Team defends shark research

The National Geographic Channel said this week it had nothing to do with the controversial shark research being blamed for causing a fatal attack on a young bodyboarder in False Bay near Cape Town last week.

Permits issued for the research, filmed by United States non-profit organisation Ocearch, were cancelled after 20-year-old David Lilienfeld, a member of the South African bodyboarding team, was killed by a great white shark at a popular surfing area in False Bay last Thursday.

Three days before the attack, local shark experts and cage-diving permit holders had protested against permission being granted to Ocearch. They issued a “shark alert advisory” warning of the possibility of increased shark activity in and around the research area after receiving no response from the responsible official in the department of environmental affairs.

They objected to the use of fish chum to lure the sharks to the research ship, where they would be hooked and hauled, exhausted, on to a platform for scientific experiments lasting up to 20 minutes.

Previous Ocearch expeditions in other parts of the world have been filmed and aired by National Geographic, but spokesperson Chris Albert said this week the filming in South Africa was not destined for the channel.


“While it is true we do have a series currently airing called Shark Men with [Ocearch expedition leader] Chris Fischer, we have not renewed the series for another season, have no plans to renew it and are not filming new episodes at this time,” Albert said.

The filming in South Africa might be for another network, he said, but he did not have details.

Locals in the industry said even if a causal nexus could not be established between the research and the attack, the permit officials should be held responsible for the tragic loss of life. “Had they not displayed shocking levels of arrogance and a ‘know-all’ attitude and instead first consulted with industry and shark experts, the permit would not have been allocated and the tragedy may very well have been avoided,” said Shaheen Moolla, managing director of Feike Natural Resource Management Advisers.

Department spokesperson Zolile Nqayi said it did not usually conduct public consultation before issuing research permits. Nonetheless, several cage divers, coastal managers at the City of Cape Town and the managers of the shark-spotter project had been consulted about the Ocearch permits.

“There were several conditions attached to the permits,” Nqayi said. “These included where sampling may or may not take place, for how long and what type of bait and chum may be used. Adherence to specially developed sampling protocols for each type of sampling or tagging activity was also required.”

Ocearch said the primary purpose of the expedition was scientific research by up to 30 scientists from 16 organisations, including South African teams. The only alternatives to the capturing methods they used were to kill the sharks, or to do autopsies on sharks that had already died.

It said sharks were poorly understood and many species were threatened by human activities. Large-scale research was needed to understand the life histories of a number of species, including their migration, reproduction and population status.

“We are not attracting sharks for the cameras. We even have a team of South African scientists doing tests to help save human lives in the future,” said an Ocearch spokesperson who did not want to be named.

He said Ocearch’s parting with National Geographic was part of a normal process in the “need for a different networking”.

Subscribe to the M&G

These are unprecedented times, and the role of media to tell and record the story of South Africa as it develops is more important than ever.

The Mail & Guardian is a proud news publisher with roots stretching back 35 years, and we’ve survived right from day one thanks to the support of readers who value fiercely independent journalism that is beholden to no-one. To help us continue for another 35 future years with the same proud values, please consider taking out a subscription.

Fiona Macleod
Fiona Macleod

Fiona Macleod is an environmental writer for the Mail & Guardian newspaper and editor of the M&G Greening the Future and Investing in the Future supplements.

She is also editor of Lowveld Living magazine in Mpumalanga.

An award-winning journalist, she was previously environmental editor of the M&G for 10 years and was awarded the Nick Steele award for environmental conservation.

She is a former editor of Earthyear magazine, chief sub-editor and assistant editor of the M&G, editor-in-chief of HomeGrown magazines, managing editor of True Love and production editor of The Executive.

She served terms on the judging panels of the SANParks Kudu Awards and The Green Trust Awards. She also worked as a freelance writer, editor and producer of several books, including Your Guide to Green Living, A Social Contract: The Way Forward and Fighting for Justice.

Related stories

To silence the guns in Africa, nature must be restored

The world needs a new deal to protect its natural environment

Please don’t hurt the shark – it’s a media star

It's unlikely a full-grown great white could be scared off with a punch, even from Mike Tyson.

Visceral thrill as man beats Jaws

The spectacle of a Spielbergian scenario with a hero and happy ending delighted TV viewers.

Internet adds humour to Mick Fanning shark attack

Within hours of world champion Mick Fanning escaping a shark attack, the internet did what it does best: produce memes about the terrifying incident.

My brush with Jaws

How do you survive a potentially lethal attack by a great white shark? Mathieu Dasnois found out on the Wild Coast.

Walking a fine green line for credibility

The Mail & Guardian will celebrate a Decade of Greening in 2013.
Advertising

Subscribers only

Toxic power struggle hits public works

With infighting and allegations of corruption and poor planning, the department’s top management looks like a scene from ‘Survivor’

Free State branches gun for Ace

Parts of the provincial ANC will target their former premier, Magashule, and the Free State PEC in a rolling mass action campaign

More top stories

Q&A Sessions: ‘My north star is the patient’

Rhulani Nhlaniki is Pfizer’s cluster lead for sub-Saharan Africa. As Pfizer starts phase III of the clinical trial of their Covid-19 vaccine candidate, he tells Malaikah Bophela that if it is successful, the company will ensure the vaccine will be available to everyone who needs it

Ghost fishing gear an ‘immortal menace’ in oceans

Lost and illegal tackle is threatening marine life and the lives of people making a living from the sea

In terms of future-telling failures, this is a Major One

Bushiri knows how to pull a crowd. Ace knows a ponzi scheme. Paddy Harper predicts that a new prophet may profit at Luthuli House

Facebook, Instagram indiscriminately flag #EndSars posts as fake news

Fact-checking is appropriate but the platforms’ scattershot approach has resulted in genuine information and messages about Nigerians’ protest against police brutality being silenced
Advertising

press releases

Loading latest Press Releases…

The best local and international journalism

handpicked and in your inbox every weekday