Cape Town learns to share waters with deadly sharks
Thursday, 21. June 2012, 16:50
South Africa records fewer attacks than other shark hotspots such as Australia and the United States
But the fatality rate is high: South Africa accounts for one-third of the 24 deaths worldwide on the International Shark Attack File for the past three years, despite local bites making up less than 10 per cent of all attacks.
The latest victim was a young Cape Town bodyboarder who died on April 19 after his leg was bitten off at a remote surfing spot, which followed a near-fatal mauling in September across the bay at top swimming site Fish Hoek.
Attacks in the age of Twitter have sparked alerts of “dinosaur huge” killers — as tweeted by a witness to a 2010 death on Fish Hoek — and fierce debate over theories of why bites are on the increase.
“You can understand, it’s a very emotional issue especially for the people who have witnessed shark attacks,” said Sarah Titley, Shark Spotters project manager.
“Being eaten by a very large fish is a very scary unknown that makes people react in a completely disproportionate way to what the actual sense of risk is. You’ve got a one in 253 million chance of being killed by a shark.”
“So the risk is very small but it’s such a traumatic event for people and it really does cause a lot of hype and hysteria.”
To counter some of the fears, an exclusion net is on the cards for Fish Hoek, to add another layer to the city’s prevention buffers after the attack seven months ago deepened its deadly reputation on the back of two deaths since 2004.
“It’s a series of fixed nets which are very small diameter mesh so that nothing can swim through it,” said Cape Town alderman Felicity Purchase.
“We needed to find something that would be practical, that would not cause damage — we don’t want to kill the sharks, we don’t want to damage the other marine life that comes through.”
Shark nets are controversial and were ruled out years ago, but officials say they need to tackle the damaging economic fall-out and that the square-inch sized mesh technology is successfully used in Hong Kong and the Seychelles.
“This will certainly prevent shark attacks in an area which allows considerable swimming space for our bathers. So I believe it could actually be the end of shark attacks.”
Reaching up to six metres in length and two tonnes in weight, Great Whites are protected in South Africa and listed as vulnerable on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.
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