10 June 2005

Experts wade into anti-shark waters

Specialists are being asked to critically review all standard anti-shark measures such as shark nets, electronic repellents and baited lines and to assess their usefulness in protecting Cape Town's coastline.

The specialists are being commissioned by the Shark Working Group, and their findings, which will be made public after a three-day workshop, are expected in about three months.

Also, the public is being asked to submit any rational suggestions to protect sea-users from sharks.

"We will allow a specialist external review to be done so that we can be assured of the correct decisions and public record," said group spokesman Gregg Oelofse.

The controversy over whether shark cage-diving is indirectly causing the unusually high number of shark attacks will also come under the spotlight.

"All evidence certainly suggests there is no link," said Oelofse. "However, we will ask international specialists to review this as well."

The working group met yesterday following the weekend attack by a White Shark at Miller's Point that claimed the life of medical student, Henri Murray, 22.

His remains have not yet been recovered.

The group was set up informally after the attack on young Muizenberg surfer "JP" Andrew in April last year, which cost him a leg, but it was formalised after several other shark attacks later in the year.

Co-chaired by the City of Cape Town and the Marine and Coastal Management (MCM) branch of the Department of Environmental Affairs, its members include scientists and field researchers from the White Shark Research Unit of Iziko-SA Museum and other institutions, and representatives of the National Sea Rescue Institute, the SA Surf Lifesaving Association, surfers, conservationists and the fishing and shark cage-diving industries.

The group considered the Great White shark "an incredibly important species", Oelofse said. "Their continued conservation is vital."

However, the group also recognised that shark attacks were very traumatic, and wanted to express its condolences to Murray's family, Oelofse added.

"We would like to stress the importance of individual responsibility of making the choice of entering the sharks' environment.

"It is a personal choice that should be made, knowing that however small the risk, there is always some risk.

"We also want to stress that the ocean is a wilderness area in which a number of predators live. We don't believe there is a great risk, but there will never be no risk, and spear-fishing is a high-risk sport in Cape waters."

On the "rogue shark" theory, Oelofse said the working group did not believe just one Great White shark was responsible for all the recent attacks in Cape waters.

"Internationally, there is no evidence to suggest that Great Whites become 'man-eaters' or 'problem animals'.

"All the authorities are in agreement that there will be no culling or attempt to look for this particular shark and certainly not to take it out. We really don't believe that's a solution."

The group is closely watching a joint shark monitoring project by the University of Cape Town, the SA Museum and MCM. So far, 28 "bottom monitors" have been placed in False Bay that record the movements of passing sharks fitted with acoustic tags.

There are four each at Muizenberg and Fish Hoek, and others at places like Kalk Bay, Kogel Bay, Macassar, Simon's Town and Castle Rock.

Two monitors will be installed at Dunes, off Noordhoek beach, when weather conditions allow.

Researchers are tagging Great White sharks at Seal Island with acoustic tags whose signals will be picked up over the next two to three years.

"This information will allow us to understand what factors influence shark behaviour and presence

Shark behaviour
By the end of next month, 48 noticeboards explaining White Shark behaviour and how to best to avoid the risk of a shark attack will be in place on Cape Town beaches.

This is part of the Shark Working Group's new communication strategy around sharks.

The group's advice includes:
  • Don't swim, surf or dive alone.
  • Be aware of your surroundings and make sure you know whether sharks have been sighted in that area recently. If they have, stay out of the water.
  • Don't swim at dawn or dusk.
  • If there is a lot of activity in the water - such as shoals of fish present, birds diving, or dolphins and seals feeding - don't go into the water.
  • Undertake watersports away from known seal colonies.

    In the unlikely event of a shark attack, phone 107, or 480 7700 from a cellphone and the operator will arrange the appropriate response.

    Source: www.allafrica.com


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