The Great White Shark Debate Continued

Words and Photographs by Gero Lilleike

On Thursday, 19 April 2012, tragic news of a fatal shark attack in Kogel Bay near Cape Town, South Africa seeped into newsrooms across the world. David Lilienfeld (20), a member of the South African Bodyboarding Team, was surfing with his brother Gustav Lilienfeld, in the northern corner of Kogel Bay at a popular surf break known locally as ‘Caves’. Within minutes, tragedy struck when a 4-5m Great White shark attacked David Lilienfeld, biting off his leg. Sadly, after losing a massive amount of blood and despite his brother’s attempts to save him, David passed away.

An eyewitness account by Mat Marais describes an aggressive attack, with the shark returning at least three times before claiming David’s leg. The shark remained in the vicinity for some time after the attack. Naturally, the attack has led to widespread debate regarding Great White sharks and the possible reasons for shark attacks taking place so frequently in Cape Town. Many people believe that deliberate increased interaction between humans and Great White sharks are altering sharks behavioral patterns and may be contributing to the increase in attacks.

On April 10, ZigZag Magazine reported that National Geographic would be filming a reality show ‘Shark Men’  and conducting research on Great White sharks at Seal Island in False Bay. A research permit was issued by Dr Alan Boyd, Director of Biodiversity and Coastal Research – Environmental Affairs. Permission was granted for Chris Fischer  (Fischer Productions/National Geographic) to use up to 5-tonnes of chum over a 20 day period to attract Great White sharks to the research vessel The Ocearch and supporting vessels. It must be noted that shark cage diving operators are limited to 25kg per day.

It was later revealed that Chris Fischer was going ahead with the project despite National Geographic not renewing the Shark Men series and an international petition criticizing the project for its methods and findings.   On 17 April, The Ocearch left False Bay due to a restriction preventing the vessel from remaining in the same area for more that 48 hours. After the attack on David Lilienfeld, Dr Alan Boyd cancelled all research permits in False Bay. The role, if any, which this project had regarding the attack on David Lilienfeld remains to be proven. The City of Cape Town released an official report regarding the attack and claims that “there is no evidence or reason to suggest that the tagging of four White Sharks over a period of 24 hours from Sunday 15 April to Monday 16 April, in False Bay, by the Ocearch Programme had any role to play in the tragic events that occurred at Caves.”

Shark cage diving operators have come under fire in recent years for their chumming practices and websites such as raise pertinent questions regarding the use of chum to attract sharks and the effects this practice has on shark behavior towards humans. Either way you look at it, humans don’t play a positive role in nature and as long as we continue to exploit and destroy the environment, nothing will improve.

Questions abound, answers unseen, the debate continues…

The Great White Shark Debate

Words and Photographs by Gero Lilleike

I don’t have to look far to see the great clash between man and nature taking place before my very own eyes. As I look over the notorious False Bay in Muizenberg, Cape Town, South Africa, I see hundreds of sea gulls diving for fish, the Yellowtail have arrived. On the shore, trek net fishermen prepare their nets in hope of a big catch.

Over recent weeks, the presence of trek net fisherman near the famous ‘Surfers Corner’ in Muizenberg has sparked anger and concern over the safety of the many bathers and surfers who frequent this popular surfing beach. Cape Town and False Bay in particular is well known for the presence of the Great White shark, Carcharodon Carcharias, and public safety has been on the agenda for several years now. Two fatal shark attacks and one non-fatal attack have occurred in False Bay in the last ten years and thousands of shark sightings have been recorded with the help of the Shark Spotters Programme.

In November 2004, Tyna Webb (77) went for an early morning swim at Fish Hoek beach. Minutes later she was attacked repeatedly by a massive Great White shark. Tyna’s swimming cap was all that remained. In January 2010, Lloyd Skinner (37) was also swimming at Fish Hoek beach when he too was attacked by a Great White and never seen again. Then, in September 2011, Michael Cohen (42) survived a Great White attack at Fish Hoek beach with the shark biting off his right leg above the knee and part of his left leg below the knee. No further attacks have occurred since.

The Shark Spotters Programme has proven to be hugely successful since its inception in 2004, alerting beach goers to potential shark threats and gathering valuable information regarding the presence of Great White sharks in False Bay. The Shark Spotters Programme is the primary preventative measure adopted by the City of Cape Town to avoid further attacks in False Bay and Cape Town in general, but further intervention may be on the cards.

An article published in the April issue of The Big Issue, a general interest magazine, outlines the possibility of exclusion nets being adopted on a trial basis in Fish Hoek. The exclusion nets were considered by the City of Cape Town in 2006 but were rejected as it was believed that sea conditions in Fish Hoek would destroy the nets, and worse, sea life would become entangled in them. The use of exclusion nets are now being reconsidered but financing, approval and implementation may or may not prevent the exclusion nets from becoming a reality.

More importantly, the environmental impact of exclusion nets on the fragile marine environment in False Bay and Fish Hoek in particular will remain unknown until the nets are implemented. The exclusion nets, similar to the nets used by trek net fisherman, are thought to be more environmentally friendly because the holes in the net are much smaller when compared to the deadly gill nets used in Kwa-Zulu Natal, South Africa.

Any net, in my opinion, will threaten marine life, as demonstrated when a 4.3 meter female Great White shark got entangled in the nets of whelk fisherman off Fish Hoek beach on March 11 2012 and sadly died as a result. It’s thought that between 30 and 70 million sharks die by the hand of man every year compared to the 75 odd shark attacks reported worldwide in 2011. We, as humans pose a far greater threat to sharks and to ourselves than sharks do to us, so are exclusion nets even necessary? Where do we draw the line between public safety and conservation? Exclusion nets may offer beach goers relative safety from sharks, but are exclusion nets an environmentally viable option to preserve marine life going forward into the future?

The debate continues…

Fish Hoek beach, Cape Town, South Africa