Here is a media release from the City of Cape Town
30 AUGUST 2011
Inshore movement of sharks: Safety for the
The City of Cape Town would once again like to remind all beach and
ocean users that we are approaching the time of year when we expect to
see a seasonal increase in the presence of white sharks in the in-shore
This seasonal change is not unique to False Bay or recent in its
occurrence. Similar behaviour is recorded in Gansbaai, Mossel Bay and
Shark sightings recorded by the shark spotters have consistently shown a
seasonal peak during the period from August to March, peaking in mid-
summer. Typically shark sightings start in late August. However, shark
spotters and water users have recorded early sightings in the last two
weeks in Muizenberg, St. James and Clovelly.
White shark research trips over the weekend recorded a significant drop
in shark activity at Seal Island, indicative of the seasonal move of sharks
away from the island to the in-shore areas. The City is therefore
appealing to all beach and ocean users to be aware of these recent
sightings and the expected increase in shark presence in the in-shore
area over the summer months.
I was walking the dog on Muizenberg beach the other day when the sirens sounded and the white flag was raised. (Why white? I would have thought red would be better.) Most of the surfers and bathers left the water, but a few ignored the warning and stayed in the surf. They were fortunate they weren’t eaten.
Yesterday, a similar thing happened at Fish Hoek on the Clovelly end of the beach. Sirens, flags, but one person, Mr Michael Cohen, chose to ignore them. He wasn’t as lucky as his foolhardy fellows in Muizenberg, and he is now in the Constantiaberg Clinic with his right leg considerably shorter than the left.
I’m posting this because I simply do not understand it. Everyone knows that this coast is dangerous and has a history of shark attacks, which is why the city goes to the lengths it does to safeguard its burghers. The measures are usually effective—if the signals are heeded. It is probably some state of mind which refuses to accept mortality; these folk have the “it’ll never happen to me” mindset. I’m surprised that the man bitten yesterday was in his forties, because I had always thought that folly of this kind was the preserve of youth.
Delusions of immortality are what cause young men to obey their officers and charge an enemy machine gun; it is delusions of immortality that result in reckless driving or piloting planes into buildings.
But we are all mortal. If we all didn’t suffer such delusions at least in a limited sense, then none of us would get out of bed in the morning for fear of the dreadful things that could happen to us. So I suppose delusions of immortality have some kind of evolutionary value, even if they do lead some of us to do things that might result in our premature death.
The risk takers are of value to us as a society, even if they don’t last long. Without them we would have no astronauts, or deep-sea divers, or explorers, or formula 1 racing drivers.
Mr Cohen, who I suspect will henceforth be known as Hopalong Cohen,
was is such a person. I bet that when he emerges from the Constantiaberg Clinic, he will return to Fish Hoek beach and swim again, although he may take more notice of the shark warnings in future.
Grumpy Old Man by Mark Widdicombe is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 2.5 License
Not to detract from your greater point concerning risk-taking, but shark attacks are statistically quite rare occurrences. When we hear of one, our thoughts and imaginations arrest us with deep dread because the attack evokes our most primal fears: an unstoppable and veracious living monster intent on tearing us limb from limb in its insatiable pursuit of food. This perception is ably helped along by urban myths fuelled by the Jaws movies and others of the same genre.
People are not normal food for sharks. Seals and turtles are their preferred menu. Spear fishermen mimic the behaviour of seals and are often buzzed and sometimes attacked by sharks because of it, not because they have dead fish with them, though it’s the speared fishes’ distress that initially attracts the sharks. Surfers mimic the behaviour of turtles, especially when paddling around on their boards. From underneath the water looking upwards, shape and colour distinctions become blurred and only a dark silhouette is visible, particularly when sunlight comes in more or less along the line of sight. Surfers therefore also get attacked more often.
Sharks also exhibit two types of bite, namely a tasting/testing bite, and a feeding bite. The tasting/testing bite is like a gentle nip compared to the feeding bite, which involves the full force of the shark’s jaws. A feeding bite is characterised by the shark biting into its prey and thrashing about until it tears a mouthful off, which it then swallows whole, and then repeating the process. A testing/tasting bite involves merely sinking the shark’s teeth into potential prey to gauge its suitability. Most shark attacks on humans are testing/tasting bites. The problem with great whites is that they are so damn huge and strong that the victim is severely harmed irrespective of which type of bite they receive.
And thus sharks are the victims of much bad and uninformed press, coupled with hype and fear. I write this in an attempt to clear up some misconceptions about sharks, not to suggest that shark warnings can be safely ignored — or should be. Just the opposite: Erring on the side of caution in this context is wiser if haleness and longevity are your thing.
You are correct about the relative infrequency of shark attacks. I’ve heard (from somewhere, I can’t remember) that more people are killed each year by coconuts falling on their heads than by being bitten by sharks. However, a coconut falling on the noggin is a comedic sort of death, rather than a horrific one. There’s something in the human psyche that recoils from the thought of being eaten alive by a powerful predator, which is probably where the irrational fear of sharks come from. This coast, particularly False Bay, has more shark attacks than any other place on the planet, so I will obey the warnings even if others won’t.
Incredible! This blog looks just like my old one! It’s on a entirely different topic
but it has pretty much the same layout and design. Outstanding choice of colors!
It’s nearly impossible to find well-informed people about
this subject, but you seem like you know what you’re talking about!