Shark attack sparks criticism of filmmaker

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National Geographic documentary maker Chris Fischer and other scientists have been re-issued research permits following the death of a bodyboarder in Cape Town. Photo: Michael Walker

 

A “huge and aggressive” shark killed a body-boarder in Cape Town on Thursday, sparking criticism of a United States-based filmmaker, whose permit to research sharks was cancelled after the attack.

Documentary maker Chris Fischer, who was busy with a production for National Geographic, posted a message on the television show Shark Men's Facebook page denying that his team was responsible for the man's death.

“There has been tragic news in False Bay today. A body-boarder has been taken by a white shark. Our thoughts and prayers go out to the family that has been affected,” he said.

Fischer's team had released chum (shark bait) into nearby waters a few days ago to draw the elusive creatures nearer for filming purposes.

“We departed False Bay over three days ago after working there from Sunday afternoon... to Monday afternoon... During our 24 hrs of work... there we chummed 24kg of pilchards (sardines).”

This was less than the amount released by each of three cage diving boats per day, Fischer said.

“We are terribly sorry again for the loss of this family and at this time our thoughts and prayers are with them.”

Fischer has been in the country for the past month filming sharks in their natural habitat for the documentary “Shark Men”.

Earlier, an eyewitness described how the shark attacked the man three times in Kogel Bay.

“It was a horror show. It looked like something from the Jaws movie,” seasoned surfer Matt Marais told Sapa in a telephonic interview.

“What was supposed to be a fun day at the beach turned out to be any surfer's worst nightmare and it happened in minutes, in front of my eyes.”

The victim's brother was believed to have been with him in the water when the great white shark, said to be between four and five metres long, killed him.

The man was lying on his body-board, waiting for a wave to surf when a fin appeared, said Marais.

“I had just gotten out of the water when I saw the dorsal fin... The shark was huge and aggressive and just went for him, not once but three times.”

The first time, the body-boarder fought back, trying to get the board between him and the shark. The second time, it pulled him under and the third time, it was “as if someone pushed a button and the sea just turned red.”

Marais, who has been a surfer for 19 years, said the predator then hung around the shallow water.

ER24 spokesman Andre Visser said when paramedics arrived on scene, the shark was still present and the man's leg was floating in the water.

The City of Cape Town closed the beach, which is between Gordon's Bay and Rooi Els, after the attack.

“We have closed the beach because there are still 1/8great 3/8 white sharks present in the water,” spokeswoman Kylie Hatton said, adding that it would probably remain closed until Friday morning.

The National Sea Rescue Institute (NSRI) said there were no other bite marks or lacerations on the dead man's body.

“Only the complete amputation of the right leg, and the leg has not been recovered,” said spokesman Craig Lambinon.

“Eye-witnesses have told NSRI that a single four to five-metre white shark was involved in this incident. Eye-witnesses claim that following the incident 1/8up to 3/8 six sharks were counted in the area,” said Lambinon.

After the attack, Biodiversity and Coastal Research director Alan Boyd cancelled Fischer's research permit.

“This incident is a tremendous tragedy and I'm very shocked. No more field work will be proceeding from here on out,” said Boyd.

Initially, when the permit was approved, there were fears that chumming could attract sharks to populated beaches.

At the time, Dirk Schmidt, a wildlife photographer and author of “White Sharks”, said it was prudent for a high shark alert to be issued.

His concern was that up to five tons of chum (bait) would be used to attract sharks to the boat. He said the chum slick could be blown closer to beaches by on-shore winds.

Despite this, Boyd issued the permit, saying chumming would have little effect close to shore.

Facebook users attacked Fischer on his Facebook page on Thursday.

“Shame on you! Piss off! So angry, that's my home break where this happened. Hope you, your boat and your life sinks to the deepest parts of the ocean...,” wrote one person.

Western Cape police said an inquest case docket had been registered and that the circumstances surrounding the body-boarder's death would be investigated.

Lt-Col Andre Traut said that even though the shark attack victim's name had been carried by some media and was being distributed on Facebook, the police would release it only on Friday out of respect for his family. - Sapa


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