Shark hunters have been blamed for a spate of brutal shark attacks on a family of dolphins at Monkey Mia in WA, which have become world-famous for their close interaction with tourists.
The attacks at the world-heritage-listed marine park have shocked and angered locals, who have a strong connection with the dolphins and whose economy depends on the tourism dollars they bring in each year.
The family of five dolphins visit Monkey Mia up to three times a day to interact with tourists and be hand-fed fish from the beach.
Three of them have been bitten by sharks in recent weeks.
Local ecotourism operator Leon Deschamps said the attacks were extremely unusual.
"These are healthy dolphins. These aren't baby dolphins. They're not sick, old dolphins. They're dolphins that … have been coming here for 20 to 30 years," Mr Deschamps said.
"Kiya has a small bite, Puck has a larger bite behind the base of the tail, but they're strong animals so we're certainly hoping both of those guys pull through."
"However, the bite to Surprise — one of our mother dolphins — is quite large and we're not sure how she'll go."
Trophy shark hunters blamed
Mr Deschamps believes the blame partly lays with an influx of fisherman to the state's coast using blood and large baits to attract and catch sharks.
"These dolphins have lasted their entire lives without having a shark experience and for this to coincide with the explosion we've seen with trophy shark hunting [in the area], it seems like a little bit too much of a coincidence," Mr Deschamps said.
"There's a lot of anger, there's a lot of hurt in the community.
"We're a community of hunters. We're a community of fisherman … but the explosion we've seen in trophy shark hunters coming to what is a world-heritage-listed marine park — it's intense. It's massive.
"It's a pretty serious issue for when these guys are doing it for nothing more than basically Instagram likes, the social media fame."
Fears for dolphin's recovery
University of Western Australia researcher and Shark Bay Dolphin Research Alliance co-director Simon Allen fears Surprise only has a 50 per cent chance of survival.
"Not that I am a vet, but it's certainly a serious wound and we have our fingers crossed that she will survive," Dr Allen said.
"But we really don't know for sure."
Dr Allen, who has been studying the Shark Bay dolphins for 17 years, said while 70 per cent of adult dolphins showed evidence of one or more shark bites, the latest attacks were unusual.
"It's unexpected and a slightly concerning rate of serious shark bites on dolphins," Dr Allen said.
He believes shark trophy hunters may have contributed to the injuries.
"There is a strong correlation or coincidence in timing between concentrating big sharks in a particular area," Dr Allen said.
"They might well be stressed out because of the catch and release process and of course you also have those dolphins in the very same area so it is not an unreasonable link, let's put it that way."
Shark attacks a 'natural occurrence'
The Department of Biodiversity, Conservation and Attractions disputed claims shark hunting was behind the dolphin attacks.
"I haven't seen any scientific evidence to back that up. What we do know is that each year shark attacks happen on the dolphins," spokeswoman Kath Roberts said.
"This is a natural occurrence. These are wild dolphins. They live in a place called 'Shark Bay.' Their main predators are sharks and this is just the cycle of life.
"It mainly occurs in the warmer months between November to February and that's when we know that the shark predation is at its greatest.
"They will predominantly attack the dugongs and the sea snakes but we do know that dolphins are also their potential prey.
"Although they're rarely consumed they just seem to suffer from the bites."
Ms Roberts said while the photos were confronting, she was confident all three dolphins attacked would recover.
"It does look a lot worse than what they are," she said.
"They get a lot uglier as the blubber sort of goes all white and puffy … but that's a really good sign — that means that they're healing."