Read this, chum…

No-one can deny that the latest fatal shark attack in False Bay was a tragic event. David Lilienveld, a 20 year old body-boarder from Camps Bay who had represented South Africa in the sport, died after he was attacked at “Caves”, a popular surfing spot at Kogel Bay between Gordon’s Bay and Rooiels.

What’s also tragic is the sudden outpouring of pseudo-expert opinions, many blaming the Ocearch shark project which was taking place in False Bay at the time, for the attack. Of course, understandably, emotions were running high due to the incident yesterday and the controversial, if often over-exaggerated, reports of Ocearch “chumming” the water to attract sharks to tag offered a convenient scapegoat. These accusations were further supported by the director of Biodiversity and Coastal Research, Alan Boyd immediately cancelling Ocearch’s research permit when he heard about the attack.

Now, 24 hours on from the attack, the City of Cape Town has released a report and review of the events yesterday. It’s calm, detailed, factual and rational. Everyone should read it. Especially this bit:

The following critical point needs to be stated. During the attack the sharks dorsal fin broke the surface (as reported by the eye witness Mr Marais). If this shark had been one of the tagged sharks, the satellite transmitter would have given off a signal that would have been recorded on the system and located the shark at Kogel Bay. On assessing the data, no satellite records exist for that area. Two of the sharks tagged in False Bay have given off signals and were located in the Macassar/Strandfontein area shortly before the attack. The lack of satellite signal is clear information that the shark involved in the attack is not one of the sharks tagged by the Ocearch Research Programme.

Further, with regard to public speculation of the role of chum, the following should be noted. White sharks occur in False Bay in healthy numbers throughout the year. The small and limited chumming by Ocearch would not have attracted additional sharks to False Bay as the amount of chum used is insignificant in comparison to natural chum sources in the bay including the natural chum slick emanating from Seal Island, fishing activities in False Bay, by-products from Kalk Bay harbour as well as the small and immaterial chumming by permitted cage divers. Furthermore, the Ocearch Programme operated in False Bay at Seal Island on Sunday and Monday. The wind direction has been strong south east throughout the week. Any residual chum from their activities would have dissipated within hours and, due to the wind direction, moved from the island in an opposite direction to that of Kogel Bay.

As a result, there is no evidence or reason to suggest that the tagging of four White Sharks over a period of 24 hours from Sunday 15 April to Monday 16 April, in False Bay, by the Ocearch Programme had any role to play in the tragic events that occurred at Caves.

Although the City has, and continues to have, no role in the Ocearch Programme, as well as not feeling that it is appropriate, or required, to defend or support the programme, it holds the view that it is essential that the correct and factual information be provided to the public. Public and media speculation linking the two unrelated activities is uninformed and misleading. 

Highlighting is mine.

There’s more detail in the report as to why the City has (independently)  reached this conclusion, but I applaud them for actually taking the time and effort to put that last paragraph in.

The report also answers several of the questions asked by ZigZag’s Anton Louw in an obviously personal column “Ocearch and the Kogel Baai attack – Searching for answers, finding few” published overnight. There are a few questions still outstanding though, including this one (on the practice of chumming):

Why are almost all the scientists and researchers lined up on the one side of the fence, and the laymen on the other?

When tragic events like this occur, people look for any reason that can explain things. In this case, Chris Fischer’s methods and Alan Boyd’s go-ahead had already raised the ire of the layperson community well before yesterday’s incident. But that ire was based upon misinformation and exaggerated facts (see also: fracking). Do these people really think that the director of Biodiversity and Coastal Research just signed off that research request without some degree of forethought?
Sadly, his kneejerk reaction yesterday in cancelling, instead of simply postponing, Fischer’s permit will lead many to think he did.
And ironically, because of his actions, we will now know less about the behaviour of great white sharks in False Bay; information that could potentially assist in preventing further attacks of this nature.

All in all, it’s another lesson that sometimes bad things happen for no reason. And also that looking at factual information – especially independently reviewed factual information – is infinitely more sensible that leaping to emotional and incorrect conclusions.

2 thoughts on “Read this, chum…

  1. Brian Micklethwait > Thanks Brian. I had thought about that a lot and I’ve altered it now. It was a horrible sentence – triple negative or something – hugely clumsy.
    You were the only one of over 1,600 readers to point it out. I thought I’d got away with it – or maybe that I’d even got it right.

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