City backs filmmaker after shark attack claims

2012-04-20 22:06
Cape Town - The tagging of False Bay sharks for a documentary could not be linked to an attack on a bodyboarder, the City of Cape Town said on Friday.

"The lack of satellite signal is clear information that the shark involved in the attack is not one of the sharks tagged by the Ocearch Research Programme," environmental policy and strategy head Gregg Oelofse said.

"Two of the sharks tagged in False Bay have given off signals and were located in the Macassar/Strandfontein area [about 20km away] shortly before the attack."

Oelofse said there was therefore no evidence to suggest the tagging of four great white sharks had any role to play in the attack.

The City also defended documentary-maker Chris Fischer's use of chum [bait], saying the amount was insignificant.

"The Ocearch programme operated in False Bay at Seal Island on Sunday and Monday... Any residual chum from their activities would have dissipated within hours, and due to the wind direction, moved from the island in an opposite direction to that of Kogel Bay."

SA bodyboarding team member David Lilienfield, 20, was at popular surfing area, Caves, in Kogel Bay with his brother around noon on Thursday when a great white shark attacked him.

The shark made three passes at him and bit his right leg on the third pass. He died in the water from a loss of blood and his body washed up on the shore.

Nor responsible

Fischer had also defended the actions of his team, the target of stinging criticism on Facebook after the attack

He had posted a message on the television show Shark Men's Facebook page on Thursday denying that his team was responsible for the man's death.

"We departed False Bay over three days ago after working there from Sunday afternoon... to Monday afternoon... During our 24 hrs of work... there we chummed 24kg of pilchards [sardines]."

This was less than the amount released by each of three cage diving boats per day, Fischer said.

"We are terribly sorry again for the loss of this family and at this time our thoughts and prayers are with them."

Facebook users had attacked Fischer on the Shark Men Facebook page, where South Africans blamed the documentary-makers for the man's death.

His research permit was cancelled by the environmental affairs department shortly after the attack.

Biodiversity and Coastal Research director Alan Boyd said at the time the attack was a tremendous tragedy and he was very shocked.

"No more field work will be proceeding from here on out," he said.

Boyd recently granted the permit to Fischer to film great white sharks in the Cape. At the time it caused fears this could attract sharks to populated beaches.

Fischer had been in the country for the past month capturing and filming sharks in their natural habitat for the National Geographic documentary Shark Men.

Dirk Schmidt, a wildlife photographer and author of White Sharks, had called for a high shark alert to be issued, saying possible shark-human interaction or even attacks could not be excluded.

His concern was that up to five tons of chum (bait) would be used to attract sharks to the boat. He said the chum slick could be blown closer to beaches by on-shore winds.

At the time Boyd issued the permit, he said the chumming would have little effect close to shore, especially as the large amount would be used over a 20-day period all along the southern coast.

Uninformed

The City of Cape Town said that although it had no role in the research programme it was essential to provide the correct information to the public as "linking the two unrelated activities is uninformed and misleading".

It had interviewed all eyewitnesses and considered their information to be accurate.

An eyewitness reported seeing a pod of 30 dolphins moving through the area before the attack, as well as a number of birds feeding on fish.

This could have been an indication that sharks were following a school of fish.

"Considering all the above, it is the view of this report that the fatal shark attack could not have been avoided within reasonable means," the City said.

"Cape Town is a city of 3.5 million people residing along a coastline which forms the natural habitat for [great] white sharks. An unfortunate, tragic and regrettable result of this will be that, on occasion, shark attacks will occur."

The last shark attack in the area was in July 1999, which was not fatal.

In 2006, the Shark Spotters programme did a trial run at Caves, but this was unsuccessful because the area was difficult to access.

The programme was tasked with reporting back by April 30 on requirements for installing a full-time shark spotting service.

The closest signboard detailing shark safety was at Kogel Bay Resort.

The City was satisfied that all emergency procedures were followed following the attack.

Read more on:    david lilienfeld  |  cape town  |  shark attacks

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