Durban - Pictures of a KwaZulu-Natal fisherman holding the jaws of a large bull shark wide open on the shore has caused on uproar on social media, with accusations of cruelty flying.
The fishermen, who were not identified when the pictures first circulated on Facebook, came in for an online gutting, with some profane remarks.
But when the fishermen responded to the posts, a heated exchange followed, with one of the fishermen asking the public to visit him personally at his workplace to apologise.
The shark was caught near Umdloti Beach, north of Durban, on Saturday, and subsequently released.
Roarke Hamilton told the Daily News they were shark fishermen and were helping to conserve the big fish by gathering data which assisted with the work of the Oceanographic Research Institute.
Earlier posters had taken to Facebook to express their indignation.
“That is absolutely disgusting, they should be caught with a fishing hook and slaughtered like they have done to this shark, absolutely revolting pigs,” posted Diane Woodhouse.
Also outraged was Carina Cunningham Webber, who said: “If that shark was not already dead it was already at deaths door.
“No ways you can just do what these guys are doing to a strong healthy shark, must be weak and exhausted.”
Cindy Kennerley asked why animals were made to suffer for “peoples egos and peoples wallets”.
“It’s disgusting - that shark may have gone back into the water but who knows if it actually survived or most likely drowned from shock and trauma,” she posted.
Explaining how they had come to catch the shark, Hamilton told the Daily News that Umdloti was a well-known bull shark fishing spot and when they learned that a large resident bull shark - also know as Zambezi sharks - had been sighted at the main swimming beach, they decided to try their luck.
“We were first there on Friday, my friend and co-angler, Brendan Boyers, got picked up by a very large shark, however, the shark missed the hooks and he lost him,” he said.
They returned on Saturday to try again, this time making the catch.
“I knew I had hooked into a decent size shark. The scary part is he was picked up at about 100m from the shoreline, where people normally swim,” Hamilton said.
He said he landed the shark after a three-hour fight.
“My friends ran into the water, put the rope around his tail and pulled him out of the waves.”
Hamilton said they had to move “very quickly” because of the crowd of about 100 that had gathered around to watch the shark.
“We were worried he may turn and bite someone who got too close,” he said.
“I stood over the top of him and held open his mouth so we could get the hooks out. Literally two seconds before the hooks were taken out, that photo was taken of me with the mouth open,” Hamilton said.
“The guys were taking the hooks out and I had a photo with the shark, you can see in every photo, the guys taking measurements, checking that the shark is fine, from the landing. All in all, from landing him to releasing him two minutes passed, one of which was the shark on the beach, the other helping him back,” Hamilton said.
They hope the shark leaves the area and moves to a non-bathing beach.
“This beautiful creature is the largest one that I have had the honour of landing, at 171kg - it measured from head to notch 215cm and from head to tail 235cm - my previous best being 149kg,” Hamilton said.
Answering online criticism that the shark had suffered needlessly, Hamilton said: “Firstly the shark was brought into the water line. It was measured by one angler while another removed the tail rope (tail ropes are put on as the shark hits the shore break to aid in a stress free landing of the shark),” he said.
Hamilton said the shark was kept on the beach for just less than a minute, preventing undue stress.
And while this was happening they poured water on its mouth and gill area. Hamilton insisted that at no point did he sit on the shark; instead he squatted over it with no body weight touching the animal.
They did not tag the shark due to its size and limited time.
Hamilton said the comments made about the catch on Facebook did not anger him, but left him frustrated.
He said he hoped people would learn not to judge people from social media pictures without “actually knowing the full story”.
Hamilton stressed the importance of conservation.
“As we all know if we do not protect and care for these beautiful creatures, they will not be around for our children to enjoy. Therefore, many of us take part in the research of these magnificent beasts, by collecting the data from the animals, tagging them and releasing them safely back into the wild.”
“Any scientist, researcher or conservationist worth their salt, will agree there are risks in tagging sharks and rays, just as there are risks in any type of wildlife conservation,” he said.
“We strive to ensure that the least amount of harm possible comes to these animals, whilst enjoying, not only our hobby, but our way of life.” “There would be no better feeling that the shark I catch today, my son will catch in 15 years’ time with the tag I placed in the shark,” Hamilton said.
KZN Sharks Board spokesman Mike Anderson-Reade said he could not comment on fishing. He confirmed that the animal was a bull shark, and was not a protected specie.
“It is a common practice. There are many competitions where they weigh the shark and then release them. Generally it is stressing for the animal but it depends on what sort of maltreatment it received. I have not seen the images and therefore cannot comment on this incident,” he said.
Stuart Dunlop, assistant scientist at the Oceanographic Research Institute based at uShaka Marine World, said sharks were vulnerable to injuries during fishing activities.
“By simply improving handling practices these injuries can be minimised and will improve the overall survival rate of released animals. It is important to never drag a shark over the rocks or sand.
“This can damage the internal organs, which are not used to the effects of gravity. Furthermore, dragging a shark by its tail can cause damage to the vertebral column which could cause death,” he said.
Dunlop said it was preferred to keep the shark in shallow water before removing hooks and then freeing it quickly.
“In the case of large, potentially dangerous sharks, great caution needs to be taken to avoid being bitten. If you do have to remove the shark from the water, try supporting it with the help of two or more people.
“Avoid holding the shark up by its tail and preferably do not use a gaff to assist in landing. For rays/skates, the same principles should apply.”