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Cape shark attack – the story and background!

If you haven’t heard the news already – a South African body boarder has been killed in a shark attack at Dappat se Gat – a surf spot between Gordon’s Bay and Kogel bay (also known as ‘Caves’), Cape Town, South Africa.

The attack, it seems, has been blamed by some on the massive amount of chumming going on in the area by shark researcher and documentary filmmaker, Chris Fischer. The US-based filmmaker’s research permit has now been cancelled by Alan Boyd, director of Biodiversity and Coastal Research, saying  “this incident is a tremendous tragedy and I’m very shocked. No more field work will be proceeding from here on out.”

I recently listened to Fischer talk about great whites at the recent TEDxSeaPoint, where I was also fortunate enough to be a speaker. Fischer managed to convince a sceptical audience that his two-million-dollar investment in shark research, and following documentary, Shark Men, would be positive for great white shark conservation and research in South Africa. He was loud, confident and full of bravado for his cause.

His methods are highly, shall we say, unique. If you’ve seen the show already, Fischer and his OCEARCH team invest in a massive ship and winch system, which lifts the great white out of the water. Once they have lured the shark near enough, they then winch the bed up above the water and tag the shark with a remote tracking device – a unique method that allows researchers to follow females to unknown breeding sites.

Here’s a video from one of the Shark Men episodes

In order to attract the sharks in the first place, it’s necessary that Fischer and his team chum the water – which has led to much of the controversy surrounding the awarding of this permit in the first place.

Prior to this attack, a petition was sent around by critics attempting to have the permit revoked. It stated that both the lifting of sharks and tagging them is harmful to the animal. Perhaps the best known shark expert in South Africa – Chris Fallows – signed this petition too.

Fischer, in a telephone interview, said that those against the project were “an emotional, vocal, minority.” The petition, however, made no mention of the issue of chumming.

I’m not sure if the attack is related to recent chumming, although reports of sharks have been higher in False Bay of late. In a statement about the attack, Fischer said the team had moved on from the area since Monday. Either way, this all comes at an unfortunate time for Fischer and his crew, who, ironically, were investing much of their time and money into research and conservation of our great whites.

At the TEDx conference, when I heard him talk about his research and passion for the animals (not to mention the massive amounts of money he invests in this passion), I was quite touched. I’m always happy when wealthy people put their time, energy and money into worthy environmental causes. But, it seems there’s more to the story yet to play out – so I’ll hold my opinion on the matter for the moment.

What are your thoughts?

– Quotes from SAPA

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Paul Steyn spends his days submerged in the world of digital story telling. When coming up for air, he prefers it to be somewhere in the middle of the wilderness. He is obsessed with finding new and interesting waays to distribute content to all those who love and connect with Africa.

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