Do's and Don'ts
- Swim in a group since attacks are often on individuals.
- Swim closer to shore to that you are close to assistance.
- Avoid swimming at night, dawn, or dusk since sharks are most active at these times.
- Sharks can smell and taste blood, so don’t swim if you are bleeding.
- Sewage attracts bait fishes, which in turn attract sharks. Avoid sewage contaminated beaches.
- Don’t swim in water with lots of bait fishes. Diving seabirds are good indicators of such activities.
- Leave the water immediately if sharks are seen or asked to do so by a lifeguard.
- Erratic movements in the water can attract sharks.
- Sharks prefer to use sandbars or steep drop-offs.
- Divers should not try to touch a shark.
- Bites also occur when removing fishing hooks from sharks.
In the event of a shark attack time is critical! Local life guards and ambulance services should be contacted immediately!
Who to contact
KZN Sharks Board
1A Herrwood Drive
Private Bag 2
|Telephone: 031 566 0400|
Treating and reporting a shark attack
In the case of severe injuries, prompt and effective first aid can save a life or a limb. It is paramount to immediately control the loss of blood and to treat the patient for shock (loss of blood pressure to the vital organs). Lifeguard stations should be equipped with the necessary shark attack (trauma) packs to restrict blood loss and implement intravenous fluid infusion. Bacterial infection of the wounds is an important but secondary consideration. Any such incident should be reported to the KZN Sharks Board via its website (see link below). The KZNSB has a standard questionnaire available for completion. Any photographs of the injuries and the situation would be useful in ascertaining the species responsible.
KZN Sharks Board provides bather protection equipment against sharks while minimizing environmental impact, and promoting tourism.
Recent trends in shark attack in South Africa
South Africa, with a coastline 2800 km long, washed by the Atlantic Ocean in the west and Indian Ocean in the east, has long been regarded as one of the global hotspots for shark attack. Historically most South African attacks involved swimmers in relatively warm, shallow water of KZN, but in the last five decades most victims have been surfers and other wave riders, who venture further offshore and spend longer periods in the water, particularly in cold water (<20°C). This trend, which is evident in other parts of the world, is attributed to the development of wetsuits and the growing popularity of a wide variety of water activities, such as surfing, diving and kayaking. In South Africa spearfishers, who are not allowed to use scuba gear, appear to be the recreational user group most at risk to shark attack. This is not surprising, given that they often venture some distance offshore and their bleeding and struggling fish are known to attract sharks.
For the last two decades the annual number of attacks along the entire South African coast has averaged six; fatalities have averaged one per annum. Most of the incidents have taken place in the Eastern Cape, followed by the Western Cape and then KwaZulu-Natal (KZN). The low incidence of attacks in KZN is undoubtedly due to the provision of protective measures against shark attack in this province. As an indication of their effectiveness, Durban, the largest city on the east coast and the most popular coastal holiday destination for South Africa’s many inland residents, experienced 21 shark attacks between 1942 and 1951. As a result, shark nets, essentially large-mesh gill nets, were installed in Durban in 1952. At the time the costs were “considered to be small in relation to the benefit which is derived by the City of Durban and its numerous visitors.” Since then, there has not been a serious shark attack in Durban.
There were several shark attacks at other coastal towns along the KZN coast in the 1950's, culminating in a mass exodus of holiday makers from the coast during the infamous “Black December” of 1957 and the following Easter, but shark nets were only installed at these locations from 1962 onwards. In 1964 the Natal Anti-Shark Measures Board, renamed the Natal Sharks Board in 1985 and the KwaZulu-Natal Sharks Board in 2008, was formed. At the outset only nets were deployed but in 2005 drumlines (an anchored float with a large baited hook) were introduced as a supplementary means of fishing for sharks, alongside the nets. The drumlines were introduced to reduce the bycatch of rays, turtles, dolphins and the occasional whale, as well as several species of large sharks which pose minimal threat.
Currently 37 beaches are protected over a 320 km stretch of coastline by a total of 21 km of nets and 107 drumlines, which are serviced by 15 boat units. The nets are top set and made of polyethylene braid; most are 214 m long, 6.3 m deep and have a stretched mesh of 51 cm. They are set parallel to the shore in water 10-14 m deep and 300-500 m offshore. Where they occur, drumlines (each with a single Mustad14/0 baited hook) are positioned alongside the nets. The gear is usually checked 20 times each month with the drum lines baited at that time with southern rover Emmelichthys nitidus (family Emmelichthyidae) or false jacopever, Helicolenus dactylopterus (family Scorpinidae), both a bycatch of the hake demersal trawl fishery. Fishing gear is in place throughout the year, except for discretionary removal in winter to avoid high mortalities of sharks and dolphins which accompany the sardine run. The last incident at a protected beach was in 1999, one of only two since 1980.
The Sharks Board has long been mindful of its obligation to reduce catches and any potentially adverse impacts on the inshore marine environment. It developed a personal electrical shark repellent in the early 1990's, named the Shark POD; this technology is now used in the Australian product, Shark Shield. More recently, the Sharks Board has been developing an electrical cable which is aimed at keeping sharks out of an enclosed area.
Nature of attacks
Sharks are aroused by the struggles of a fish caught on a baited line, or spear or in a net. It is not uncommon for the fisherman involved to be bitten by a shark attracted by a struggling fish. Attracting sharks using bait and chum (a macerated concoction of fish diluted with seawater) is used in shark diving throughout the world. At the Aliwal Shoal divers observing blacktip and tiger sharks attracted in this manner have been bitten. All these incidents would be regarded as provoked attacks. In unprovoked attacks the motive of the shark is not necessarily feeding, but could be as a result of curiosity, aggression or fear (self-defense).
Disclaimer: Note that shark nets may be removed for various reasons such as storms and the sardine run. Always check with life guards on duty and/ or visit the Sharks Board website (see link below).