Shark attacks threaten beach

By Time of article published Jan 23, 2012

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Tanya Waterworth

Swimming off Second Beach at Port St Johns may well be banned after this past weekend’s fatal shark attack on 25-year-old Ngidi Msungubana.

This was the sixth such fatal attack in as many years, with another surfer, Zama Ndamase, 16, being killed by a shark in almost the same spot on January 15 last year.

On Thursday a spokeswoman for the Port St Johns Municipality, Nonceba Madikizela, confirmed that a special council meeting has been scheduled for next Wednesday, when it will be decided whether to ban swimming off the town’s main beach, described by international media as one of “the world’s deadliest beaches”.

Madikizela said: “In the meanwhile, swimming off the beach has been stopped and the public have been warned not to swim there.”

The attack took place on Sunday afternoon in what was described as “warm and murky water”.

About 100 bathers were in the water at the time.

According to witnesses, Msungubana tried to fight off the predator, as panic-stricken swimmers scrambled to safety in a horrifying Jaws scenario.

KwaZulu-Natal Sharks Board officials were in Port St Johns on Wednesday to investigate the attack.

There has been much speculation over the reasons for the spate of shark attacks. These range from the blood from animal sacrifices made by traditional healers on the beach, to loud music, a poor sewerage system and even a curse on surfers and lifesavers.

From the beach where the attack happened, the sharks board’s head of research, Geremy Cliff, confirmed that there were no shark nets in Port St Johns and that it is a breeding ground for dangerous Zambezi sharks.

“Swimmers are only waist- deep at around 50m out, so this is a very popular beach.

“There’s no proof that… traditional sacrifices or the sewerage system have anything to do with the attacks and these are definitely not the primary cause, but could play a contributory role.

“At this point, we just don’t know,” said Cliff.

In November, the sharks board undertook a research project, commissioned and funded by the oceans and coasts branch of the Department of Environmental Affairs, to investigate the large species of sharks in the area and what might have contributed to the string of fatal annual attacks.

When the research was commissioned, sharks board spokeswoman Debbie Hargreaves said the study would focus mainly on Zambezi and tiger sharks, the two species implicated in the attacks.

“The sharks will be caught using baited hooks; each will be identified, sexed and measured before being tagged and released. Each will be fitted with an acoustic tag that emits a unique signal every few minutes. Underwater receivers placed at several locations on the seabed will detect the presence of the tagged sharks as they move around.

“This is very sophisticated equipment and is going to help us to understand where the sharks go.

“This is the first time a study of sharks at Port St Johns has been undertaken,” said Hargreaves.

Meanwhile, hospitality owners have slammed the proposal to ban swimming off the Second Beach, situated on a coastline that has been described as “absolute paradise with pristine beaches”.

John Costello, the owner of Outspan Inn and a business leader in the area, described the possible ban as a knee-jerk reaction.

“Our tourism numbers have declined and sharks are not the problem. The problem is the town is dirty and needs to be cleaned up and the current municipality is trying its best to set it to rights, after the actions of the previous municipality.

“Every festive season the crowds descend on the major beaches up and down the coast, abuse the facilities and then depart, leaving local municipalities to bear the cost of the clean up.

“Mozambique has venues that are superb and South Africans are going there,” said Costello.

Another B&B owner, Margaret Floyd, said Port St Johns should not be singled out, because shark attacks have happened off several SA beaches in the past few years, including Plettenberg Bay, Hout Bay and Jeffrey’s Bay.

“When you go into the sea, you take a chance.

“A shark’s a shark and if he’s hungry he’s going to look for meat.

“But you have a much higher chance of being wiped out in a taxi accident than being killed in a shark attack,” she said.

There have also been a spate of shark attacks off Australian beaches recently, with three attacks in less than three weeks.

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