- Title: SOUTH AFRICA: Shark attack prevention off Durban's beaches
- Date: 5th July 2010
- Summary: VARIOUS KZN NATAL SHARKS BOARD RESEARCH CENTRE HOSTING PUBLIC DISSECTION OF A SHARK
- Embargoed: 20th July 2010 13:00
- Location: South Africa
- Country: South Africa
- Topics: Environment / Natural World,Light / Amusing / Unusual / Quirky
- Reuters ID: LVAA1KJFFDJRDTNHBPIUW00CJZSB
- Story Text: The boat sped out of Durban's port before dawn carrying men with a crucial job: checking the nets that keep sharks at bay before thousands of World Cup soccer fans troop down to Durban's beach party for Germany's World Cup semi-final against Spain.
Since June 11, thousands of visitors from around the world have enjoyed the coastal city's winter sunshine, sandy beachfront and spectacular surf, but the Indian Ocean waters off Durban are also teeming with large, hungry sharks.
Great Whites, tiger sharks and bull sharks -- known locally as Zambezis -- are the most dangerous to humans among the 14 species typically caught off the KwaZulu Natal (KZN) coastline and the KZN Sharks Board based in Durban is taking no chances.
"We have adequately provided protection for holidaymakers, irrespective of the volume of people on the beach. We've got them covered," said Sharks Board spokeswoman Debbie Hargreaves, aboard a boat showing tourists their early morning work.
The board was set up in 1964 to protect bathers from attacks after a spate of deaths in the late 1950s and now guards 38 beaches along 360 kilometres of KwaZulu Natal coastline.
"We know our system works; it is not a perfect system. We are continuously striving to reduce our impact and the mortality rate on sharks and other marine animals and we can only do that by trying to learn more about those particular species," said Hargreaves.
The Board's record from 1990 through 2009 speaks for itself: the last attack at a protected beach was in 1999 and the surfer survived. The last fatal attack was in 1995, but not at a beach guarded by the Sharks Board.
In the same period, there have been 16 fatal attacks off the Cape in southern South Africa -- with seven in the past three years -- as more and more bathers take to the sea, shielded from the chilly waters thanks to wet and dry suits.
Contact between sharks and humans are usually a result of humans trespassing in the sharks' domain, according to Hargreaves.
"We think that a certain amount of initial contact is made through misidentification, but it can also be you treading in their area. They might just be having a bad hair day, you might be getting between them and their food supply, there are a lot of factors as to why sharks do come close to humans and unfortunately on occasions, literally bump heads," she said.
Bobbing in the morning swell nearby, the Board's staff repair a gaping hole in one of the Durban nets onboard their yellow and red speedboat.
The nets are 214 metres long and 6.3 metres deep and run parallel to the beach about 400 metres out in water 10-12 metres deep. They are not designed to stop all fish from reaching the beach -- sharks could swim under or around them -- but they still ensnared 650 sharks along the coast last year.
The checkers pull the net out of the water as they go and can quickly tell if a fish has been caught by the weight. Some sharks survive and are freed, while the dead ones are taken away, frozen and then used for research.
The Board has gradually reduced the number of nets in a bid to do enough to protect bathers while not harming the rest of the fish population. In 2000, there were 44 km of shark nets in KwaZulu-Natal, now there are 23 km.
The board is also introducing drumlines, essentially a large baited hook, to replace some nets as they seem to be just as effective at catching the really big, dangerous sharks.
While reducing the environmental impact of the nets on other marine wildlife is a major concern for the Sharks Board, the local dolphin population has seemed to adapt to the presence of the nets in the water.
"When the other dolphins move up from the Cape, they are not used to our nets and that is when it becomes a bit dangerous and they start getting entangled in the nets and stuff like that," Philip Lodge, a boat skipper on one of the KZN Sharks Board's tender boats told Reuters. "Local dolphins have kind of worked out where they are and they know exactly where they are and sort of avoid them. You will see, they come swimming straight up to the net and will veer off and go around the net or they will dive deep and you will see them come out the other side."
In Durban's Umhlanga Rocks suburb, the dead sharks are dissected in front of the public at the Board's headquarters, part of a public relations exercise designed to boost general knowledge about the creatures.
Explaining the role of the KZN Sharks Board, public relations officer, Precious Shamase said:
"We want to educate the public about the sharks, their behaviour, and what they eat, so that people have more respect for the animal. They get to know exactly how they behave."
The biggest shark landed by the Board was caught in 2002 in Richard's Bay. It was a great white shark 4.78 metres long weighing 1,160 kg.
Hargreaves spent nearly 12 years cutting open the sharks and has found almost anything -- a wellington boot, car number plates, most of a hammerhead shark inside a great white, plastic bottles, some human remains, and even a tagged racing pigeon.
"The owner was quite distraught to find out what happened to his bird. They do eat weird and wonderful things," she said.
But for the bathers and surfers on Durban's beach front, ensuring that you do not end up as lunch is never far from their minds.
"I have been surfing for more than 30 years," local surfer Craig Daniel told Reuters. "I feel a lot safer here with the shark nets than I feel down the coast. Down the South Coast we feel a little exposed if there are no nets in the water but it is always a small thought in the back of your mind."
- Copyright Holder: REUTERS
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