Friday, August 18, 2006

Sharks spotters are doing a great job!

With reference to the front page article, "Shark attack sparks outcry" (Cape Argus, August 14 ), I would like to state my support for the city's shark spotting programme.I have been body-boarding regularly at Surfer's Corner at Muizenberg for 18 months. During this time, the shark warning siren has been activated maybe three times. Each time I have been amazed at - and have appreciated - the calm manner in which people left the ocean and waited patiently for the spotters to give the all-clear.I have also taken time to go up to Boyes Drive and chat to the spotters. They explained to me the basis on which they sound the siren - the shark is normally well clear of the last surfer beyond the breakers and therefore does not pose any threat to those in the surf zone.I am confident to swim at Muizenberg and Fish Hoek beaches when the spotters are on duty, but at the same time I also appreciate that I am within the domain of wild animals and therefore must act responsibly. I believe the shark spotting programme has been and continues to be very effective in alerting people to the presence of a shark in the vicinity and in preventing human/shark encounters.In light of the above, I believe that we should not be so quick to criticise the city's programme. We should rather carefully consider the facts and the behaviour of sharks and humans. While shark attacks have and will continue to occur, humans do not form part of the natural diet of sharks - this is evident from the very low number of shark-related deaths worldwide versus the millions of people who swim, surf, paddle and dive in the oceans. According to research, sharks are inquisitive by nature and will use their mouths to find out more about an object in the water. Once they are satisfied the object is not food, they tend to let go and move on.

However, like all predators, Great White sharks are opportunistic and will attack easy targets. We know they are attracted to disturbances on the surface, so a swimmer or someone flailing beyond the breakers, in the path of a shark, is more at risk of an attack than swimmers within the surf zone.To date, not one of the shark incidents around the Peninsula has occurred within the surf zone.

Great white sharks tend to hunt in deeper water, so swimmers, surfers and the like should be encouraged to rema
in in shallow water to avoid encounters with these animals. Anyone venturing beyond the breakers is doing so at their own risk.On the basis of these facts, we should be encouraging people to change their behaviour rather than calling for the selective culling of sharks.

We should pay heed to the recommendations of shark experts and avoid those areas in the ocean in which we are more likely to encounter a shark. This means using the beaches currently monitored by the shark spotters and staying within the surf zone.If anything, we as ocean users should be contributing to the city's programme.We will not easily overcome our fear of sharks and change the perception of sharks as "man-eaters", but we have reached a point in our history where we must conserve them for the future well-being of the oceans.

We need to "rethink the shark" and start accepting these animals for what they are, not "man-eaters" but important ocean predators which require our protection and respect.


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