|Surfers fall prey to great white shark
By Christopher Munnion in Johannesburg
Sunday 5 July 1998
|A SPATE of shark attacks on surfers in South Africa's southern
resorts has raised fears that a large, Jaws-like predator is roaming the
The latest victim, Anton Devos, a 20-year-old forestry student, died in hospital after being mauled by a great white shark while he was body-boarding off Gonubie Point, north of East London. The shark bit his hands and right calf, severing a main artery in his left thigh and causing massive blood loss.
In May, Neal Stephenson, South Africa's national body-boarding champion, lost his foot and part of his right leg in an attack near Plettenberg Bay, one of the most popular resorts on the southern Cape coast.
Six other shark attacks have been reported along the coastline between East London and Saldanha Bay in recent months - the peak of the southern hemisphere's winter season when fewer people go into the sea. The average number of shark attacks a year along the southern coast is four.
Some municipalities have closed their beaches temporarily, fearing that a solo man-eater might be on the loose. Shark researchers have dismissed the Jaws theory but local councillors, fearing loss of tourist revenue, are demanding that they come up with an answer to the shark problem.
The surfers are philosophical. Kobus du Toit, who chases the surf around South Africa's wild coastline, said: "Everyone knows there is a shark risk but we are in greater danger of being in a car smash on the way to the beach."
The surfers know all the signs of shark activity - diving seabirds and leaping dolphins. The midwinter sardine run along the KwaZulu-Natal coast is accompanied by thousands of marine predators. Researchers admit that a series of shark attacks during the winter months is unusual, but they are unanimous in dismissing the theory that a lone, marauding predator is responsible for all the attacks. The incidents have been some distance apart and researchers say that it is clear that different species of shark have been involved.
South Africa's coastline is usually fourth on the list of shark attack "black spots" - after America, Australia and Brazil - according to statistics provided by the International Shark Attack File at the University of Florida. Most attacks are during the summer months when the beaches are thronged with people, so the fact that the latest spate has occurred in the winter when the sea temperatures are low is causing concern.
Leonard Compagno, the director of the Shark Research Centre in Cape Town, pointed out that modern, high-tech clothing and equipment enables far more people, especially divers and surfers, to enjoy the sea during winter.
The main attacker - the great white - is a protected species in South African waters. Several small companies now offer tourists boat rides into shark-infested Cape waters. Thrill-seekers can enter a submerged cage while the sharks are attracted by meat and blood dumped into the water. Scientists have criticised some of these operations as "an accident waiting to happen".
January 1998: [Connected] Electronic pulse to deter shark attacks
© Copyright Telegraph Group Limited 1998.