THE man who caught a protected great white shark in Mossel Bay says he did not know the animal was a great white when he hooked it while sport fishing.
He also says that he did not haul it on to the rocks to pose with it for photographs, but that the shark had been washed on to the rocks by waves.
Through tip-offs from the public, the Cape Times traced the angler, Leon Bekker, who lives in George.
In a telephone interview yesterday, Bekker said: “The water washed it up. I’m not that strong.”
Asked why he had not cut it loose after he had hooked it, as required by law, he said: “I’m a beginner at sport fishing. I didn’t know it was a great white. I’ve been doing this for a year only. I normally do take hooks out.”
The Cape Times was sent a sequence of photographs which show Bekker, with other men, hauling the great white on to the rocks.
One of them shows Bekker being handed a tape measure, to measure the length of the shark.
Bekker denies that he was trophy-hunting or that he gave the thumbs-up sign while posing next to the great white, which was still alive.
“That was not a thumbs-up. That was to show a greeting: how’s my broer. That’s how we greet in the Western Cape. There were seven anglers on the rocks and I greeted them.”
A Mossel Bay shark researcher, Enrico Gennari, said: “We have over 100 photographs showing the sequence of what happened. About three photos show him with his thumbs up, staying in one position.”
Gennari and fellow researcher Ryan Johnson said there were photographs of Bekker’s catches at a George sports shop.
“There were at least 12 different sharks he was posing with at the sports shop, big photos. But they wouldn’t let us photograph them. Now they’ve taken some down,” Gennari said.
It is illegal to kill or target great whites for sport. They are listed as vulnerable to extinction.
To date, no one has been prosecuted.
At the time of the incident on Friday, Gennari telephoned the local law enforcement officer from the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, but he did not arrive at the scene.
Yesterday fisheries spokesman Hein Wyngaard said the department condemned the incident “in the strongest terms and once we have established whether there was any wrongdoing on our side we will take the necessary steps”.