Environmental disaster looming off SA coast

There’s an environmental disaster looming off the South African coast (you probably got that from the title of the post, to be fair).

But don’t worry. I have a plan to sort it all out.

First off though, some background. Picture this scene, if you will:

This site was home to an exceptionally large group of sevengill sharks. Divers could dive with up to 70 sharks on a single hour-long dive – no other place in the world had this many broadnose sevengill sharks in one place.

I’m really not into sharks or diving, but I do recognise the importance of biodiversity and the amazing fascination of a pristine location to view, research and interact with wildlife.

That should be protected.

But there is trouble in paradise. Something has changed:

The change was noted with the discovery of several dead sevengill sharks by scuba divers from a popular dive site inside the Table Mountain National Park marine protected area.

Yes, you read that correctly. This unique site – this protected site – for sevengills (as those of us in the know call them) has been desecrated.

This is clearly unacceptable.

Initially, the cause of death remained a mystery because no dead sharks were recovered for examination. Initially fingers were pointed to humans.

And isn’t this always the case? We are a truly appalling species, with ne’er a thought for the flora and fauna with whom we share our planet.

We’re so very destructive. It’s time to buck this trend.

Of course, once a bit of research was done, actually it turned out that it wasn’t humans at all, but Killer Whales that were taking out these sharks (I mean, the clue’s in the name, guys), tearing them apart solely for their livers:

There were distinct bite marks on the pectoral fins of the dead sharks. These evenly spaced, circular tooth impressions were identified as most likely being from a “flat-toothed” killer whale, which is rare in coastal waters. There were no bites anywhere else on the body, indicating that the killer whale (or whales) had likely pulled on the pectoral fins to open up the body cavity, to remove the liver.

When humans do this: take one part of a shark’s body and dump the rest, there’s outrage. And so should there be in these cases too.

It should be noted that these monochromatic bastards hunt dolphins too. Back in 2010, I witnessed sheer terror in a pod of dolphins as the killer orca followed them into the shallows near Simonstown. This pursuit wasn’t accidental. It was clearly done on porpoise. It was a horrifying sight.


The unique shark – and dolphin, and seal – population of False Bay is being decimated and no-one is doing anything about it.

Until now.

Because if the authorities are going to drag their feet over some sort of response to this awful slaughter, then us mere citizens must step up to the metaphorical plate.

That’s why I’ve been in touch with a number of whaling companies in Japan and Norway, and I’m happy to report that there’s definitely some good interest in coming down and spending a few weeks in the sunny Cape protecting our unique marine habitats.
Let’s face it, it’s cold up North at this time of year and when one can bring one’s crew out on a jolly to such a beautiful place and earn brownie points from the local population by picking off a couple of destructive predators, you’re not going to look a gift horse in the mouth, are you?

Look, it’s early days because both Captain Nordstrom and Mr Yashimato are still unsure about how they’re going to get their boats across the Atlantic and Indian Oceans respectively, but I’m confident that we can work something out and knock off these troublesome black and white twats and save our False Bay sharks before it’s all too late.

Watch this space.

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.

Death By Life

Late nights, disturbed sleep, early mornings. It all adds up and suddenly I realise again that I’m not getting any younger.


We spent the afternoon at a wedding overlooking Simonstown, a few miles down the coast from Kalk Bay where we partied until late last night.
False Bay is beautiful, but I don’t want to go back there until I’ve properly recovered.

Shark Spotter flags and what they mean

After yesterday’s shark attack in Fishhoek, I listened to a woman who rang into a local radio station saying that she was confused about the flag system used on the beaches of False Bay to warn of shark activity and how she had to look at the signs each time she went to the beach.
“Red doesn’t mean danger,” she complained, amply demonstrating her confusion for the listeners.

It seems that some (re)education is required.
So what exactly do the four flags used by the Shark Spotters programme mean?

Green flag: We can see that there are no sharks around.
Black flag:  We can’t see if there are any sharks around or not.
Red flag: We have recently (ie. within the last 2 hours) spotted a shark.
White flag (and SIREN SOUNDED *hint hint*): There is a shark. Leave the water immediately.

It’s not so difficult really, is it? Especially since this helpful explanation is posted on and around all the local beaches:

As it says on the signs above (and as common sense would surely dictate) – swimming in the ocean is at your own risk. But why not lessen that risk by actually listening to these guys when they tell you to get out (or not to get in)?

False Bay view

Some weeks there are too many pictures on this blog. But this hasn’t been one of those weeks and there are words everywhere.
It’s time to remedy that situation.

I grabbed this image from the upper slopes of the Groot Constantia Wine Estate on the evening that my boy was meeting Father Christmas and as the sun set across the Cape Flats.

It seems that I still have my fascination with dead trees.
I’m not sure that this is a good thing.