Shark film making waves in Cape Town

2012-04-16 15:02

Cape Town - US-based documentary maker Chris Fischer is making waves in Cape Town by filming Great White sharks, causing fears that he is attracting the creatures to populated beaches.

The environmental affairs department, which granted his team a research permit, believes though that it is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to gather key research on these largely elusive and mysterious creatures.

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

But Dirk Schmidt, a wildlife photographer and author of White Sharks, has called for a high shark alert to be issued immediately.

5 tons of chum used to attract sharks

"I believe it to be prudent, and as a preventative measure, that a high shark alert is issued and maintained, during, and for several days after, the filming activity.

"Unusual white shark behaviour and an increased presence and possible shark-human interaction or even attacks cannot be excluded."

Schmidt's 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.

But according to Alan Boyd of the department's ocean and coast branch, who issued the research permit, 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.

He also disputed reports that solid fish was being used, saying the chum was primarily marine mammal oils and scents used to create a "scent path".

"You can visualise it as a big household bucket filled with sardines being thrown into the water every hour or so. It will obviously have a local effect, which we want, but definitely won't have an effect close to shore."

Agreed protocols

He said all work was being done according to agreed and approved protocols based primarily on ethical considerations, sanctioned by the department.

The boat was not allowed to stay in one area for more than a week. In False Bay and Gansbaai, sampling and tagging of sharks was not allowed in the same area for more than two consecutive days.

The boat also had to stay at least two kilometres from the False Bay shore. The bay was frequented by swimmers and surfers, mostly at the Fish Hoek and Muizenberg beaches. A City of Cape Town official would be on board as an observer.

The KwaZulu-Natal Sharks Board's head of research Geremy Cliff said he believed the project would be above board.

"I'm sure the department would be all too well aware, with the shark attacks that have taken place, of how anything being done like this would affect safety.

"As for the safety of sharks, if it [tagging and bio-sampling] of sharks was so damaging and sharks died, that would have been confirmed already through previous tracking."

Shark spotters

Using the specially designed Ocearch vessel, Fischer and a team of scientists study sharks by lifting them out of the water onto a platform for 10 to 15 minutes, to tag them and gather biological samples.
Fischer was funding the research to the tune of R15.6m.

Cliff said any short-term damage to the sharks was surpassed by the long-term gain of insight.

One of researchers on the Ocearch is Shark Spotter research manager Alison Kock, who would radio through any shark alerts if necessary.

The Shark Spotters programme, which had dedicated spotters placed mostly along False Bay, said on its website it would continue, as always, to inform water users of any potential threats to their safety.

The project has certainly produced fascinating results so far, with South African Facebook users being able to track "their" sharks for the first time on social networking site Facebook.

Fischer defended his posting of shark movements online, saying that by creating awareness, local government would be encouraged to change policies and protect shark hotspots.

Some of "his" sharks have been named -- among them are Princess Fi, Albertina, and Madiba.
Fischer had already discovered unusual habits, with a shark named Dorien swimming below the 40 degree south mark.

Fischer said Dorien and another shark, Lyla Grace, were in a circumpolar current pushing east at a rate of two knots. "Are they in Australia or feeding in an area we never expected? Time will tell," he posted.

  • Kala - 2012-04-16 16:14

    People have been tagging sharks for years with little or no adverse effects on the animal or on people. Chumming in shark "infested" waters has been taking place for years and is still done on a regular basis where people wish to dive with sharks. We should be thankful that R15.6million is being invested in studying these awesome creatures.

      Chumscrubber1 - 2012-04-16 17:31

      If the chum really becomes a problem, they can call on me to scrub it.

  • israel.khumalo - 2012-04-16 18:44

    Hey leave the animals alone, are you bored. Wasting money so to abuse animals safely, hai khona.

  • Rob - 2012-04-16 19:09

    Tourists in Zimbabwe, Fothergill and Spurwing Island, feed crocodiles with dead chickens so they can take photographs. A friend of mine lost a hand when fishing off one of the islands and 'washed' her hands from the side of the boat and was attacked. If the 'crocs' had not been hand fed, they would not have been there.... Same applies to 'sharks' -where there's food, you will find predators. Stop this practice before somebody gets killed... RT

      barryharper86 - 2012-04-16 20:13

      Your comment doesnt really make sense and smacks of the nonsensical rubbish you here on newspaper columns, from people that have little or no knowledge about the subject, and comment just for the sake of it. First of all the sharks are already there, SA has one of the biggest population of white sharks in the world. Secondly chumming the water is nothing like hand feeding crocs, you do it from the safety of the boat not sticking your hand in the water. So the "stop this before someone gets killed....." is complete nonsense. Furthermore they are not feeding them chum, its for attracting the sharks only. They hunt local cape fur seals, which are again already in the area, therefore not interfering with their natural eating habits. People like Chris Fisher should be applauded for taking the huge amount of time, effort, and money it needs to do this kind of research, not a lot of people would! I hope to one day work with great whites or indeed sharks of any kind, and if i come anywhere close to what these guys have ill be a happy guy! Lastly they are sharks not 'sharks'. Apologies for your friend losing their hand.

      Chumscrubber1 - 2012-04-17 06:12

      Losing "her" hand Barry ... amazing she was not pulled into the water, crocs don't have teeth capable of biting off a hand, they are designed to hold onto things. Can you give more detail Rob?

  • Sharon - 2012-04-16 22:40

    this is not for National Geographic. they have NOT renewed the Shark Men series, in fact theire response was a bit odd they said "we have no idea what Fischer is doing there".. he is NOT putting that money into OUR shark research (dont be mislead by where that R16+ is going. he is putting money into his documented filming of hunting our sharks. in all other areas where he has filmed he has NOT put money, nor followed up on anyone actually monitoring the areas to ensure the sharks are protected. he is publishing our precious great whites movements PUBLICLY.. meaning the shark fin syndicates (who operate just like the Rhino hunting syndicates.. ie it is great for them to know where the sharks movements.. when they move out of "sanctuaries" ..) need i continue? chumming has NEVER been disproved as having an affect on beaches with swimmers & surfers (pls see theories behind the attacks in the Red Sea 2010.. as a theory was that the attacks resulted from the sharks EXPECTING food from humans.. the chum the current shark-cage operators use is minimal compared to what Ocearch is using. there are reasons responsibly managed wild life areas have signs saying "dont feed the animals"! there are safer (for the shark) methods of tagging. SPOT tagging (as Fischer/Ocearch are doing) is the most invasive method of tagging.. ie capture and release is distressing to the animal.. but makes for great tv footage. South Africa: it is time we protected our wildlife. all of our wildlife..

      John - 2012-04-17 01:18

      Your comments are emotional rather than factual. "chumming has NEVER been disproved as having an affect on beaches" Chumming has never been proved as having an effect on beaches... In fact there is no evidence statistically or otherwise that chumming has any effect on shark behavioral patterns. I'm not into cage diving or chumming, but I do get concerned when opinions are formed by emotions rather than facts. We must also differentiate between a "theory" which has some sort of basis, and an "opinion" which is just that.

      barryharper86 - 2012-04-17 21:57

      You mean the new Shark Men series that started on National Geographic just over a week ago......?

      barryharper86 - 2012-04-17 22:01

      Oh and "we have no idea what Fischer is doing there"......thats the same Chris Fischer who quoted "Awesome working with Dyer Island Conservation Trust in Gansbaai, South Africa"......hmmm obviously someone knows why he's there!!

      Sharon - 2012-04-19 17:04

      in light of today's tragedy in False Bay.. i welcome any further criticism re my comment: "chumming has NEVER been disproved as having an affect on beaches with swimmers & surfers" my concern was the POTENTIAL danger. my concern was that it was up to our Gov and the scientists involved to properly warn the public! i.e. the responsible thing would have been to CLOSE all the beaches in False Bay for the duration of the permit and i would have suggested for at least a week after. but had the Gov done that.. how would it have looked for tourism? they've shot themselves in the feet & must be held accountable.

  • Ivan - 2012-04-16 23:08

    I always find it amusing when Geremy Cliff weighs in with anything to do with Shark conservation. He and his organisation have been instrumental in the deaths of thousands of sharks and marine mamals. Thank God that the Cape has managed to keep him and his death nets and drumlines away from their stretches of ocean.

      Chumscrubber1 - 2012-04-17 06:16

      Agreed. Shark nets (gill nets!) have to be the most destructive method of protecting humans from shark attacks, I think the damage they have done to the marine environment is completely underestimated.

      Sharon - 2012-04-17 09:27

      Ditto Ivan. Its actually high time Cliff

  • John - 2012-04-17 01:07

    A bit of professional jealousy here?

  • dirk.kruger - 2012-04-17 07:31

    They are teaching sharks that boats brings food! Now the sharks will attack diver and boats because of this. Its is like teaching a dog!We had more shark attacks & scares on divers after they started chumming to attrack skharks! Ban all chumming for ever!!!!!

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