Sharks gonna shark

Increased shark activity is expected through spring into summer say the City of Cape Town. The primary reasoning behind this increased shark activity is that sharks are more active during these periods of the year.

I know. I was also amazed.

Sharks are generally pretty good neighbours. Since I have lived here, there have only been three or four fatal attacks in and around Cape Town, and notably, every single one of them has been in the sea: an area which – as a human – is actually wholly avoidable if you should so choose. Although the sample size is tiny, I have extrapolated LCHF-style and worked out that you can probably evade a fatal shark attack by not going in the sea – no matter what sort of stunts the sharks might try to pull.


But if you are determined to go into the water, then the City has helpfully published seventeen ‘general shark safety tips’ to reduce your risk of being eaten. These include (but are not limited to):

“not swimming if you are bleeding”,
“not swimming, surfing or surf-skiing if there has been a whale stranding nearby” and
“paying attention to any shark signage on beaches”

That last one makes good sense, but one can’t help but wonder that, given the alleged intelligence of the Great White, they might not use it to their advantage. I’d therefore be immediately suspicious of paying any attention to any shark signage reading:

“Come on in. The water is lovely. And absolutely no sharks have been sighted here. Ever. Seriously. Go on – have a swim!” or
“Please ensure that you bathe thoroughly in Braai Sous before entering the water. Nothing too spicy. Thanks.”

or similar. That looks iffy.

If you want to read more on sharks, shark-spotting, shark safety and shtuff like that, have a look at the City’s press release or visit the sharkspotters website.

Above, the infamous Headington Shark.

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.

More Logic From Lewis

We’re not huge fans of the self-titled “Human Polar Bear”, Lewis Pugh, here at 6000 miles… as you may remember from such posts as Do Some Fracking Reading from earlier this year. Pugh’s tactics to get people onto his side rely on emotion and irrationality rather than any sort of logic – which is an unnecessarily juvenile and unhelpful approach to what are (or should be) important debates.

Well, now he’s back with a corker of a tweet from this morning:

Cue over 40 sycophantic retweets and you can almost imagine people reading it and thinking “By golly, he’s correct! People die on the roads and they never shut them down for 5 days! I must forward this to all my friends and followers immediately.”

But for those who can manage to get past the kneejerk reaction and who choose to analyse further, what is it that Lewis actually saying here? It seems to me that he is irritated by the dichotomous reactions to the shark attack in Fishhoek last week and the horrendous statistics of fatalities on our local roads. In my mind, there’s absolutely no reason that these two completely unlinked things should be treated in the same manner, but Lewis obviously disagrees.

So what exactly does he suggest? Well, based on the tweet above, I guess it’s one of two things: either he wants Fishhoek beach reopened or he wants the RSA roads closed for 5 days.

Of course, choosing to close down the entire road network of a country is not a decision to be taken lightly. The effect on the economy of even a minor early morning fender bender on Hospital Bend and the subsequent delays is often quoted as running into six figures. And that’s just one road, in one city, for just one hour.
Can you even begin to imagine the impact of shutting every road in the entire country down for five days?

According to this page, the network of roads in South Africa amounts to a staggering total of 755,000 kilometres. And Lewis wants all of that shut down for 5 days?

Does Mr Pugh perhaps have shares in the local traffic cone industry?

That’s not going to work.
Better then that we find an alternative, and of course, Lewis has that covered: let’s reopen Fishhoek beach.

This is an undoubtedly brilliant plan, because not only is it easier to do than closing three-quarters of a million kilometres of roads, but it also uses fewer traffic cones and there’s obviously nothing that could assist Cape Town’s vital tourism industry more than the city being labelled as the Shark Attack Capital Of The World. People will flock from all over the planet to swim in our waters and enjoy traumatic amputations of their lower limbs or – if they choose to take the five star package – death, at the hands of the super-predators in our waters.
Those ridiculing the buffoonery of Michael Cohen will have to SIT DOWN, because purposefully wading out into shark-infested waters is the new black, according to Lewis.

Does Mr Pugh perhaps have shares in the local private medical industry?

Because I’m struggling to see any benefit to anyone else in putting people at great risk of getting attacked by the obviously hungry great whites in False Bay. Perhaps Lewis, with his impeccable aquatic pedigree, would like to be the first to go for a dip beyond the breakers. Shall we get the air ambulance ready, Lewis, since you’ve already closed all the roads?

And as an aside, even while I’m writing this:

Is there a way that we could reduce the number of people killed on our local roads? Is there a better way to symbiotically manage human/shark interactions off our coastline? I guess that the answer to both of these questions is “possibly” – maybe even “probably”.
But despite deciding to comment on these issues Lewis Pugh once again offers nothing realistic, sensible or helpful to the debate.

We warned you

Remember this – the post where we told you that the Daily Mail was horrendously inaccurate in its description of the fatal shark attack in Fishhoek back in January 2010? (If you haven’t read it yet, you really should.)

Well, they’re at it again over the latest shark attack at the same beach. And yes, I assure you that it is the same beach. This despite their highlighting of Hout Bay as being where the attack took place – note the words “Hout” and “Bay” there in the circle:

It’s an easy and understandable mistake  to make though. After all, when you type “Clovelly Beach” into Google Maps, it actually takes you immediately to Hout Bay, 25 km away from “Clovelly Beach” and on the Atlantic Seaboard, rather than to “Clovelly Beach” in Fishhoek on False Bay.

Wait. No. It doesn’t do that at all.

I guess that we should congratulate them on correctly identifying South Africa though, even though there is a big hint in the name.

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)?