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

THE FIFTH COLUMN

The Mail & Guardian published a nice piece of writing by Jonathan Jones about surfer Mick Fanning’s escape from what we must presume, given the size of the dorsal fin captured on camera, was a great white shark (Visceral thrill as man beats Jaws). I particularly like Jones’s idea that the sea is Earth’s unconscious and sharks this big are among its nightmare denizens.

Jones’s anecdote of the terrifying film Jaws, based on Peter Benchley’s novel, reminded me of my trepidation on entering the sea in those days, never going further than waist-deep. That fear has never been completely overcome.

But there are some new twists to the Jaws plot. Great white sharks are now a protected species in South African waters. The dangerous shark in KwaZulu-Natal waters is our version of a bull shark, the Zambezi shark – the shark most responsible for fatal attacks in our waters.

When the Zambezi shark attacks, human is the preferred dish of the day. When the great white attacks, it has probably mistaken a human for its regular prey, the seal. Sharks that make this mistake have usually not fully figured out the difference between seals and humans; they are adolescents, not yet full-size, but thus more dangerous to humans than full-grown sharks.

As impressive as that dorsal fin steaming in on Fanning is, the shark is only two-thirds of the size it can grow to – more than 6m. It’s unlikely a full-grown great white could be scared off with a punch, even from Mike Tyson.

Shark warning signs in the Cape have a subtext that says: sharks are part of nature; we are invading their space, so take every precaution and we hope nothing happens to you, but if it were to please don’t hurt the shark. That 4m great white closing in on the surfer has right of way.

This is not purely for the ecological reason of preserving an endangered species. No (and here Benchley comes back into the picture), the Cape’s great whites earn millions in foreign currency, boosting local tourism, because they are media stars.

Benchley helped to make a National Geographic programme on the great white that showed it to be much misunderstood. Sharks are smart and use hunting strategies – they’re not mindless eating machines. Benchley said he had to rethink sharks after the programme.

It was also found that Australian great whites are camera-shy but South African sharks are virtuoso performers, breaking the surface with spectacular power leaps to seize a seal in their fearsome jaws.

A female great white swam from South African waters to Australia a few years ago – the fastest long-distance trip by an animal ever recorded (she was tagged).

The Australian attitude to her nearing their coast was one of apprehension; the South African one was more like: “You go, girl!”

Professor Damian Garside teaches at North West University, Mafikeng campus

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. But it comes at a cost. Advertisers are cancelling campaigns, and our live events have come to an abrupt halt. Our income has been slashed.

The Mail & Guardian is a proud news publisher with roots stretching back 35 years. We’ve survived thanks to the support of our readers, we will need you to help us get through this.

To help us ensure another 35 future years of fiercely independent journalism, please subscribe.

Advertising

Meet the doctor leading Africa’s fight to contain the coronavirus...

Dr Matshidiso Moeti’s father helped to eliminate smallpox. Now she’s leading Africa’s efforts against the coronavirus

Stella set to retain her perks

Communication minister will keep Cabinet perks during her two months of special leave

Covid-19 grounds Nigeria’s medical tourists

The country’s elites, including the president, travelled abroad for treatment but now they must use the country’s neglected health system

Press Releases

Rahima Moosa Hospital nursing college introduces no-touch facial recognition access system

The new system allows the hospital to enrol people’s faces immediately, using artificial intelligence, and integrates easily with existing access control infrastructure, including card readers and biometrics

Everyone’s talking about it. Even Kentucky

Earlier this year South African fried chicken fast-food chain, Chicken Licken®, launched a campaign for their wallet-friendly EasyBucks® meals, based on the idea of ‘Everyone’s talking about it.’

New energy mix on the cards

REI4P already has and will continue to yield thousands of employment opportunities

The online value of executive education in a Covid-19 world

Executive education courses further develop the skills of leaders in the workplace

Sisa Ntshona urges everyone to stay home, and consider travelling later

Sisa Ntshona has urged everyone to limit their movements in line with government’s request

SAB Zenzele’s special AGM postponed until further notice

An arrangement has been announced for shareholders and retailers to receive a 77.5% cash payout

20th Edition of the National Teaching Awards

Teachers are seldom recognised but they are indispensable to the country's education system

Awards affirm the vital work that teachers do

Government is committed to empowering South Africa’s teachers with skills, knowledge and techniques for a changing world