Humans are not on
sharks' menu, says expert
November 25 2004 at
|Large numbers of Great
White sharks are swimming just beyond the False Bay breakers,
close to swimmers and scores of surfers.
These sharks have daily opportunities to attack people.
That attacks are very rare proves that the sharks have little
interest in hunting humans and gives lie to the current hysteria
about shark attacks, say experts.
The media and lifesavers have received reports of increasing
numbers of sharks off Fish Hoek and other beaches after the fatal
attack on Tyna Webb last week.
|'I don't think
that sharks have learnt to associate humans with an easy
veteran swimmer, Webb, 77, of Fish Hoek was repeatedly
attacked by a Great White shark on Monday morning, November
15. Webb swam at Jager Walk daily and was about 150m from
the shore when the shark attacked.
body was not recovered. All that was found was her red
On Tuesday when Cape
Times photographer Andrew Ingram flew from Strandfontein to Kalk
Bay in a Base 4 helicopter he photographed 11 sharks in the
The sharks ranged from an estimated three to six metres. Five were
spotted around 150m from the shore at Muizenberg, not far from the
popular surfing spot at Muizenberg corner.
Shark experts acknowledge that 11 was "a lot of sharks"
- but say it was not necessarily an increase on previous years.
they are not interested in people. Nobody knows why not'
agreed that the shark population "would not suddenly
have exploded". It takes up to 15 years before a female
important that readers are aware the sharks are out there,"
said Geremy Cliff, head of research for the Natal Sharks
"But I don't
think that sharks have learnt to associate humans with an easy
It was "a bit of a thumbsuck", but there were probably
fewer than 100 Great Whites in False Bay, he said.
"If a White Shark wanted to eat people, a person is not
difficult to target," said marine conservationist Chris
Fallows. "I'm amazed they are not interested in people.
Nobody knows why not."
"But people have got to be aware that, if we wipe out their
natural food sources such as smaller sharks, which are being
commercially exploited, then more attacks could occur in
The shark experts agreed that it was "highly unlikely"
that rogue sharks were responsible for the recent attack on Webb,
surfer JP Andrew and Gansbaai poacher Nkosinathi Mayaba.
"If a shark believed people were easy pickings, it could
easily have attacked in the months between these attacks,"
"People are in the water a lot more often than they used to
be, so we are bumping into the sharks more often," said Mark
Dotchin, Western Province Lifesaving chairman.
Since 1990, there have been nine fatal shark attacks in Cape
Len Compagno, head of the Shark Research Unit at Iziko SA Museum,
said that while around two million people would die of
Aids-related illnesses in sub-Saharan Africa in 2004 year, around
29 000 will die of smoking-related diseases and 408 drown,
"we are not giving these things the same attention as sharks".
"We have never seen the same behaviours among sharks as the
documented stories of man-eating lions and tigers," Compagno
"For some reason taking people doesn't work for them. Even
the exceptions seem to prove the rule."
Sharks are inquisitive animals, he said.
It was not known whether sharks attack people out of curiosity,
aggression or an intention to feed.
"We know the sharks are there," said National Sea Rescue
Institute spokesperson Craig Lambinon.
"The NSRI is asking people to be vigilant, preferably not to
swim too deep and to obey the lifeguards."
Lifeguards at Fish Hoek and other beaches have put up flags to
mark out swimming spots.
Fish Hoek and Muizenberg lifesavers have sirens, which warn people
to get out of the water if a shark is seen.
On Tuesday Ian Klopper of the National Sea Rescue Institute warned
surfers he had seen a five metre Great White while flying overhead
in a helicopter. Many ignored his warning, carrying on surfing.
"If sharks really wanted to attack people, Muizenberg corner
would be a yum-yum factory," a source said.
This article was
originally published on page 1 of Cape
Times on November 25, 2004