RESIDENTS opposed to the Shark Men movie and research project operating in False Bay and on the southern Cape coast have begun issuing their own “shark alerts” warning the public of “increased shark activity” in the bay.
But the Department of Environment Affairs, which issued the permits for the movie and research on the Ocearch vessel, have slammed these alerts as “misleading, inappropriate and alarmist”, and say they diminish the value of real shark alerts.
This is the latest development in the row over the Shark Men project, which involves catching and tagging great whites in the bay and elsewhere over 20 days. The vessel began working in False Bay on Sunday.
Some locals say the project will attract False Bay sharks inshore and increase the risk of attacks, while the authorities say there is always a risk of shark attacks and the project does not increase that risk.
The main opponents are Simon’s Town businessman Dirk Schmidt, False Bay cage dive operators Chris Fallows and Rob Lawrence, and surfer and publicist for the professional surfers’ association Paul Botha.
Botha said he considered the project “a big game fishing publicity stunt”. In his “shark alert” Botha said: “Ocean users are warned that excessive amounts of chum, including marine mammal oils and scents, may be poured into the ocean and recently hooked, landed and possibly disorientated sharks may be released into False Bay over the next few days”.
The Environment Department said there was a need for shark research. Chris Fischer’s Shark Men initiative, where he funded the research in return for filming it, provided a unique opportunity to do shark research. Researchers had to stick to comprehensive protocols to ensure minimum impact on sharks.
When working in False Bay, concerns for human safety were the main issue, and extra precautionary measures were put in place, the department said. No chumming was allowed in the Table Mountain National Park Marine Protected Area, a distance of 5km offshore from Muizenberg to Cape Point.
The department said the amount of chum used has been exaggerated and there was a misconception that it would all be used in False Bay. This was not the case. It has also restricted the amount of time the Ocearch vessel could spend in one area to 48 hours, followed by a 48-hour break working elsewhere.