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Fatal shark attack shock...easily avoided?

Photo:The body of 20-year-old body boarder, David Lilienfeld, being remove from the beach shark attack at Koel Bay. Picture: Henk Kruger

A US-based documentary maker’s permit to conduct shark research along the country’s coastline, including KZN’s south coast, was cancelled after a young surfer was killed by a great white Thursday 4/19.

The Key was the chumming to attract sharks.

Our sympathy for David Lilienfeld, a 20-year-old bodyboarder, who died after a 4-metre shark severed his right leg while he was in the water with his brother and friends at Kogel Bay – between Gordon’s Bay and Rooi Els.

Lilienfeld was in the water with his brother Gustav, 18, when the shark attacked.

Zolile Nqayi, spokesman for the Department of Environmental Affairs, said they had cancelled the permit allowing documentary maker Chris Fischer to film great white sharks along the country’s coastline.


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

Nqayi, said the Shark Men project was due to span from the “West to the East” of South Africa.

Research was expected to take place off KZN’s south coast.

“The entire project has been cancelled, so they can’t even continue in the Cape where they are based and there won’t be any further activity anywhere (off the South African coast),” he said.

On Thursday, Fischer posted a message on the show’s Facebook page denying that his team was responsible for David’s death.

“We departed False Bay over three days ago after working there from Sunday afternoon… to Monday afternoon… During our 24 hours of work... there we chummed 24kg of pilchards (sardines).”

Gustav and his father Dr Dirk Lilienfeld comforted each other on the rocks above the waves where David was attacked.

The father and son sat on the rocks, waiting for a police photographer, and then for paramedics and NSRI volunteers to stretcher the body up the sharp, rocky incline to the waiting rescue vehicles in Clarence Drive.

All Lilienfeld said quietly, in Afrikaans, to the paramedics carrying his son up the incline was: “You’re looking at a Springbok” – referring to his son’s achievement of national honours as a bodyboarder.

Three witnesses who watched the attack told what they had seen.

Lucille Bester, from the Strand, said: ”It was a beautiful day and we were having lunch, watching the waves and the lovely scenery, checking out the surfers.

We started screaming from the top that there was a shark… But they could not hear us.

“The shark disappeared, but the next thing we saw the shark come from under one of the guys and grab him. The shark shook him and then let him go. The surfer was screaming – it was terrible!

“Then it took him again. And that was it. It took him under. The first time it took him, there wasn’t any blood. But the second time there was.

“We jumped in our cars to try to go and give help. I stopped a car on the road. They phoned the cops and everybody ran down. It was something I thought I would never experience in my life. It’s been a traumatic day.”

Yusuf George, of Mitchells Plain, had pulled over for a smoke break when he also witnessed the attack from the popular viewpoint over False Bay.

“I pulled off to take a smoke break… When I got there, they said there was a huge shark in the water. We were trying to shout to the boys to say there was a shark. But it was too late.

“The next minute I saw the shark circle this guy. The brother was on his way out to catch a wave, and his brother called out to him.

“We just saw blood all over. The brother wanted to go in and help, but he couldn’t because the shark still had his brother. The second time the shark took him, it took the boy down with him.”

Ocearch and the Kogel Baai attack - Searching for answers, finding few

20/04/12  ~ By Anton Louw ~

I was putting the finishing touches on a beautiful piece about why I love the change of seasons in the Cape seas. Then, my angel became a monster, and the world came crashing down. Facebook held the first strains of bad news. I didn’t want to believe it. A hoax, surely. We’ve heard too much about sharks recently. Then Twitter, then newsfeeds, then BBMs and phone calls. Another attack confirmed. This time fatal and at a beach I know and love so well. A great guy, a promising talent, a life cut short.

Attention was drawn to the Ocearch team in our waters by Dr Dirk Schmidt, a well-known wildlife photographer. I’d already heard Chris Fischer, the expedition leader, speak at a TEDx conference in Sea Point a few weeks before. He’d shared the stage with Chris Bertish, shark attack survivor Achmat Hassiem and numerous other marine conservationists and biologists. Without having a TV, it was my first impression of him and he came across reasonably well. A bit brash perhaps, but I think that’s a fairly common trait for Americans. So, when the issuing of his permit began to be questioned I was surprised at the venom being directed at him.

Zigzag spoke to Dr Alan Boyd, the issuing authority, on the topic who had the following to say at the time: “Yes, there should be increased shark activity in the vicinity of the vessel - which after all is the purpose of chumming. There will not be increased activity in areas away from the vessel,” was his response to how chumming will affect shark activity. When asked about the additional risks posed he had this to say: “Not at all. The work in False Bay is likely to focus on the existing WSCD area around Seal Island, and York Shoal which is further offshore.”

When asked if the public was consulted with or otherwise communicated to: “No, other than a general communication to affected stakeholders such as cage diving operators. There is no additional risk to the public, and the majority of direct stakeholders are either supportive or neutral with respect to the project. The alarmist messages being put out about this research endangering the public are inaccurate.”

Dr Dirk Schmidt took issue with the stance. In speaking to Zigzag on Thursday afternoon he had the following to say: "This is an extremely negative event for all concerned and my heartfelt condolences are extended to the family and friends of the victim. I propose that a full investigation be started as soon as possible into all possible factors pertaining to this attack, adherence to the permit conditions and under which conditions the permit was applied for. The results of this investigation must be made public, and individuals must take accountability for their actions. It is unfortunate that the relevant authorities did not issue an official "cautionary" note to the community, and that no public participation was obtained, prior to Ocearch arriving in the Bay."

“I am led to believe that the permit restricted the Ocearch to 48hours at any one location in the bay (False Bay). If chumming was done for the whole 48 hours, it is conceivable that the prevailing winds would have blown the chum slick towards the coastline, whether this has any bearing on the attack I would not want to speculate on."

Since the attack, Dr Boyd made the following statement: "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." The city has also closed the beach. Talk about closing the door as the horse is disappearing over the hills.

Chris Fischer, head of the Ocearch Research team had this to say on his Facebook page: “There has been tragic news in False Bay today. A body boarder has been taken by a white shark. Our thoughts and prayers go out to the family that has been affected. We departed False Bay over three days ago after working there from Sunday afternoon the 15th to Monday afternoon the 16th. During our 24 hrs of work (Sun afternoon to Monday afternoon) there we chummed 24kg of pilchards (sardines). Less than the daily allotment for each of three cage diving boats working daily. We have been east of Cape Agulhas since Monday evening until we arrived in Walker Bay this morning. We are terribly sorry again for the loss of this family and at this time our thoughts and prayers are with them.”

Zigzag is trying to contact him as well as others involved, but at the time of writing we have, fairly predictably, not heard back. Dr Schmidt did question the amount of chum claimed by Fischer, although he stressed he could not verify it.

Whatever the facts are, whatever the researchers and the authorities now feel, there has to be gnawing doubt in their minds. They haven’t lost a son, a brother, or a friend, but they won’t rest easily for some time.

As usual, there are more questions than answers, and emotions cloud clear thinking. Still, there are some points to consider:

Was the guilty shark part of the research sample? Would witnesses have noticed a tag on its dorsal fin? Tracking data would also let us know where tagged sharks were at the time of the incident. Is this the first time in history that certain sharks could have an alibi for an attack? Would this clear Ocearch? Or could this shark have been conditioned by Ocearch without being caught and tagged? Was it conditioned by cage-diving prior to Ocearch’s arrival?

On Tuesday, Lloyd Chapman is buzzed by a shark while surfing Lookout. We wouldn’t know about it if it wasn’t for a mutual friend. He reckons it was about 10m from where Tim van Heerden was attacked. It’s a Great White, not big at 3m and male – that’s how close it was. On its second pass it came within 30cm of him. It does not attack him. It was curious, but not aggressive. Ocearch has been operating in the area, but again, at such close quarters a tag should have been visible, and tracking data can tell us if there was a tagged shark in the vicinity. Do we make the assumption that this shark has not been conditioned, while making the reverse assumption for the Koeel Bay attack?

Scottburgh beach is closed after 14 tiger sharks are caught in the nets. 9 are released alive. The nets are removed and the beach is closed. Five sharks are dead. The public non-reaction indicates it’s a worthwhile trade-off. Ocearch’s methods and results are clearly not.

What is worse: a little chumming, almost daily, for years on end, or a big two day dump of chum? Remember in this argument, the cage-divers are telling the researchers they’re out of line, despite being endorsed by essentially the same group of people for years.

Why was it only the False Bay cage-divers who objected to Ocearch? Mossel Bay operators were onboard, literally, as was at least part of the Gansbaai crew.

Why are almost all the scientists and researchers lined up on the one side of the fence, and the laymen on the other? Dr Leonard Campagno and Michael Scholl are the only scientists who opposed the project, although we don’t know their exact positions. Dr Schmidt, is not a scientist. His doctorate is in business, apparently. Chris Fallows, also opposed to the project and is also not a scientist, but again, I don’t have clarity on his stance. Everyone else whose name I’ve encountered while researching sharks in the past has backed Ocearch. Do they still now?

It was a very aggressive attack. Does this imply a change in behaviour? Has it been gradual or is it the sudden result of something? Why are Ocearch’s activities so detrimental but other chumming activities are apparently less so (cage-diving) or considered benign (fish cleaning from harbours and boats, and spearfishing)?

If we banned all forms of deliberate chumming, what would we learn? What would we say if there was another attack? Would we find someone to blame? What if there was no difference in attack trends after a ban? Would we allow it again?

And something that very few are willing to consider: Is it just awful timing? For everyone involved.

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