Monday, August 01, 2005

Reality TV pushes the limit even further

REALITY television has sunk to new depths by dangling celebrities in front of the world’s most fearsome predator, marine campaigners say.

Ruby Wax and Richard E. Grant will be among the celebrities lowered in a cage into the waters of Shark Alley, off the coast of South Africa, while a noxious mix of blood and fish is used to lure the residents.

But environmental groups have condemned ITV1’s Celebrity Shark Bait, arguing that the booming tourist trade in “cage diving” has humiliated dangerous animals and was responsible for an increase in shark attacks.

Each year thousands of British thrill-seekers flock to Shark Alley, a stretch of ocean 60 miles south of Cape Town, where they pay £100 for an encounter with a great white.

Divers are lowered in metal cages while tour operators entice the creatures with “chum”, a soup of blood, mashed pilchards and sardines.

Safety fears increased last year after an 18ft (5.5m) great white bit into the bars of the half-submerged cage containing Mark Currie, of Barrow-in-Furness, Cumbria. The boat’s captain pulled Mr Currie out of the water before the shark could inflict further damage.

“Chumming” is conditioning sharks to come closer to the beach, contributing to an increase in attacks, campaigners say. Henri Murray, a 22-year-old medical student spear- fishing off the Cape Town coast, was killed by a 16ft great white in June.

Craig Bovim, of the Shark Concern Group, said: “It is not a good idea for humans to taunt an apex predator by throwing food and blood into the water. It is no surprise that human interaction is leading to more attacks.” Mr Bovim, who survived an attack three years ago while crayfishing, is calling for a moratorium on cage diving. He criticised ITV, asking: “Where is the respect for a protected species?”

Ali Hood, director of Britain’s Shark Trust, said that cage diving could serve to educate the public, but be both educational while allowing eco-tourists to see a great white up close. But he condemned ITV for “exploiting white sharks in a battle for ratings”.

ITV said that it had taken stringent measures to protect the wellbeing of both people and animals. It used a local operator that adhered strictly to the Marine and Coastal Management code designed to protect great white sharks.

It added: “Shark Alley is a natural, existing feeding ground for the sharks. The cages used are carefully designed to ensure the sharks are not harmed.”

The one-hour special will be broadcast this month on the 30th anniversary of the film Jaws.


There are 454 species of shark

100 million are caught each year, while fewer than 10 human beings are killed by sharks

The great white can grow to 22ft, weigh more than 4,500lb and swim at up to 43 mph

The great white, bull and tiger sharks are responsible for most attacks

Global attacks are increasing, with 109 reported last year

The great white is protected in South Africa, Australia and California


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