Saturday, December 06, 2008

Shark bite being tested!

Marine biologist Enrico Gennari dangles one foot into the water as he calls out to a Great White shark circling his boat.

"Come on, Come on, you can do it," he says, as a 10-foot Great White shark swims within inches of the bait before turning away.

A BBC News report describes an outing with Mr. Gennari, in which he demonstrates his technique in measuring the biting strength of a Great White shark.

Gennari had spent three hours hanging his "Bitemeter" in the water. However, the long metal rod with a bag of fishy remains at the end was not having its intended effect this day.

Although Gennari and his team were successful in attracting a steady stream of sharks to the boat, the problem seemed to be that the sharks simply didn’t want to eat.

"Look at the marks on the gill. It's Roxanne," Enrico declared as he recognized a familiar shark passing by.

"We've know her for quite a while, We've tagged her a few months ago and tracked her."

But Roxanne, like the other sharks, was only interested in circling the boat, not in chomping down on "The Bitemeter”.

Enrico and his three volunteers had to settle for photographing fins and sporadically plunging a pole into the shark's side to obtain DNA samples.

The work is part of research being conducted by the South African Marine Predator Laboratory (SAMPLA) in Mossel Bay, whose goal is to establish a complete picture of the Great White's way of life.

"Humans can take the attitude: Let's just kill all the sharks and we can be safe," Ryan Johnson, a SAMPLA scientists, told BBC News.

"Or you can try and understand them and work out where they are at certain places in the bay and with that type of knowledge mitigate the threat they pose to us."

As well as being a popular tourist destination, Mossel Bay is home to roughly 80 Great Whites. Indeed, in Mossel Bay's tourism office, brochures for shark cage diving sit right next to those for beach resorts.

Fortunately, there has not been a fatal shark attack for nearly two decades, thanks in large part to information that SAMPLA has provided.

In many parts of South Africa and Australia surfers are occasionally mistaken for seals by the Great Whites. Seals are among the sharks’ favorite food.

However, in Mossel Bay surfers have been informed about safe locations and time of day.
"There are quite a few [sharks] but we haven't had problems here," a surfer told BBC News.
"If you go round the point there, there are a couple more sharks closer to the seals."
"The people are quite safe. The sharks stay around the island," Marcia Holm, the operations manager, says.

"The island has lots of seals and that's their diet - they don't really like humans."

After three-and-a-half hours, a shark finally gives "The Bitemeter" a nip.

"It was just 89 pounds per square inch - just a little bit more than a human bite," Gennari says proudly.

But for him, every hour spent trying to get a Great White to bite proves the sharks are not demonic creatures simply attacking everything in sight.

"This shows us that the Great Whites aren't animals that bite something every time they meet it,” he said.

"It's not an incredible Pac-Man that bites everything. It's a very cautious animal."


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