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Shark Feeding for Tourists Blamed for Rise in Shark Attacks Along Cape Town Coast; 'Sharks Make the News'

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CAPE TOWN, South Africa -- A tourist trade for people to watch sharks underwater using bait to attract them is blamed for a rise in attacks along the 300km of coast around Cape Town.

In the past four years, 13 have been recorded, three of them fatal. In the previous 42 years there were 17, one fatal.

Nearly all the attacks are thought to have been by great whites. In two recent fatalities — a woman swimmer and a spear fisherman — the bodies were never recovered.

The tourists wear wetsuits and get into a cage tied to a boat with the lid above water. The operators throw bait in the water. The tourists hold their breath and duck underwater to see the sharks swim past.

Of the 12 cage-dive operators in South Africa, eight are in Gansbaai, south-east of False Bay on the Western Cape coast.

Marine biologist Michael Scholl is a guide on a cage boat called Shark Fever and does research on great whites.

Mr Scholl has used dorsal fin markings to identify 1200 great whites since 1998 in and around Dyer Island, a habitat for seals which are prey for the sharks.

The Western Cape coast was a prime habitat for sharks but it was difficult to estimate the population, he said.

On a recent trip with 15 tourists, he and his research assistants spotted 10 different, 3m to 4m great whites within 1.5km of shore in three hours.

Three or four times a shark got the bait before it could be pulled from the water. Sharks lunged out of the water showing razor-sharp teeth, or rattled the cage while thrashing for the bait.

Mr Scholl said he was trying to change the Jaws film image through an hour briefing before every trip. Responsible cage diving helped research and could demystify great whites.

“The more people see those white sharks out there for what they are, the less people will be afraid of sharks,” he said. “That’s why I’m supporting it. I think it’s a great tool for education.” Only a few people a year were killed by sharks worldwide. “More people have died today in this country from AIDS, many more. Yet sharks make the news,” he said.

Views expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect those of UnderwaterTimes.com, its staff or its advertisers.

Reader Comments

2 people have commented so far. cloud add your comment

I've been there for the shark viewing, and it was a great experience. Regarding the point of attacks, there's a W.W.report for attacks and the rate is clearly declining rather than increasing. Moreover, if there were a CLEAR increase in attacks,WHICH IS NOT THE CASE IN THE OFFICIAL REPORTS, that doesn't really mean that agressiveness or behavior of the shark is changing instead of the proper meaning of it, that is every day there are much, much more humans invading the sharks enviroment, so that increasing the probability of an encounter wiht a shark(regarless of the consecuences). Much more over, humans are over exploting the fishing resources, which in turn would probably increase the rate of conflicts in between sharks and fishermans. In that case, The only way to preserve the sharks is to get money for the communities trhough tourist explotation of sharks with activities like those viewings. And make sure,I would never have visited CapeT. for no other reason BUT THE SHARKS
   comment# 1   - G · Spain · Dec 10, 2006 @ 5:18am

The government in Florida thought the shark feeds were increasing attacks as well. So they ignored scientific evidence and banned shark feeds. Attacks in florida have not declined nor have they increased in the Bahamas were we all go now.
   comment# 2   - Chad · New Iberia, USA · Mar 2, 2007 @ 6:08pm
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