Julie Andersen, founder of Shark Savers, is captured by photographer Roger Horrocks as she gets up close and personal with a Tiger Shark on the Aliwal Shoal on the South Coast. The action scene is from the film Shark Angels being premiered in Durban tomorrow night

The Shark Men project presents a unique opportunity for researchers and poses no danger to bathers, says the department of the environment.

Spokesman Zolile Nqayi said the project would enable researchers to find out where sharks moved at different stages of their lives and how they moved between different habitats on shorter time-scales.

The Shark Men project is a collaborative research initiative on large sharks in South African waters.

US-based documentary maker, Chris Fischer, has been in South Africa for the past month capturing and filming sharks in their natural habitat for the National Geographic documentary, Shark Men.

Nqayi said initial data was already showing rapid large scale and coastal migrations. These included several great white sharks moving into the Southern Ocean and one moving between the Eastern Cape and KwaZulu-Natal and back.

“Genetic and other microbiological results will take longer to analyse, but should allow statistically valid conclusions to be made about white sharks’ populations and their biology,” he said.

He dismissed fears that the study would attract sharks to populated beaches, saying statements to this effect were misleading and inappropriate.

“These alarmist statements by individuals are creating unnecessary public concern.”

Dirk Schmidt, a wildlife photographer and author of White Sharks, has called for the immediate issuing of a high shark alert.

“I believe it to be prudent, that, as a preventative measure, a high shark alert is issued and maintained, during, and for several days after, the filming activity.

“Unusual white shark behaviour and an increased presence and possible shark-human interaction or even attacks cannot be excluded.”

Nqayi said the sampling protocols developed for the project were the most comprehensive for any similar marine work in South Africa.

“They were at all times designed to have the minimum impact needed on the sharks to accomplish the scientific objectives.”

They had been improved by assessing each shark immediately after capture as part of the project and before tagging or other work was done to ensure minimum impact.

“The research also involves measuring the stress of sampling on sharks, which will guide future sampling.” He said the department had recently completed a draft conservation plan for sharks.

“The plan emphasises that sharks are both poorly understood and that many species are threatened by human activities,” he said.

“It also notes the need for research in order to understand the basic life histories of a number of species, including migration, reproduction and population status.”

Nqayi said that when the research work shifted to False Bay, concerns for human safety would become the main public issue because it is a multi-user marine environment. – Sapa