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The death of bodyboarder David Lilienfeld in a great
white shark attack has triggered heated debate
about the influence of chumming on shark activity in
False Bay. MELANIE GOSLING gets perspectives
from four people with an interest in the issue.
THE SHARK SCIENTIST
M A T T DICKEN has dismissed beliefs that chumming conditions sharks to associate food with humand and that research
carried out on the Ocearch vessel has made sharks aggressive.
Dicken, a research associate of Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University and director ofthe Bayworld Centre for Research and Education, is one of the 35 scientists involved in the Ocearch research project. Chumming did not provide food for the shark, as it was just a slick of mashed fish with water that created only the scent of food.
This meant the animal did not get a reward. The bait that cage divers used was tied to a rope and lured the shark towards the cage, but the shark did not eat the bait.
Even if the shark did manage to get the bait, cage operators would have to allow the shark to get the bait every time and to ensure it was the same shark that got the bait every time.
‘We know from tagged sharks that they don’t spend a long time in one place, so even if they were being fed - which they are not not - you would not get the same individual being fed every time. they are not in the area long enough to form an association,” DIcken said.
Even if one fed the same shark every time, the association it was likely to form was between the boat and food, and it would not form an association with individuals in the water. Dicken dismissed the claim that Ocearch’s activities had made sharks “aggressive”, or that this was likely reason for the attack on David Lilienfeld at Kogel bay on April 19.
“I can’t see the logic in that of a released shark bumping into one of its mates, passing on its aggression to that shark, which then swims off 26km and bites someone.” Dicken said that while he was diving with tiger sharks on the Aliwal Shoal, one of them had become tangled in the steel wire and had thrashed around until it freed itself. We never saw it transfer its aggression to any of its conspecifics, to its mates. People are looking for answers, trying to rationalise what happened, and they are trying to force connections between age diving or the researchers to rationalise it. I m ean no disrespect, they’re entitled to their opinions, but they’re forcing too hard.”
Surfer, sports promoter
P A U L B O T H A d o e s n ' t have a problem with chumming, whether its by cage divers or by researchers, but believes researchers catching sharks and releasing them “created stress” among the shark population. “In my estimation, chumming is not the problem. The amount of natural chum from seals on the island far exceeds anything the shark cage divers or the Ocearch people put into the water,” Botha said. “Also , fishermen have been chumming for centuries, and they still do in False Bay and it has not conditioned sharks.
The chumming from the Ocearch vessel did not get anywhere near Kogel Bay where the attack was.
‘’The jury is still out on cage divers using seal decoys and bait. It may well affect the behaviour of sharks when they come into contact with humans. But the Ocearch team throws out bait and hooks the shark and then they fight it to bring it in. When they are fighting it , the other sharks sense that the one -and -a half ton buddy of theirs is stressed, and that causes the shark to disperse. “ I think the whole shark population has been stresses and traumitised by this method.” Botha said internet groups’ opposition to chumming since David Lilienfeld was killed by a shark at Kogel bay on April 19 had '’gone viral’’, but the sites had focused only on chumming and not on the stress on sharks created by the research boat. “We’ve seen the shark population around Seal Island disperse to areas they normally don’t go to. None of the gage operators at Mossel Bay or False Bay or Gansbaai have seen sharks in the numbers they would have been.” Botha believes the “distressed state” of sharks was linked to the attack on Lilienfeld.
“There are sharks in that area (Kogel Bay), but sharks there are not normally cruising around looking for seals.
This one attacked three times, this thing ate (Lilienfeld's) leg.” Botha has been surfing in False Bay since the 1960s and says it was in the 1990s that great white sharks “became a problem.” This was because of overfishing, he believed. “There is not enough fish, so sharks spend more time inshore going for sand sharks and steenbras in Clovelly in September each year. “They didn't use to.”
ALISON K O C K says shark a t t a c k s are highly emotive, so many people express views that “hype up or sensationalise these tragic incidents”. “It is important we stay fact-driven, and base any action on the best research available, not on emotion or on untested assumptions or guesswork.” Responding to Paul Botha's statement that Ocearch scientists had made sharks “aggressive” by catching and releasing them, and that there was a link between this and the fatal attack on David Lilienfeld, Kock said recreational fishermen regularly caught great white sharks in False Bay.
“Online reports and reports from bystanders tell of sharks being fought for up to four hours at a time. Sometimes we get reports on a weekly basis. They are dragged on to the beach or rocks, photographed and then released. If this were causing them to attack people, we would have many more attacks.” Kock said that before the Ocearch vessel began its work, Botha released a statement saying that chumming by Ocearch would mean an increased risk to False Bay water users. Now Botha said chumming was not
a problem. Kock said there had been a global increase in the incidence of shark attacks. “All areas where (great)
white sharks aggregate show that attacks have increased over the years and the only common denominator being more people in the water.” Over the past few months there had been high numbers of predators in False Bay with huge schools of bait fish in the inshore areas, and daily reports of the presence of thousands of dolphins, Bryde's whales, bronze whales and great white sharks.
SERGIO C A P R I , who was attacked by a shark while surfing at Kogel bay in 1999, believes cage diving has conditioned sharks to humand and has called for the industry to be closed. Capri is also calling for research to be carried out to prove whether there is no link between cage diving and shark attacks. While he concedes he has no proof that there is conditioning, he says the onus should be on the cage diving industry to prove this does not occur. “Even if there is a 0.5 chance that cage diving could cause loss of life or limb, it should be stopped. Proper research must be done. “They should prove that there is no conditioning before they allow those operations to continue.” Capri, from Somerset West, who was paddling on his surfboard when he was bitten by a great white, says the income
the handful of cage dive operators would lose if their operations were closed would be far smaller than the income lost by the tourism and water sport industries after every shark attack.
He says the safety of the many people who use the sea is more important than a single industry.
“Compare millions of people who use the sea for recreation, for surfing, bodysurfing, kiteboarding, fishing, swimming, with the person who goes in a cage once in his life. “I believe cage diving is making classic conditioning. “I don't believe in chumming, but I believe attracting sharks by baiting is more serious.
They tie a piece of bait, a tuna head, and throw it out and drag it back toward the cage and the shark follows it and has a go at the cage, and inside the cage is a human being in a wetsuit. “Now do the sums, with all the cage diving, the sharks are getting used to this.” Capri says the trauma he feels after every attack is greater than the trauma he felt after his own attack, which he remembers vividly again. “I was paddling out and it clamped me to my board. I was thinking: 'This is not happening.' Then I was going sideways like I had an outboard motor on me. All I could see was its huge gills, and I was hitting them. Most of the impact was taken by my board and when the board broke, it let go of me. I saw red all around me and saw the shark fin heading out past another guy and seeing his eyes like serious saucers. “I said: 'Don't leave me here, I don't want to die'. It was Gerhard Geldenhuys. If it were not for him I would have bled to death. But I was destined to surf again and three months later I was back surfing at Kogel Bay.” Capri notes that legislation controlling cage diving forbids diving during the summer school holidays.
“Why would they stop it if there was no possibility it could cause shark attacks?”