
not think he would now be able to get his officers to operate without these
devices. As to the objections that were voiced during the course of
this Inquest about the use of Shark Shields, Sergeant McDonald readily
dismissed them. Contrary to the
assertion that the devices were cumbersome and difficult to wear and operate,
and that they caused electric shocks, he said that the devices are not
cumbersome, were flexible and were simple to operate nowadays. Electric shocks
could be guarded against. None of
his officers had ever suggested to him that the devices attracted sharks or
had voiced any objections on health grounds.
Sergeant McDonald expressed the
belief, to which I accord significant weight given his occupation, that the
device would have its best effect in circumstances where a shark was
inquisitive. He said:
think - look, I think when a shark has made up its mind it is going to seize
then I don't think you will find anything will probably stop one, depending on
the size of it. But my belief in
the unit and my understanding in the unit is that in that build-up phase where
they - I have certainly had it explained to me by Dr Barry Bruce, where, for
example, if I use an example of Clarries Wreck off Glenelg, their tagging
program indicates that they will go to an area like that, and they will swim
around that area because they are feeding on the snapper or whatever is there.
So if they then feed and they have had enough to eat they then become
exploratory in their movements and they will head off up the gulf, and it may
be north, it might be south, it might be in towards the beach.
From what I can gather from discussions with him they have eaten so
they are not hungry, they are just looking around.
As they travel they obviously - this might take a few days - they
become hungry again, so they start looking for food.
Often they will tune back to their food source which, for example,
might be Clarries Wreck again. And
if they do a bit of a circle, which we tend to think they often do, swim in
circles or big loops, they come across the shoreline, they will then travel
down along parallel with the coast in the shallow water heading back towards
the Clarries site, for example, to feed. If they detect some movement in the
water, from what I understand, they don't necessarily just straight out want
to feed on that. They will then
think 'Okay, I need a little bit more information', so they often get a bit
closer so they will perhaps smell something, or they will often have a
sighting. There have been cases of people who have been attacked who
have been circled by the shark for some time, or have even been bumped by them
prior to actually being attacked. My
personal belief in the unit is that in that early stage of the shark being
inquisitive that is where it will have its best effect.
I think once it gets to a point, and it is probably halfway through
that cycle, when it decides it is going to feed, I don't think you are going
to stop it.' 
McDonald told me that although in his view the device would not necessarily
afford 100% protection, it would be foolish not to wear one.
To his mind the risk of a shark attack was simply too great.
If he was asked for his advice by an entity that was contemplating
using the device, he said that he would be forced to say that they should be
I note here that Sergeant McDonald also gave similar evidence in the
Buckland Inquest which occurred 5 years ago.
It is now mandatory for all
divers employed by the South Australian Research and Development Institute (SARDI)
to wear shark repellent devices. The
SARDI Diving Procedures Manual, Version 2.2 (August 2007)
states the following:
The presence of
sharks in South Australian waters is a recognised ‘high risk’ problem for
diving operations. It is for this
reason that Electronic Shark Shields are a compulsory part of all divers’
equipment while carrying out Aquatic Sciences diving operations.
Further, Vessel Shields are compulsory for all SARDI diving vessels and
are to be deployed for all Aquatic Sciences diving operations.'
The possible effectiveness of
a Shark Shield if worn by Mr Stehbens
Views differ as to the
effectiveness of Shark Shields in situations of a determined, violent attack
by a rapidly moving shark. In
this regard, it will be remembered that the SCT Shark Shield Dive 01
manufacturer’s product information referred to the undesirability of
individuals taking risks that they would not otherwise take simply because
they are wearing a shark repellent device.
One of the warnings contained within the SCT documentation,
under the heading ‘Sharks are dangerous’, stated that sharks can be
dangerous and often unpredictable and that while extensive testing has been
done and great care has been taken to develop and manufacture the SCT Shark
Shield, it was simply ‘impossible to guarantee that all species of sharks
will be repelled under all circumstances’.
Notwithstanding this disclaimer, Mr Hartley was still very optimistic
about his product’s ability to repel a shark attack even in circumstances
where a shark was in full attack mode. Mr
Hartley referred to a large number of testimonials from users of his
company’s shark repellent devices. A
similar number of testimonials were attached to the statement of Mr Slee.
A number of those testimonials, in respect of which nobody challenged
their authenticity, refer to incidents involving charging sharks that broke
their attack apparently as a result of the repellent characteristics of the
On the other hand, Sergeant
McDonald told me that he was not under any illusion that the devices were 100%
foolproof. He acts on the basis
that if a shark was determined to attack, depending on its size, there was not
much that would stop it. It seems
to me that this is a sensible basis upon which to act.
Mr Bruce dealt with the issue in
this way. He was of the view that
a Shark Shield would not offer unequivocal protection, especially in
circumstances which involved a high speed attack.
To my mind, the evidence is not
clear about the capabilities of the Shark Shield device in circumstances where
a shark attacks at high speed having not already been deterred by the device
during the course of, say, a circling manoeuvre.
This is not to say, however, that the device has no utility.
As I have said before, there is good reason to believe that these
devices do, in many circumstances, act as a deterrent against the approach of
a shark to the wearer’s location. As
Sergeant McDonald puts it, even if it was effective in 10% of cases, this
would afford good reason in itself for the device to be worn in all
circumstances, especially now that they are relatively user-friendly.
On the other hand, divers would be ill advised to dive in overtly
dangerous circumstances that they would otherwise not dive in if they were not
wearing a Shark Shield. SCT’s own literature says as much.
Mr Bruce was specifically asked
whether, given the description of the shark attack on Mr Stehbens, a
functioning Shark Shield of the kind that was present on the dive boat would
have prevented the fatal attack on Mr Stehbens. In Mr Bruce’s report he succinctly states as follows:
'There is no
way of answering this question with any degree of certainty.'
Mr Bruce went
on to discuss the relevant matters in assessing that issue.
He pointed to the fact that the attack was violent and that there was
no evidence as to the prior behaviour of the shark.
In particular it was not known whether the shark had made repeated
passes at the divers and would have been exposed to the deterrent effects of
an operational Shark Shield prior to entering its attack phase.
The description of the attack as told by the person who witnessed it at
close quarters suggested to Mr Bruce that it was a full predatory strike aimed
In my view the question as to
whether or not Mr Stehbens’ life would have been saved if he had worn an
operating Shark Shield will have to remain unanswered.
If, as seems likely, the attack
was a violent, opportunistic and determined one on the part of the shark, it
would be very difficult to determine definitively that the attack would
inevitably have been repelled if Mr Stehbens had been wearing a Shark Shield.
That said, one still has to
ponder why it was that the two perfectly good devices on board the dive vessel
were not used. Their presence on
the vessel was not even known to the members of the diving party.
The pragmatic approach adopted by the SAPOL Diving Unit, based as it is
upon considerations of the reduction of risk, would seem to be the much
preferred policy. The fundamental
objections that were voiced as to the use of Shark Shields for the most part
were unconvincing. They are
objections which, as far as police divers are concerned, lack real substance.
Pursuant to section 25(2) of the
Coroner’s Act 2003 I am empowered to
make recommendations that in the opinion of the Court might prevent, or reduce the likelihood of, a recurrence of
an event similar to the event that was the subject of the Inquest.
I have already referred to the
recommendation of the former State Coroner in the Buckland Inquest.
In my view, nothing revealed in this current Inquest brought into
question the validity of that recommendation.
The recommendation, reproduced earlier in this finding, is repeated.
Mr Buttfield of the University
gave evidence about the current University policy as to the wearing of shark
repellent devices. For high risk
dives, shark cages are mandatory. Diving
around aquaculture farms, near seal colonies and within 10 kilometres of the
location of a shark attack in the previous month are inter alia classified as
high risk dives. For ‘low risk
dives’ the policy now is that the members of a diving party, while in the
water, have the option of using a shark shield ‘as a matter of personal
choice’. However, if one diver
chooses to wear a device, then all must wear the device. The corollary of that is that if all agree not to wear the
device, the device need not and inevitably will not be worn.
I do not need to discuss the basis of this policy.
Mr Griffin QC, on behalf of the University, vigorously resisted the
notion that I should recommend that the University adopt a policy that would
make the wearing of a shark repellent device mandatory in all circumstances in
the sea. In the light of the SAPOL policy and practice, it is
difficult to understand what the objection could be to the mandatory wearing
of the device. Nothing that I
heard in the Inquest convinced me that there was any substantial and valid
objection to their mandatory use, particularly when it is remembered that like
SAPOL, the University owes a duty of care to its employees.
I note, however, that the CSIRO,
another organisation involved in scientific research, does not insist that
their divers use shark repellent devices.
Mr Griffin QC also suggested
that an Australian Standard be set, against which the utility and reliability
of shark repellent devices in general could be measured.
While that may be an interesting idea in theory, I have no evidence
before me to suggest that the idea has feasibility in practice.
I say no more about it.
It is difficult for this Court
to impose its own views on a private organisation such as the Adelaide
University in respect of its operational requirements.
Their views in relation to the mandatory wearing of shark repellent
devices obviously differ from mine and those of SAPOL and SARDI.
That to my mind is a matter for them.
So be it. The University
needs to be reminded, however, that divers within their employ, as a matter of
law, have to be protected. The
University is now on notice. While
in all of the circumstances I have decided not to make a recommendation that
the University should make the wearing of shark repellent devices mandatory, I
do recommend that no person in authority at the University discourage their
use. Indeed, I would recommend
that provided effective shark repellent devices remain available, the use of
such devices among the University diving community should be actively
encouraged. I direct this
recommendation to the Manager of Health Safety and Well Being of the
University and to the Head of the School of Earth and Environmental Sciences.
- Underwater; Shark Attack; Shark Repellent Technology
witness whereof the said Coroner has hereunto set and subscribed
day of March
 Self-Contained Underwater Breathing Apparatus
 Transcript, page 82
 Exhibit C13
 Exhibit C13a
 Exhibit C19
 Transcript, page 315
 Transcript, page 315
 Transcript, page 360
 Inquest 6/2003
 Exhibit C18
 Exhibit C2c
 Exhibit C2c, page 28
 Exhibit C14, page 20
 Exhibit C15, page 19
 Transcript, page 93
 Transcript, page 109
 Exhibit C17
 Exhibit C17, page 7
 Exhibit C17, page 11
 Exhibit C17, page 25
 Exhibit C17, page 27
 Exhibit C17, page 37
 Exhibit C17, page 38
 Exhibit C17, page 39
 Exhibit C17, page 30
 Exhibit C17, page 34
 Transcript, pages 183 to 184
 Exhibit C16
 Transcript, page 328
 Transcript, page 406
 Transcript, page 365
 Transcript, page 367
 Exhibit C16b
 Exhibit C2e
 Transcript, page 363