Friday, October 07, 2005

Making beaches safer for both humans and sharks

In October 2003, two marine biologists watched transfixed as a huge Great White shark cruised past their boat towards a "picture-postcard beach packed with playing children, fussing mothers and bouncing beach balls".The shark swam into water less than 2m deep, its massive belly scraping the sandy bottom. But it ignored the bathers in the shallow surf and moved off.When the biologists visited the same site - a popular beach which they have not identified other than calling it "Shark Bay" on the south-western Cape coast - the next day, they found three more Great Whites swimming within 50m of the same beach.

And as their research progressed over the next few months, they recorded an astonishing average of more than three of these sharks per nautical mile of coastline.Then, one day in January, the sightings abruptly stopped.In a fascinating article in the September issue of Africa Geographic, scientists Michael C Scholl and Thomas P Peschak speculate about the sharks' behaviour, and wonder whether they have found one of its breeding sites.

Sex between Great Whites has never been observed, and no mating ground for the species has been identified anywhere in the world.Peschak and Scholl have now started using kayaks, among other equipment, to track the sharks in this area, observe their behaviour and perhaps confirm their initial scientific speculation."Finding out what Great Whites are doing so close to shore will be the first step in understanding and preventing shark attacks," they write."It's not just about learning more about their behaviour and ecology, it's about making the ocean a safer place - for humans and for sharks."


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