Monday, July 31, 2006

Survivor of shark attack tells his story!

The Ulster diver who survived a shark attack in Western Australia says he still gets scared when he sees sharks on TV.

Six months after his terrifying ordeal and Brian (Bernie) Williams, whose family emigrated from Ulster 30 years ago, finds wildlife programmes bring those spine-chilling moments flooding back.
Amazingly, Brian suffered only lacerations when the 3.5 metre Great White shark bit into his left arm, dragged him through the water and tried to take a second bite.

The 46-year-old electrician had to wrench his arm free and flee to a seabed crevice until he was rescued.

Since then, Perth's winter weather conditions have prevented the father-of-three from diving to date, but when he does get back in next summer Brian says he will definitely be "looking over his shoulder".

He said: "I had to stay out of the water for about eight weeks just because of bandages and everything else. I went for a bit of a swim, but it was sort of towards the end of summer over here and the weather goes a bit foul and the water gets a bit churned up so it wasn't for very long. The weather really hasn't been pleasant enough to go out and dive so it will probably be next summer before I am back in.

"I wouldn't say I was confident of going back. It's probably still going to be a bit hairy for a while. I'll definitely be looking over my shoulder. I hope there are no issues there, but it's like everything else, if I'm just not comfortable or it starts to get a bit worrying then maybe I'll have to take up golf or something like that."

Asked by the Belfast Telegraph if he still suffers nightmares, Brian said: "Not so much nightmares, but every time we watch one of those wildlife programmes and see the sharks swimming around it brings back a few memories."

In the months following the traumatic attack Brian has had plastic surgery on his wound, but has not needed further treatment for the past month.

He recalled: "It's teeth slid up the side of the bone, chipped the bone and just missed the artery and the nerve buckle but it's gone in quite deep. So I've got a scar about 100mm or 4ins long - very surgical, very clean cut. It went straight in and luckily when I pulled my arm out it came straight out. It chipped a little bit of the bone.

"Like I said, luckily it missed most of the nerve buckles so there was no permanent damage. The arm itself round the scarring is still pretty numb, but I've been told that the feeling will come back over a number of years.

"Infection, apparently, is quite common on these things and also the impact which forces the water into the wound can cause a bit of grief, so they kept me in hospital for a while just to make sure there wasn't any bleeding.

"Over about two or three months I had to go back reasonably often just for them to have a look at me and make sure nothing was causing me any problems, but bar being very sore it wasn't really incapacitating.

"The only thing now they are telling me is that there is always a possibility there may be a bit of damage or a bit of a patch that may raise its head. They told me if there are any issues to go back, but probably the last time I went back would be at least a month ago and they sort of signed everything off and said 'yes it's fine, just keep an eye on it'. Hopefully everything will just fix itself up."

Brian was back at work within a fortnight and in the six months since his shocking attack he has become something of a local celebrity.

He added: "The old 15 minutes of fame certainly was going there for a while.

"The electrical company I work for have a section of it like a sheet metal form shop and every now and then they seem obligated to stick up a set of sharks teeth.

"I have had a few shark toys sent to me, but it's all in good humour.

"People you don't see that often always ask you how you've recovered and for a while there it was fairly intense, but after about four or five weeks it seemed to have died a natural death.

"At this stage it is more on the novelty side of things and it is a good story to tell the kids.

"With all the articles and all the newspapers my wife got plenty of cuttings. She took plenty off the net and every now and then, if I need a reminder, it's just a matter of flicking through all those. It's something to show the kids. Although they all know what happened, I think they were too young to realise the impact."

Sunday, July 30, 2006

Marine wildlife attracts sharks in Britain's waters!

Warmer sea temperatures are attracting a record number and range of exotic sea life to Britain's coastline.

Global warming and hotter summers mean some unusual species are appearing in Britain's traditionally colder waters, according to leading scientists. Dr Simon Vauxhall, a lecturer in oceanography at the University of Southampton, said: "We are seeing a pattern of the typical fish species, such as cod and haddock, exiting the warmer waters and being replaced by more unusual species.

"This is occurring for two reasons; one, generally ocean temperatures have been rising. This is largely down to the effect of global warming. Second, this summer has been just a particularly warm summer in itself. The warm surface water heated by the sun attracts these new species."
Reported sightings of a great white shark and rare mako sharks are one indicator that Britain's coastal wildlife is becoming more varied. A BBC1 documentary, Sharks - Great Whites in Great Britain?, to be broadcast tonight, will examine evidence that the man-eaters are prowling British waters.

Cornish residents were astonished last week to spot 19 sunfish in just two hours. The carnivore can weigh in at two tonnes, exceed three metres in length and is usually found in tropical or sub-tropical seas.

Government figures show British sea temperatures rising gradually over the past 70 to 100 years, with a substantial increase over the past 20 years.

Scientists say as the temperature of British coastal waters rises, British fish are in increasing competition with their more exotic foreign cousins, but experts say warmer temperatures lead to more algae, or more fish food overall.

Dr Boris Kelly-Gerryn, a marine scientist at the National Oceanographic Centre, added: "When temperatures rise it improves the conditions in which algae grow, so it is likely that more food allows species that are moving northwards from the south to have enough to survive in British waters."


Can weigh up to two tonnes, grow to three metres and is the world's largest bony fish. Normally found in South America

SHORTFIN MAKO SHARK Isurus oxyrinchus

Named after the Maori for 'man eater', it feeds on other sharks and porpoises and is seldom found in temperatures below 16c

SLIPPER LOBSTER Scyllarus arctus

This clawless crustacean found in warm waters can grow to 50cm. Three have been found off Cornwall since 2002

GREAT WHITE SHARK Carcharodon carcharias

With up to 3,000 teeth, the great white swallows its food whole. Can grow to 7m in length. Seen off southern coast of England

BARRACUDA Sphyraenidae sphyraenus

Known to attack humans, can grow to two metres and weigh 45kg. One was caught off the south coast two years ago

SNAPPING SHRIMP Alpheus heterochaelis

Known as 'underwater urbanites' because they live in colonies. They are tropical natives but are now on Britain's coastline

Saturday, July 29, 2006

Lifeguard was lucky to escape shark!

A Fish Hoek lifeguard escaped unhurt when a shark bit his surf-ski on Friday.

The national sea rescue institute's Simonstown station commander, Darren Zimmerman, said Lyle Maasdorp, 19, was brought to shore by a fellow surf-skier.

Allison Kock of the shark-working group interviewed Lyle and investigated the bite marks on the surf-ski and estimated that the shark was a great white, approximately 3.5m to 4m in length.

The NSRI appealed to members of the public to be aware that the incident had taken place and that bathers, surfers and paddlers in the area should exercise caution.

Said Zimmerman: "According to Lyle he and four fellow surf-skiers, all crew members of Fish Hoek lifesaving club, were paddling past Fish Hoek Point at Sunny Cove after launching from Fish Hoek to paddle to Simonstown about 10 minutes earlier.

"Lyle said he felt the back of his surf-ski lifting out of the water and he heard a crunching sound.
"He fell off his surf-ski and realised it was a shark when his hand landed on the sharks back.
"He stayed with his surf-ski and then abandoned it after a fellow paddler helped him onto the back of his surf-ski and paddled him to rocks where they got out of the water."

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Surfers are on shark alert!

The slightly nervous trio who joined pilot Dave Austin on Monday included Protus, a tour operator in training, Martin Delport, a local hotel owner and myself. Protus was a first-time flyer, but he put on a brave face. As we took off over Stanford, I saw him gripping the seatbelt tightly, but he soon relaxed in Dave's capable hands as we headed towards the bay.

The count began at Gansbaai harbour. We spotted eight whales between Gansbaai and De Kelders, as well as a large pod of dolphins frolicking close to shore.

Everybody shouted out the number of whales that could be seen from the air, and keeping score became a bit of a challenge. Luckily, Dave seems to be used to over-excited, slightly unruly passengers and kept a level head, banking the aircraft to make sure we were correct on every tally.

The number of whales spotted along Die Plaat skyrocketed to a whopping 32, mostly occurring in pairs or small pods of up to four adults. No newborns could be seen this week, but this might be because the water was a bit murky after the rains, and the pods close to shore were stirring up the silt with all their antics. Another five whales, mostly solitary males, were noticed between the lagoon mouth and Hermanus Old Harbour.

This brings the total this week to a new season high of 45 whales. The surprise of the day, however, was a huge shark lying like a German U-boat just offshore between the Mossel River mouth and Voëlklip beach. Martin spotted the 3 m giant and at first thought it to be another whale.
Dave shouted, “It's a Great White”, and everybody turned in horror to watch three surfers catching a wave not far from the shark. Dave immediately phoned his brother Evan to put the word out to the authorities, so that the unsuspecting surfers could be warned of the danger. According to Dave, this is the first time that he has seen a shark so close to a beach.

All too soon we were heading back to the airstrip, and as we touched down for a perfect landing, I was still in awe of the spectacle of migrating marine mammals. This experience left me with a realisation of how fortunate we are to have all this right on our doorstep.

· Last year's weekly whale watch (WWW) peaked at a whopping 140 whales spotted in one count. The Hermanus Times weekly aerial count is courtesy of African Wings and any member of the public who counts more than 150 whales for the WWW will receive that flight for free. Otherwise, a discounted rate of R300 per person is available to anyone who wishes to fly with the Hermanus Times. For more information on the WWW or about other trips offered by African Wings, phone Evan on 082 555 7605.

Sunday, July 23, 2006

Great white shark sighting

A shark sighting has prompted Golden Gate National Recreation Area officials to post notices at Stinson Beach.

A great white shark was spotted at 6:30 p.m. Thursday about 2.5 miles off shore near the Bolinas Lagoon, park spokesman Michael Feinstein said.

Stinson Beach lifeguard Jeremy Williams said the shark appeared to be a 12-foot-long great white.

The sighting shouldn't be a source of major concern to visitors, Williams said. Sharks are always present in the ocean, and this one was fairly far from shore.

"They're here - it just so happens this one was spotted," he said.

The notices will stay up for five days. If another sighting is reported, or if a shark appears in the water closer to shore, officials could temporarily close the beach.

There have been 10 confirmed shark attacks off the coast of Marin since 1926, according to the International Shark Attack File administered by the American Elasmobranch Society and the Florida Museum of Natural History. None of the attacks were fatal.

A shark was sighted near the beach last month by surfer Lee Fontan, who was attacked off Bolinas in 2002 when a 12- to 14-foot-long great white bit him on the left side, causing leg and torso wounds that required 100 stitches to close.

In 1998, Jonathan Kathrein of San Rafael was attacked in shallow water at Stinson Beach. His wounds required 200 stitches.

More than two dozen shark attacks have been logged in the notorious "red triangle" - bounded by the Farallones, Tomales Point and Monterey - since 1972, when protection laws for marine mammals were enacted. These include at least nine attacks off the Tomales Point area.
Scientists say the California seal and sea lion population has exploded since the passage of the Marine Mammal Protection Act. Sea mammals are a favorite shark prey - and surfers and abalone divers in wet suits resemble sea creatures.

About 110 shark attacks have been logged on the West Coast since the 1950s, including 11 that resulted in death.

Great white sharks get noticed!

When Gregory Skomal heard the news that a 12-foot shark forced the closure of Sagamore Beach in Bourne and Scusset Beach in Sandwich last weekend, he wasn’t surprised. Mr. Skomal, the shark expert for the state Division of Marine Fisheries, also wasn’t shocked when he learned a group of surfers in Chatham reported seeing a large shark circle and kill a seal about 70 feet from shore.

“We have a fairly sizeable population of sharks,” the Fairfield, Connecticut, native said this week. “This is a great place to study them.”From his office on Martha’s Vineyard, Mr. Skomal coordinates research efforts and logs shark sightings all over Massachusetts. He has been back in the news lately, with the shark sightings this past week—the first reported inshore sightings of the season.

He said the shark spotted at Sagamore Beach on Friday and Sunday, and which paid a visit to Scusset Beach on Saturday, was a basking shark. Basking sharks are filter feeders, not meat eaters, Mr. Skomal said; they feast on plankton. Mr. Skomal said that basking sharks are quite common in Upper Cape waters. They’re mammoth animals, growing to 30 feet or more. Although they have huge mouths, basking sharks have no teeth. Mr. Skomal said that they are dark in color; that color gets lighter on their bellies.

Their color patterns are not uniform and can sometimes be spotted. They can be a brownish-red color to a blue to a black. Their dorsal fins look triangular, like a sail, and are very large. Even with all his experience with sharks, Mr. Skomal admits that it is even hard for him sometimes to tell the difference between baskers and their notorious first cousins, the great white shark, just by looking at a dorsal fin cutting through the water. “They look a lot alike,” he said.

“When in doubt, public safety should comes first.” Just ask Judith Cox, the Bourne Recreation Department’s lifeguard coordinator, and James J. Fitzpatrick, a 19-year-old Bourne lifeguard.According to Ms. Cox, a 12-foot basking shark was spotted at Sagamore Beach at 1 PM last Friday, again at 4:30 PM, and again on Sunday. The beaches were closed both days and lifeguards cleared the water.

“I’m not too keen on letting people swim with sharks,” Ms. Cox said.Mr. Fitzpatrick, who was working at the beach on Sunday, said that a child came up to him and told him that he had seen a shark on the left side of the beach. “It came by a couple of times on Sunday,” he said. “It came across by our swim area buoys. We could see the dorsal fin and the tail fin.” Mr. Fitzpatrick is a resident of Sagamore Beach, and has worked Bourne’s beaches for four years.

He said that a basking shark was at Sagamore Beach two years ago.“The first time I saw it [Sunday], I was worried,” he said. “I didn’t know what kind of shark it was.” He said that after Ms. Cox identified the animal as a basking shark, his concerns were alleviated. He said that he even allowed people into the water up to their knees.“Whenever you see anything like that, you have to clear the water and keep everyone out until further notice,” he said.

When asked if he worried that at some point the fin he sees could belong to the basker’s cousin, Mr. Fitzpatrick took his time to answer. “I do,” he said. “Sometimes when the water warms up. Sometimes I’m afraid of a shark going astray. It does cross my mind.” Two years ago, Mr. Skomal was in Falmouth, where he tagged a great white shark that was spotted off Naushon Island. The tag fell off soonafter and, like the proverbial Captain Ahab, Mr. Skomal continues to chase the elusive white fish. “It broke my heart,” he said.

“I’m an avid gotta-find-a-white-shark guy.”Besides basking and white sharks, Mr. Skomal said there are many different sharks found in Cape waters. They are classified as either inshore or offshore sharks, and can be broken down even farther by their territory, north or south of Cape Cod.The spiny dogfish is a brown sand shark with white spots, found off the southern coast of Cape Cod and around Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket.

The spiny dogfish is on average about three feet long and is found from the spring until the fall. They are schooling sharks, that can be found in groups of hundreds or even thousands. They are recognizable by the long, very sharp, spine at the base of each dorsal fin. Mr. Skomal said that if anyone gets stuck by the spine, they could get a nasty infection.A close relative of the spiny dogfish is the smooth dogfish, also found inshore, in the Cape’s southern waters.

This shark is usually around four feet long when found on the sandbars around Cape Cod between May and October. Mr. Skomal said that the sharks have “cat-like eyes” and two dorsal fins of similar size. They are a small gray species, with a white underbelly.He said that both the spiny and the smooth dogfish, although found inshore, are generally only seen when caught by surf and blue fisherman. Mr. Skomal said that sometimes the dogfish wash up on shore and that they’re not very big in girth. They have blunt molar-like teeth.

A shark not quite as common as the dogfish, the brown shark, is also found close to shore, off the southern coast of Cape Cod. The brown shark is a lot bigger than the dogfish at eight to 8 1/2 feet. They can weight upward of 200 pounds and have sharp teeth. They generally come to the Cape between June and September and are typically not seen by beachgoers. They have much more girth than the dogfish and are generally only seen when caught by surf fisherman.

Their first dorsal fin is much bigger than their second, and they are not encountered in Cape Cod Bay.Another larger shark found inshore on Cape Cod is the sand tiger shark. According to Mr. Skomal, the New England aquarium has several sand tiger sharks for their ferocious looks and their mild-mannered temperament. “These will be encountered in all Massachusetts State waters,” Mr. Skomal said. He added that they are called benthic, or bottom feeders; they rarely surface at beaches. Mr. Skomal said that the sand tiger is not a dangerous species, despite its very sharp teeth that jut from its mouth.

He said that they “don’t typically associate near people.” The sand tigers found off Cape Cod are mostly juvenile and are typically less than four feet in length but they can be between five and eight feet. They have two dorsal fins that are the same size and are of brown, tan, or copper color with light blotches and black spots. He said that they are relatively rare and are “not prowling along beaches.”As for great whites, Mr. Skomal said that they are elusive creatures.

He said they are found inshore and offshore, but stick to no defined pattern. “For years I’ve been trying to find them,” he said. “And I’m looking...It’s slim.”He said the shark that killed the seal in Chatham last weekend was a white shark. The surfers and beachgoers believed the shark to be a basker until it attacked, cutting the seal in half. As the seal’s blood turned the surrounding water red, the shark disappeared followed by the seal’s body.Mr. Skomal said that people should be cautious when they see a dorsal fin. “Public safety comes first,” he said.

However, he said that people have a better chance of getting in a car accident on the way to the beach than getting attacked by a shark. The last fatal shark attack on Cape Cod occurred in 1936 when a child was attacked in Buzzards Bay, off of Mattapoisett, and it involved a white shark. There are only three documented cases of shark attacks on the Cape. “We get a few reports of big sharks every year,” he said. According to Mr. Skomal, the media makes people pay attention. Generally there are about six calls per year. “We encourage folks to call us.”The offshore waters of Cape Cod are dominated by blue sharks, mako sharks, and thresher sharks, Mr. Skomal said.

He said that, to a lesser extent, hammerheads and tiger shark have a presence offshore. He added that all have teeth and are large. They are all fish eaters.“They are here to feed or reproduce,” Mr. Skomal said.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

The presence of a great white sharks hunting close to swimmers...a disturbing thought!

On Saturday, Paul Bremser was at Chatham's Lighthouse Beach preparing to go surfing. He had one leg into his wetsuit when he heard someone yell, ''Shark!''

He looked up to see a big fin circling a seal, just beyond the breakers about 75 feet away.

A great white shark swims in the Monterey Bay Aquarium in Monterey, Calif., in late September 2004. (Associated Press photo)

''After it came around in a full circle, the shark came off from the back side and cut him in half with one bite,'' said Bremser, a commercial fishermen with 28 years of experience fishing out of Chatham. The seal tried to swim away as a pool of blood spread around it. The shark went down, then the seal dropped out of sight.

''It's a classic, textbook, attack pattern for a great white,'' said Greg Skomal, shark expert for the state Division of Marine Fisheries.

The sight of a great white shark hunting down seals among swimmers and surfers is not comforting and could be the start of a disturbing trend.

In the 1970s, fewer than 20 gray seals frequented the waters of southern New England.

Since then, with marine mammal protection regulations in place, the seal population has exploded to about 6,000 on the Monomoy islands, making it home to one of the largest seal colonies in New England.

Lighthouse Beach is just a couple of miles from Monomoy.

''With an increasing seal population, in all likelihood we may see a redistribution of white sharks to target that,'' Skomal said.

Two years ago, Skomal tagged a 14-foot, 1,700-pound great white that was trapped in a shallow lagoon and coastal waters off Naushon Island for two weeks.


Great white sharks are the top predators of the sea. Their favorite prey is sea mammals, especially sea lions and seals. The only animals to attack great white sharks are other great whites and orcas.

Great whites can grow nearly 20 feet long and weigh up to 5,000 pounds. The average length is 10 to 15 feet.

Their skeletons are composed of cartilage. They are partially warm-blooded.

The sharks are highly migratory, moving over a vast area. They tend to be isolated from one another. Great white sharks live in almost all the cold or temperate waters of the planet, although they are rare off the New England coast.

Life span: Known to be 15 to 20 years, although scientists speculate they could live 30 to 40 years.
Appearance: Has a large conical-shaped snout, with same-size upper and lower lobes on its tail fin. Pale to dark gray, with a white belly.

But, he noted, great whites are still extremely rare in our waters. No great white has ever been hooked in the 19 years of the Martha's Vineyard shark fishing tournament, with more than 200 vessels participating each year. And Skomal has been trying in vain for two years to find another great white to tag, after the tag fell off the Naushon beast soon after it was freed.

In hundreds of years, Massachusetts has had only three possible attacks by great whites, the last one in 1938 in Buzzards Bay.

''You don't have very high attacks on people, even in South Africa (where there are far more sharks),'' Skomal said.

Yesterday, the news of the shark attack was all over Lighthouse Beach, but it didn't faze any of the beachgoers.

A half-dozen seals popped their heads up near swimmers yesterday.

Donna Wilcock stood knee-deep in the water on a sandbar as her 9-year-old daughter, Ashley, waded back to her through the small breakers. She had heard about the shark, but didn't tell her daughter.

''She would have felt sorry for the seal,'' she said. Wilcock summers in Chatham, but lives in Virginia and sometimes vacations in Florida where sharks and shark attacks are more common.
Saturday's seal attack occurred near a remote section of the beach about a half-mile away, and Wilcock didn't think twice about letting her daughter swim.

Chatham Town Administrator William Hinchey said the town had increased patrols on land and sea following the incident Saturday, but had seen no evidence of sharks in the area. He said the town would continue beefed-up patrolling into the near future.

Skomal ruled out seal eaters like the Greenland shark, which prefers deeper, colder waters far offshore, and the tiger shark, a tropical species found 60 miles or more out in the warmer waters of the Gulf Stream.

He said he would be coming to Chatham to look for the shark and tag it.

Great white shark provides info!

A female great white shark caught off Neptune Island and fitted with a satellite tag has been named "Columba" to signify a unique tie with St Columba's Memorial School at Yorketown.

"Columba" was caught a couple of weeks ago by a team of CSIRO scientists on a four-day patrol off the West Coast. On board with the researchers was Yorketown's John Beaumont, former Yorketown police officer and police diver, and it was he who charged his daughters, Alanah and Ebony of St Columba's school, with the job of naming the newly tagged shark.

John became involved in the work by SARDI and the CSIRO several years ago as a volunteer, and says he has always been fascinated by the great whites.

He has also been part of a team which tagged four other white pointers off the islands, including one named "Bomber" in his honour.

"Sharks are fascinating. They have, after all, survived for millions of years without change, are just so big and graceful when you see them under water, and I believe they are not the mindless killers everyone labels them," John said.

In the last week of the school term, John visited St Columba's school to explain the tagging operation to the students, who will continue to keep tabs on "their" shark. He brought with him a small piece of Columba's tail, used in part of the biopsy process by the scientists.

At 3.5 metres in length and weighing around 500 kg, Columba will carry the satellite tag for around nine months, about twice as long as previously fitted tags, giving scientists detailed data her movements.

Data will be transmitted when Columba comes to the surface, providing information on the location and the water temperature at the time. The signal is picked up by satellites, relayed to a ground station in France, and accessed in Hobart where CSIRO senior research scientist Barry Bruce is based.

The information is providing scientists with a picture of movement patterns, as they try to understand why the sharks are in certain places at certain times of the year.

While information gathering on 'Bomber' has finished, during his time in the spotlight he travelled 2,739 kilometres from Esperance in Western Australia to an area south of Port Lincoln. Another called 'Bruce' set records for his travels, completing a 7,000 kilometre trek from Port Lincoln to Queensland and back!

Sunday, July 16, 2006

Shark sightings in shallow waters

''It was just like being on the movie set of 'Jaws,''' said Lisa Champagne of Bourne.
''The lifeguard yelled, 'Everyone out of the water!' And everyone started running, tripping over each other,'' she said.

It turns out only the plankton had something to fear.

A 12- to 15-foot shark that forced a swimming ban at Scusset Beach for almost two hours yesterday was of the toothless variety, a basking shark.

''It's really a whale trapped in a shark's body,'' said Greg Skomal, shark specialist for the Massachusetts Division of Marine Fisheries.

Basking sharks are harmless and common in the region from June to October, particularly along the Cape Cod Canal, he said.

But who knew? When you're sitting on the beach, it's pretty hard to tell the difference between the placid plankton eaters and a meat-eating great white. Both are among the largest fish in the ocean, Skomal said. Both have telltale dorsal fins.

So when lifeguards saw the fin cutting within 10 to 15 feet of the shore at about 11 a.m. yesterday, they called everyone out of the water.

It took nearly two hours for state specialists to arrive and identify the shark. In the meantime, a beach filled with about 500 people waited in suspense, getting up only for hot dogs and ice cream breaks.

Then fear transformed to fascination.

Bathers and boaters waded as close as possible. The creature obliged by weaving close to shore.
''I live in the Berkshires, so this was pretty amazing. It's a nice treat to see nature on Cape Cod,'' said Alisa Blanchard of Pittsfield.

Great whites ply these waters, too, and witnesses reported a more ominous shark sighting yesterday in Chatham.

On Lighthouse Beach, witnesses said they saw a 15-foot great white spring from the water and devour a seal swimming about 50 feet off shore. Officials could not confirm that a shark had entered shallow waters.

But for a handful of people who saw the attack, about 1½ miles from the lighthouse, there was no doubt.

''Somebody screamed, 'Shark!''' said E.J. Corb, 15, of Chatham, who works at Chatham Beach Company surf shop. ''I saw the fin and the back tail. And it just took down the seal.

''Three minutes later, the seal carcass just popped up again.''

''We all know they are in the water there,'' Corb added. ''But we don't expect it to come that close.''
Coast Guard officials said they heard the great white reports, but they were unable to confirm them.

''We've had sightings before,'' said Petty Officer Brent Beebe, who is stationed at the Coast Guard Chatham station. ''Is it common? Well, they're out there. But it's not an everyday thing.''

Lee Tallman, the assistant harbormaster in Chatham, said town boats were looking for the animal. But by early evening, there were no confirmed sightings.

''To be honest, I've never seen a great white out there. And why I haven't I don't know,'' Tallman said. ''Because there are thousands and thousands of seals out there. And that's obviously one of the primary meals for that beast.''

Warning signs wanted on South Australian beaches

Shark information signs will be erected at all great white shark hot spots along the South Australian coastline if two Port Lincoln women get their wish.

The two women, Katrina Wright and Kaylene Dufek, originally sent out petitions asking people to support the idea of shark signage, informing locals and tourists alike, of the dangers that could lurk in local waters.After hundreds of people signed the petition, the Port Lincoln City Council got behind the idea and shark information signs were erected in various locations along the Port Lincoln foreshore.

Katrina Wright and Kaylene Dufek hope that other seaside councils follow Port Lincoln’s lead and put up signs along their coastal regions. They’ve written to other councils on the Eyre Peninsula, with the District Council of Lower Eyre Peninsula already following their lead.Michael Wandel, chair of the Elliston District Council, said council’s open to the idea. “At Elliston we leave it to the people who swim or surf there. It's their responsibility.

We can always look at it, there's no harm in council putting in place warning signs - I believe it's the only way that the public will know that these areas can be unsafe,” he explained.“We've got some of the most sought-after surfing beaches in Australia,” said Mr Wandel. “I've met people on the beachfront who’ve come from overseas. They hear about it on their travels and they look into Elliston and I think, well maybe, the warning signs should be put there,” he said.

But Rob Gregor, chief executive officer of the larger Elliston District Council, says shark-specific signs aren’t necessary because council has bought all-purpose camping information signs that will double as a warning against a number of natural hazards. “We've taken a cautionary approach of (erecting) very simple, non-elaborate warnings of the natural risks (see left) and sharks are just one of those. We are talking about overhanging cliffs, roadways and things like that on the pictograms,” he explained.The CEO said it's not normal practice for councils to warn the public about natural risks but council decided that multi-purpose signs are necessary.

“The issues we face with this type of approach: A - there isn't a standard practice and B, councils have little or absolutely no control in many cases of the natural risks that exist in these places,” he explained.Katrina Wright and Kaylene Dufek have also drawn on Adelaide’s Holdfast Bay City Council (Glenelg) for ideas and interest. They suggested adopting Glenelg’s use of a large shark net, to prevent sharks entering Boston Bay, but Port Lincoln Council baulked, saying it would be too expensive. The two women are now working with local police on a uniform shark warning system.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Sharks need our protection to survive!

In his upcoming PBS special "Sharks at Risk," Jean-Michel Cousteau, son of the legendary explorer Jacques Cousteau, says more must be done to protect the declining shark population. But convincing people to protect sharks — an animal that most fear — won't be easy.

Out of 400 species of shark, "there are only five or six species that cause problems, and they give the rest a bad name," Cousteau said.

But even with their bad name, we still need sharks. Every year, 100 million sharks are killed by fisherman — either caught accidentally or fished for food, according to Cousteau.

"Sharks are scavengers," Cousteau said. "They keep the ocean clean of the sick, wounded, unhealthy. It's an ongoing job they perform to keep our life-support system healthy. Unfortunately, there are a few species that have been so harvested that it's changing the ecosystem of the ocean."

At one point in the film, Cousteau goes for a ride on a great white shark by grabbing on to its fin, under the supervision of Andre Hartmann, a commercial fisherman turned shark-tour guide.

"Well, first of all, I want to state the fact that I did it, I will not do it again, and I strongly recommend that nobody else does it," Cousteau said. "But I wanted to show that these animals are not the nasty maneaters that everybody believes they are. In fact, they are extremely timid."

Cousteau said he took precautions for the shark ride by making sure there was no food in the water and that no one was spearfishing or fishing. He also said getting bitten by a shark is less dangerous than eating shark fin — a popular delicacy in Asia — because of the high mercury level.

"In the long run, my free dive with a great white shark was probably safer than eating shark fin soup," Cousteau said.

Marine biologist Holly Lohuis traveled with Cousteau to make the film and said one of her most memorable moments occurred during a 200-foot dive when she had the chance to swim with a swarm of gray sharks on a reef in French Polynesia.

"It is a threatened species," she said, "but to see that many of them there gives you some hope and an incredible amount of respect for these animals."

Sunday, July 02, 2006

Four grannies will participate in a cage diving experience with the great white sharks

Four elderly sisters are proving you are never too old for adventure - by following up their skydiving escapade with cage-diving among sharks.Aged from 76 to 86, the four Hitchcock sisters are due to take the plunge in Gansbaai on Friday.Betty Niewoudt, 86, Anne Spies, 84, Joan Fourie, 78, and Babs Maré, 76, originally the Hitchcock sisters from De Aar, first enjoyed the adrenalin of a parachute jump last year.

'I know I'm going to be scared'"It started with my sister (Anne) saying that she wanted to do a parachute jump," said Betty. "Then she talked us all into it and we all did it. We all did individual jumps. It was a bit frightening, but very adventurous."There is a bit of a free fall until the parachute opens and then you go down slowly. Then you come down to the ground and all the people on the ground are waving. It's lovely," she added.

Their next adventure was fairly sedate by comparison - hot-air ballooning in Bloemfontein in February.Then during a television interview they vowed to do a cage dive among sharks.By chance Charmaine Beukes, a partner in White Shark Projects, saw the show and managed to track them down."My father was a policeman, so I did a bit of detective work and managed to find them," Beukes explained.

The company invited the foursome to Gansbaai for the hair-raising thrill of diving with Great Whites."I'm very excited about the dive," Betty said."I've seen sharks in the aquarium and on TV, but never like this. I know I'm going to be scared, but I suppose we'll be in a cage and there's no real danger."When not going on extreme adventures with her sisters, Betty Niewoudt "keeps out of mischief" with long walks, gardening, table tennis and music concerts.

"I have four grandchildren and they all just laugh and wish us the best of luck. But they probably think we're a bit mad."Beukes said the day would begin with a breakfast and a debriefing before the boat is launched at around 9am.The cage dive will take place at Shark Alley, Dyer Island, near Gansbaai, and each diver will be in the water for 10 to 20 minutes.

Great White Shark sighting explains the warning signs

Warning signs are up at Stinson Beach today after a surfer spotted a great white shark.
Pat Norton, supervisory ranger with the National Park Service at Stinson Beach, said Lee Fontan spotted a 10-inch dorsal fin at the north end of Stinson Beach in the Bolinas Channel late Friday afternoon.

"It was about two and a half miles north of our swimming area," he said.

The beach remains open, but lifeguards have posted signs in the area warning people. The signs will be taken down Wednesday if there are no further sightings.

"Mother nature is out there," he said. "There's no controlling it."

Norton said this is the first shark sighting of 2006, but noted that Fontan was attacked by one in 2002. A 12 to 14-foot-long shark bit Fontan on the left side, causing leg and torso wounds that needed about 100 stitches to close.

Fontan could not be reached for comment today.

Nick Crieger, part owner of 2 Mile Surf Shop in Bolinas, said he heard the shark was spotted off Seadrift and swimming toward Stinson Beach where the water is deeper.

"That's where people see them," he said.

Crieger said he went down for a look shortly after the sighting and noticed that all surfers had left the channel and moved north toward an area known as the Patch on the Bolinas side.

"We let all our customers know that afternoon and the next day," he said.

More than two dozen shark attacks have been logged in the notorious "red triangle" - bounded by the Farallones, Tomales Point and Monterey - since 1972, when protection laws for marine mammals were enacted. These include at least nine attacks off the Tomales Point area, all non-fatal.

Scientists say the California seal and sea lion population has exploded since the passage of the Marine Mammal Protection Act. Sea mammals are a favorite shark prey - and surfers and abalone divers in wet suits resemble sea creatures.

In 1998, Jonathan Kathrein of San Rafael was attacked at Stinson Beach. His wounds required 200 stitches.

About 110 shark attacks have been logged on the West Coast since the 1950s, including 11 that resulted in death.

Cousteau's great white shark shaped submarine sinks

THE grandson of legendary ocean explorer Jacques Cousteau has escaped the "Jaws" of death.
Fabien Cousteau almost lost his life when he set out for a close encounter with great white sharks off the coast of Mexico.

But it wasn't one of the monsters from the deep that nearly killed him.

It was a wonky shark-shaped submarine he constructed to glide among the huge creatures in safety.

Fabien said: "I decided to build a sub that looked, moved and was exactly like a great white - and, of course, I got to be the pilot." But plans went pear-shaped when he sank to the bottom.

Fabien added: "It started plummeting to the bottom - it crashed and I was pinned there and communications weren't working."

His sister Celine was part of a team of divers in a boat above the sub who were eventually able to free him and pull him to safety.

Celine said: "You imagine the worst. As his sister, I was extremely worried, as there was an edge he could have plummeted over - he would have been too deep to rescue."

The shark sub, which sank off Isla Guadalupe, was being used as part of a TV documentary.
Shark: Mind Of A Demon, with Fabien Cousteau, is first set to be shown in the US on Wednesday.
Fabien said the one-hour special was made to dispel the image of sharks as violent.

He said: "White sharks have been given a bad rap for many years but we don't know anything about them.

"When I saw my first, I was ready to be torn to be pieces."
He certainly didn't expect to end up with that sinking feeling.