Outcry after whale dies in shark net

2011-10-12 00:00

IT is unfortunate that a humpback whale died in shark nets at Umhlanga on Monday, but the nets are vital to protect swimmers — and the province’s tourism industry.

This was the response yesterday of Mike Anderson-Reade of the Natal Sharks Board to criticism of the nets after the death of the adolescent whale.

Onlookers said the calf’s mother was loitering in the distance as members of the sharks board towed the lifeless carcass back out to sea.

“The importance of shark nets is that we are protecting our tourism industry. One recalls ‘Black December’ in 1957 when numerous shark attacks were reported on our coast and the tourism industry virtually collapsed,” Anderson-Reade said.

“It is unfortunate that other marine life are killed in the process, but we are slowly introducing ‘drum lines’, an alternative to the nets where baited single hooks are target-specific and hook sharks before they come in to the swimming zones,” he said.

According to a website wildlifextra.com, over the last three decades, more than 33 000 sharks have been ensared and killed in the Natal Sharks Board nets, along with over 2 000 turtles, 8 000 rays, and 2000 dolphins and whales.

Kim McCoy, director of shark conservation for Sea Shepherd, an international marine conservation organisation, was outraged to witness first-hand the carnage caused by the nets.

“Sharks … don’t stand a chance against these nets,” said McCoy. “They are brutal, indiscriminate killers designed to systematically cull a species for no other reason than to boost tourism by giving beachgoers a false sense of security against a severely sensationalised threat.”

Shark nets are essentially gill nets made of rectangular nylon mesh 200 to 300 metres long and are positioned near the surface of the water and kept afloat with buoys. Sharks swim into the nets and are trapped. The mesh is just large enough for sharks to become entangled, but not to escape.

“The more a shark or any other animal struggles in these nets, the more hopeless their situation becomes…” the website states.

“The vast majority of these animals die an agonising death by suffocation. Gill nets are widely considered to be one of the greatest threats to the survival of many species of marine animals.”

• rowan.sewchurran@witness.co.za

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