[an error occurred while processing this directive]
BBC News
watch One-Minute World News
Last Updated: Saturday, 15 May, 2004, 09:38 GMT 10:38 UK
SA shark attacks blamed on tourism
By Richard Hamilton
in Cape Town

There has been a spate of shark attacks in the waters off Cape Town in South Africa.

JP Andrew
Surfer JP Andrew says he feels lucky to be alive
One surfer died at the end of last year, and in recent weeks one fisherman was attacked and another surfer had his leg bitten off.

Some people blame the tour companies that offer shark-diving trips to tourists, saying they are encouraging the creatures to come too close to the beaches.

JP Andrew, 16, lost his leg when he was bitten by a Great White Shark on Muizenberg beach outside Cape Town last month.

'Lucky to be alive'

Paramedics thought he was dead when his heart stopped beating for 30 minutes.

But since then he has made a miraculous recovery.

"I feel lucky that I'm still alive," he says.

"I feel grateful. I mean I just lost a leg. It's not as if someone has died or I lost a member of my family. I just lost a leg and I can deal with that."

No-one really knows what is causing these attacks.

Sharks are intelligent creatures and they learn to associate human beings with food
Surfer Adrian Charles

Surfers blame sightseeing boats for a practice known as chumming - dropping bait into the sea to lure sharks towards the tourists.

The surfers say it brings the ocean's greatest predator dangerously close to the shore.

"It definitely has an effect," says surfer Adrian Charles from nearby Fish Hoek.

"Sharks are intelligent creatures and they learn to associate human beings with food.

"They follow the boats into the harbour when in the past they wouldn't come all the way in.

"There are less surfers in the waters now and it's affected businesses like surf shops."


Viewing sharks from the safety of a cage gives tourists an adrenaline rush and has become a booming industry.

But the tour companies think they have been made the scapegoats, as people try to find someone to blame.

They say you are more likely to be struck by lightning than be bitten by a shark.

A surfer on Muizenberg beach
Some say surfers are more likely to be hit by lightning than bitten by sharks

"There have been allegations but never any proof," says Brian McFarlane, who runs Great White Shark Tours.

"We are not teaching or training the sharks in any way. These incidents are just cases where the sharks mistake humans for other creatures, like seals. It's an unfortunate case of mistaken identity."

Experts tend to agree with Mr McFarlane.

They say hysteria about sharks is causing ungrounded fears.

They believe further research needs to be done before banning practices such as chumming.

'Flawed logic'

Len Compagno, who is head of shark research at the South African museum in Cape Town, thinks it is unlikely that chumming is having a direct effect on the safety of surfers and swimmers.

"Some people feel that if you chum sharks, it makes them more aggressive and more prone to bite people, but there is a bit of flawed logic in that," he says.

"It's almost like saying that if you feed people hamburgers, it makes them more prone to punch other people on the nose. It doesn't necessarily follow."

Great White Shark populations are under threat.

They are officially classified as a "vulnerable".

South Africa became the first country to declare sharks a protected species, and has seen an increase in shark populations.

But if these recent shark attacks continue, greater protection may be needed for humans as well.

A trust fund has been set up to cover JP Andrew's medical costs. To find out more email: rcowie@fairheads.com

The BBC's Richard Hamilton
"Shark diving is a booming industry"

Surfer killed by shark off Hawaii
08 Apr 04  |  Americas
Diver flees with shark attached
11 Feb 04  |  Asia-Pacific
SA shark tour operator shut down
07 Jan 04  |  Africa

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites


News Front Page | Africa | Americas | Asia-Pacific | Europe | Middle East | South Asia
UK | Business | Entertainment | Science/Nature | Technology | Health
Have Your Say | In Pictures | Week at a Glance | Country Profiles | In Depth | Programmes
Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific