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…