Philip Island’s Great White Problem.

Philip Islanders in Victoria, Australia are in the “jaws” of a dilemma.

This dilemma is embodied by a sea creature about twenty feet long, 3,500 to 4,000 pounds, armed with a mouthful of razor-sharp serrated-edged teeth (think steak knives) and who seems to enjoy hanging around bathing areas just before or just at sunset. This creature has been spotted repeatedly for weeks by swimmers, surfers, and ferry captains. Two fishermen recently were treated to a much closer view of it than they wanted. While they were at anchor the animal swam up to within three meters of their boat and then leaped out of the water, scaring the bait out of them. “It was bigger than our boat, definitely. All we heard was this great splash and then the next thing the whole fish was almost out of the water.”

Lifesaving Victoria spokesman Greg Scott said there had been three sightings in four days around Cowes Beach, with the problem creature appearing between 4pm and 5pm each time. This problem has not hurt anybody yet, but it does not appear to be in any hurry to go away.

And there are several more complications on the horizon. Thousands of bathers are expected to flood onto the local beaches this week for the upcoming “Australia Day” vacation season. Worse still, no fewer than THREE swim races are scheduled to occur in February, over a course which takes the contestants through a stretch of water where the problem creature has been sighted twice already. One has to wonder if this aquatic equivalent to a dim sum trolley will be ignored by the fanged school bus who currently stalks those waters, or if it will give in to temptation and rise to take a morsel.

These problem creatures are also protected by Australian Law and so the possibility that one might eat a bather is really not enough to justify tracking one down and killing it. Local officials are debating whether to carry rifles in their patrol boats as they lay on extra help, including spotter planes, to prepare for the coming national holiday.

Event organizers say the risk is minor and are more concerned that it might deter competitors from participating. For some reason this statement strikes The Beast as odd. The minor risk of being eaten whole or torn to pieces by a gigantic sea beast as one and thrashes his way through a stretch of water in which it has been seen repeatedly seems pretty major in itself. It would at least take away some of the fun for this Beast were he reckless enough to participate.

One is reminded of a certain best-selling novel and film in which a local beach community, dependent on tourist dollars, attempted to cope with pretty much the same issue. That fictional community was definitely worse off than Philip Island – in real life nobody’s been hurt up till now. Nobody may be hurt. If The Beast were a betting animal he would put all his money on a maul-free holiday. He would even give odds.

No, most likely everything will go fine.

Fingers crossed.

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