08 June 2005

Scientists oppose shark culling

Civilisation has outgrown animal bounties, an oceanographic scientist said on Monday following calls to hunt down sharks after an attack on a Cape spear fisherman.

"Bounties come from the Dark Ages," said Professor Rudy van der Elst, director of the Oceanographic Research Institute in Durban.

Van der Elst was responding to the shark attack on medical student Henri Murray, 22, whose body had still not been recovered by Monday afternoon. Murray was spear fishing with a friend in False Bay on Sunday when he was taken by a Great White shark. His death sparked calls for the culling of problem sharks.

Van der Elst said civilisation had outgrown the practice of bounties being placed on animals considered to be dangerous to humans, such as crocodiles.

He said hunting Great Whites, who were apex predators, could harm the "delicate balance" of the eco-system, leading for instance to an excess of seals.

Van der Elst said elephants were only culled when they were in excess to the natural system, and were not killed indiscriminately. He attributed the fact that the Great White population along the Cape coast remained stable, and had even increased, to the sharks being a protected species in South Africa.

While the death of Murray was "absolutely awful" the reality was that spear-fishing was a "high-error" situation that could become harmful to humans.

"The point is that there is already association with lots of things in life, whether in a motorcar, swimming or spear-fishing, and the individual has to decide whether that risk is worth it... It's as simple as that."

Concurring with Van der Elst's sentiments, Natal Sharks Board deputy CEO Mike Anderson-Reade said culling or bounties on sharks would not solve the problem of shark attacks.

"The chances of culling the right shark are very, very slim." Sharks would be killed unnecessarily, "willy nilly", and Anderson-Reade cautioned against over-reaction. In Cape newspapers, Godfrey Mocke of the Swimsafe Project has called for a bounty to be placed on Great White Sharks.

He said it was easy for Environmental Affairs Minister Marthinus van Schalkwyk to declare sharks as bait. "It would be easy for the Environment Minister to mark the area from Cape Point to Hangklip and a two kilometre strip from the high-water mark out and say 'OK boys, go for it. Do your thing'," Mocke was quoted as saying.

Environmental Affairs department spokesperson Carol Moses said Great Whites were protected species and the department would not support the killing of these sharks. "And anyone found killing them will be guilty of a criminal offence," she said.

Source: www.sharktrust.org


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