A surfer is missing after a suspected shark attack along the south coast of Western Australia, authorities said Friday – the latest incident in a year that has already seen six people killed by the ocean predators across the country.
The surfer, believed to be an adult male, was surfing at Kelp Beds Beach near the town of Esperance when he was “involved in a serious shark bite incident” Friday morning, according to a statement from the Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development (DPIRD).
The man’s surfboard has been found, but he has not been located, police said in the statement.
Shortly after the attack, authorities received a public report of a shark sighting at the beach, the DPIRD said. The species was unknown.
Beaches in the area have since been closed. Water police are conducting a marine search and rescue operation, with additional vessels deployed to assist.
There have been at least six deadly shark attacks off the country’s beaches this year, according to the Australian Shark Attack File at the Taronga Conservation Society Australia. There were no fatal shark attacks in Australia last year and only one in 2018, according to the society’s database.
Western Australia Premier Mark McGowan called the latest suspected attack a “very difficult and potentially tragic situation” on Friday, CNN affiliate Seven News reported.
McGowan said the state’s south coast, especially near Esperance, was a known breeding ground for sharks like great whites.
Esperance is about 720 kilometers (447 miles) southeast of the state capital, Perth, and is a popular diving spot.
There have been a number of shark attacks near Esperance in recent years – most notably in 2017, when 17-year old Laeticia Brouwer was killed while surfing with her father.
In January this year, a diver went missing in the area after a suspected great white attack. His body was never found.
Numerous attacks have also been reported in other Australian states including Queensland, New South Wales, and Tasmania in recent months.