Shark-wary South African surfers say chum is no buddy

Wed Apr 25, 2012 10:02am EDT
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By Wendell Roelf

CAPE TOWN (Reuters) - Luring great white sharks with a smelly mixture of fish and oil in South Africa's False Bay has triggered a wave of anger, with surfers and swimmers calling for a ban on the practice following a fatal shark attack a week ago.

A growing attraction over the past several years in one of Africa's biggest tourist destinations, Cape Town, has been underwater dives with sharks, with operators clouding waters with a bloody mixture called "chum" to attract the predators.

Many marine experts doubt if chumming changes the behavior of sharks in the region, which include great white sharks as long as mini-buses that weigh upwards of four tons.

But the practice has rattled surfers, swimmers and kayakers, especially after a suspected great white shark ripped the leg off of David Lilienfeld, 20, last week, killing the champion body-boarder.

Data shows since 2000 there have been 10 shark attacks around Cape Town's coast, five of them fatal, including Lilienfeld.

"This is an animal that kills people when it comes into confrontation with people. So let's not make them aggressive. Let's not dangle bait in front of them and stuff like that," Cas Collier, a former big wave world champion, said at Surfer's Corner, Muizenberg beach in the bay.

Sharks are drawn to the area to feed on the large number of seals at Seal Island, a rocky outcrop in the middle of False Bay. Once hunted for sport trophies, great whites have been a protected species in South African waters since 1991.

"It goes without saying that chumming in False Bay must be banned until we have a better understanding of shark behavior and the potential for habituation," said surfer John Gasson in a published letter.   Continued...