Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Sharks are a part of life...near beaches.

BUFFALO City’s chief lifeguard, Duncan Boyd, has warned beach-goers to be on their guard after two large sharks – one “as big as a car” – were spotted in the surf off East London this week.
This comes as winter begins and millions of sardines travel up the coast with sharks, whales and dolphins in their wake.

Increased numbers of great white sharks were also reported by the NSRI off Plettenberg Bay within the last two weeks.

The first sighting off East London was on Wednesday at Eastern Beach when an experienced surfer saw “a shark as big as a car” in the same wave that he was about to surf.

It sent him dashing for dry land after he and the only other surfer there decided not to venture into the water as a result.

The next day a helicopter pilot flying over Nahoon River mouth spotted a shark in the sea, according to Boyd.

The pilot began circling in an attempt to warn surfers below him that a particularly large predator was in their midst.

“The pilot managed to signal the surfers and they got out of the water as soon as they realised something was wrong.”

Boyd, who is responsible for the bathing public’s safety, felt the beaches should have been closed immediately after the sightings and urged members of the public to report any sharks to the authorities as soon as possible.

“Someone could get bitten or even killed if big sharks are seen and not reported,” he said.
After the last fatal shark attack off East London – at Gonubie Point – in 1998, bathers and surfers were a lot more cautious and reported sightings, he said.

“But now it looks like people have forgotten how serious this is and I hope it will not take another wake-up call for them to realise this again.”

Buffalo City Municipality amenities manager Willie Maritz acknowledged that the period between May to July was “notorious for incidents” because of the sardine run.

But he said it would not be practical to close the beaches every time a shark was seen.

“Finding sharks when you go into the sea is like finding snakes when you go into a forest. You must expect that they will be there.

“Sharks are regularly sighted off our shore, but most are harmless ragged-toothed sharks.”
He said the beaches would only be closed if the authorities were “sure the shark is either a great white or another large predator that puts our bathers at risk”.

East London NSRI station manager Geoff McGregor confirmed that small shoals of sardines had been spotted.

“By the end of May the main schools should be passing by.”

In Cape Town, after the increasing number of shark attacks in recent years, shark spotters have been employed to survey the bathing and surfing waters.

Maritz said that East London has a totally different marine environment to Cape Town, which has huge seal colonies and many more great whites living in its waters.

Fourteen people have been attacked along the East London coast since 1990, according to Natal Sharks Board records.

Two attacks were fatal, one was serious and the rest were minor. Great white sharks (C.carcharias) were believed to be responsible for six of the attacks and Zambezi or bull sharks (C.taurus) for another five attacks.

Most of these attacks took place within seven to 200 metres off the shore.


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