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Shark documentary permit cancelled after attack

Publish date: 24 April 2012
Issue Number: 258
Diary: Legalbrief Environmental
Category: Conservation

The jury was out last week on a possible link between a shark filming project off the coast of Cape Town and the death of a body boarder in a shark attack, writes Legalbrief.

The shark research permit for a US-based documentary maker was cancelled with immediate effect after a deadly shark attack in Kogel Bay last Thursday, an official said. A report on the News24 site quotes Biodiversity and Coastal Research director Alan Boyd as saying: 'I cancelled all the shark research permits for the project ten minutes ago when I heard about it. This incident is a tremendous tragedy and I'm very shocked. No more field work will be proceeding from here on out.' Boyd recently granted a research permit to US-based documentary maker Chris Fischer to film great white sharks in the Cape. At the time Boyd issued the permit, he said chumming for sharks 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. However, it caused fears this could attract sharks to populated beaches. Fischer had been in the country for the last month capturing and filming sharks in their natural habitat for the National Geographic documentary Shark Men. Full report on the News24 site

The tagging of False Bay sharks for a documentary could not be linked to the attack, 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,' a Mail & Guardian Online report quotes environmental policy and strategy head Gregg Oelofse as saying. '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, according to the report. Full Mail & Guardian Online report

But, shark conservationists are demanding answers from government officials who gave the go-ahead for what they believe to be risky research practices. According to a Mail & Guardian Online report, Lesley Rochat, executive director of AfriOceans Conservation Alliance, said she and others had asked that the filming be postponed until their concerns had been addressed but this call was ignored. 'They (officials) are going to have to answer for this and answer fast,' she added. Rochat, a shark conservationist, warned that the incident would only serve to increase people's fears of the ocean and of sharks, which badly need protection, according to the report. It notes she said that although the two events could not be definitively linked, there was still a 'massive question mark' over the whole affair. Full Mail & Guardian Online report

New research from Australia points to proof that chumming keeps sharks in an area longer, suggesting this could raise the statistical chances of an attack. A Cape Argus report notes that the study, by the Australian equivalent of SA's Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR), showed that chumming could lead to changes in the behaviour of white sharks. The Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) conducted its research off North Neptune Island in South Australia between 2010 and last year, according to the report. It says they noted 'significant changes' in white shark behaviour after 2007, when chumming increased as the shark cage diving industry expanded. The report said that while this did not mean the number of sharks had increased, it did reflect 'that they are staying for longer periods, and that each individual is seen more often'. Rochat said that while she had not seen the research, there was every reason to believe that if sharks behaved one way in Australia, similar behaviour would be recorded in SA. According to the report, Rochat accused the national authorities of being 'arrogant' in their handling of the issuing of the permit for the Shark Men researchers, saying they had ignored the concerns around possible shark attacks voiced by the public and various NGOs. Full Cape Argus report (subscription needed)