Sharky shark sharks. The source of so much controversy these days and so misunderstood! Sparked by an unprecedented run of fatal attacks off the coast of Reunion Island and Western Australia both starting in 2011, the introduction of new shark culling policies continue to make headlines as they’re continually denounced by animal-rights activists, especially in Australia, less so in Reunion Island where local inhabitants have been more in support of action.
How to deal with shark attacks, whether it be drum lines, nets, electromagnetic devices or investing in more scientific monitoring and research is a complicated touchy political matter but the bottom line for surfers is big predatory fish and surfing don’t go together well! In particular the great white, tiger and bull shark whom out of more than 480 shark species are responsible for the majority of fatal unprovoked attacks on humans. So surfeurope.com figured and take a look at some of the sharkier surf zones to host such species.
When examining the various reasons for shark attacks, Brazil might serve as the best case study of how human coastal interaction can lead to a spike in attacks.
A 20-kilometre stretch of coastline encompassing the north-eastern coastal city of Recife is statistically the most dangerous place in the world for swimmers and surfers. Since 1992, there have been a record total of 53 shark attacks, 20 of which have been fatal. Previous to that year, shark attacks were more or less unheard of.
The problem first arose in the 90s following the construction of a huge harbour just 40km south of Recife in Boca del Suape. To facilitate the construction process, two freshwater estuaries were interrupted where a population of bull sharks were known to spawn.
Watch deadliest shark attack caught on video camera in Brazil, here
It’s thought north-bound currents and fewer available fish displaced the sharks towards Recife, while a combination of over-fishing, increased maritime traffic and river waste (in particular slaughter houses discharging blood into the Jaboatão River) also attracted a further population of sharks closer to the coast in search of food.
As with our next shark zone, Reunion Island, the outbreak lead to a ban on surfing, authorities concerned at the negative knock-on effect attacks were having on local tourism.
In more recent years, authorities have taken to capturing and relocating the bull shark population further afield which is reported to have slowed the number of attacks but that’s not to say the waters are safe.
2. Reunion Island
Since Reunion’s surf ban was extended last year the French government has declared the world-class left-hand pointbreak of St Leu, once host to Rip Curl’s world tour Search event, off limits. Adrien Toyon, back in 2011.
While Reunion Island has long been known as a sharky surf zone, never has the popular French Indian Ocean tourist destination experienced such a horrific pattern of attacks as in the last few years.
A total of 10 in the last 3 years. 5 of them fatal. An outbreak of bull shark attacks that at first glance closely resembles Recife, even if the reasons for it might not be identical.
Opinions between scientists, surfers, divers and fishermen remain divided, but a 20-kilometre stretch of coast set aside as a marine conservation reserve on the west side of the island, as well as a big open ocean fish farm (closed in 2012) are thought to be partly responsible.
Set up in 2007 to safeguard endangered coral and barrier reef, the reserve’s food sources but also much more likely the fish farms and associated concentrated waste are thought to have drawn the bull sharks to the area, with the reserve also acting as a refuge from fishermen. According to a study made in Hawaii, fish farms are known to attract many sharks, including tiger.
That said, it’s likely there are other contributing factors as to why the bull shark population has become so aggressive in the area: unsustainable tourism (leading to poor water and waste management on the island) and fishing practices no doubt also playing a part too.
Having introduced a shark-monitoring programme in 2011, local authorities were initially reluctant to introduce any culling measures (surfers being accused of taking irresponsible risks), but three further attacks in 2012 would force local authorities to come back on their decision, introducing an initial 20-shark cull despite world-renowned Belgian free-diver Frederic Buyle stating there weren’t that many sharks in the area.
2014 July the death of a 15-year-old swimmer just meters away from the shore spurred authorities to implement a further 90-shark cull as well as a near-total ban on swimming and surfing, the results of which are due to be reviewed again.
In April 2015, a 13-year-old up-and-coming surfer, was killed by a bull shark. In June 2015 Surfer Eddy Chaussalet was attacked by a shark, which seriously injured his forearm.
18 shark attacks over a five year period dramatically affected the Indian Ocean paradise both emotionally and economically.
The island, which is just 65 kilometres long, has seen some 15 per cent of all the world’s fatal attacks over the past five years. In 2017 two body boarder has death after being bitten by a shark and become the ninth person killed by a shark off Reunion in the last six years, while 12 more have been injured.
In March 2014, a 3.5 metre long female Great White was caught and killed on a drum line during the Quiksilver Pro Goldie right next to Snapper Rocks.
When it comes to life-threatening animals there’s no place like Australia. From deadly venomous spiders and snakes to saltwater crocs and Box jellyfish, nature doesn’t come much more diverse and hostile than Downunder! And sharks of course make up part of the list.
To date Australia reports the second-highest number of shark attacks after the U.S., but in the last few years nearly all fatal attacks have occurred in Western Australia. In contrast to Reunion Island, Great Whites have been responsible for these. Between 2011 and 2012, the state of Western Australia recorded a shocking 5 deaths in just 10 months over a relatively small portion of the coastline.
Many consider bull shark to be the most dangerous shark species to humans as they favour shallow coastal waters, and the murky water conditions in which they like to hunt are often associated with highly populated areas. And yes they can even swim a long way up rivers.
It’s therefore much less clear as to why the Great White attacks are happening other than numbers close to the coast have supposedly increased dramatically. Following in South Africa steps, Australia declared the Great White as a vulnerable species in 1999 due to significant population decline, and some seem to think they’ve recovered well.
Due to the Great White’s protected status, Australia’s recent shark culling policy required a special exemption which many animal-rights activists claimed to be unlawful. In fact, in Australia the shark cull has been met with such fierce opposition that professional fishermen refused to collaborate with the government.
In February 2015 Japanese national Tadashi Nakahara, 41, died from massive blood loss after a shark severed both of his legs at Shelley Beach, near Lennox Head, in northern New South Wales.
Brett Connellan, suffered injuries to his left leg and hand after he was attacked by a shark at Bombo Beach, NSW in March 2016 and in May 2016 in WA, surfer Ben Gerring dead in hospital after great white shark tore his legs.
In April 2017 a teenage surfer has died after she was mauled by a shark in Western Australia, her leg was badly mauled in the attack and she had lost a lot of blood when pulled from the water.
Last month a surfer has been described as “the luckiest man on earth” after a shark snapped his board in half before biting his hip on the NSW north coast.
Although W.A.’s shark cull this year failed to catch a single Great White, the government is hoping it can extend the programme to three years.
4. South Africa
Set to return to the world tour in a week or so, J-Bay also made headlines recently when the line-up had to be cleared after a Great White was spotted cruising the line-up. Not the first time that’s happened of course. In 2003, Taj cut one of his heats short after seeing a really big shark.
South Africa is where the Great White was first declared a protected endangered species in 1991 and, since turning into a thriving tourist industry in the form of shark cage diving, has built up quite the shark rep for itself. Dyer Island located just off Cape Town even earning itself the nickname of Shark Alley due to the large variety of species in the area.
The practice of chumming, baiting sharks closer to shore for tourists, most likely hasn’t helped reduce South Africa’s number of shark attacks, the third highest country on the International Shark Attack File and counting 12 fatal attacks in the last 5 years.
However, it’s important to remember that different shark species favour different niche habitats. The huge seal colonies that live off of Cape Town are what really lure Great Whites to the region. Kosi Bay estuary, located at the north-eastern extremity of South Africa, is a well known hot spot for bull sharks, known to the locals as Zambezi.
On the East coast around Durban the beaches are netted so there’s not too much to worry about there but up and down the rest of the coastline you’d do well to ask locals for info and take standard precautions such as avoiding known feeding times, surfing alone etc.
The most known shark attack in Africa is happend in J-Bay, when world champ Mick Fanning attacked by shark during his WCT final against fellow Australian Julian Wilson at Jeffreys Bay, east of Port Elizabeth. The footage shows a fin sticking out of the water as the shark appears to knock Fanning off his board. Fanning said he punched and kicked out at the shark as it broke his leg rope. The 34-year-old returned to the shore unharmed with the help of organisers, with the competition halted. WSL will return to J-Bay in 2016.
5. East Coast USA
This mostly means Florida (717 attacks since records began), although North (52) and South Carolina (82) are also fairly high risk areas; in fact North Carolina hit the headlines this summer following a spate of 7 attacks within the space of a month — an unusually high number. Two of these attacks occurred on the same day on the same stretch of beach, as two teenagers lost limbs in separate incidents.
Between 2004 and 2014 alone, the state of Florida was the scene of over 200 shark attacks. But while the waters off the coast of Florida are well-known sharky territory, the main reason for such a high incidence of attacks stems from the millions of visitors that visit Florida’s white sand beaches every year. The more people in the water, the greater the chances of an attack.
It’s worth bearing in mind too that most attacks in Florida are minor. The state has only recorded two fatal attacks in the last 10 years and a total of 14 over the last 100 years or so. Juvenile white pointers and other man-eating sharks such as tiger and bull sharks are known to frequent the region, at times circumnavigating Florida’s pan-handle right into the Gulf of Mexico (possibly to give birth), but a higher percentage of attacks prove fatal in North Carolina, where the continental shelf drops off into deep water much faster.
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