Shark kill provokes baiting criticism


A DEADLY shark attack off a Cape Town beach on Thursday has sparked criticism of baiting methods used by a US filmmaker studying great whites in the area, and prompted officials to cancel his research licence.

Promising international body boarder David Lilienfeld (20) was attacked and killed by the 5m-long apex predator off a beach near Kogel Bay, along the False Bay coast, where he was surfing with his younger brother, Gustav.

Witness Matt Marais told reporters he saw a huge dorsal fin of a shark surface near the two brothers and close in on them.

“The shark kept coming back, a second and I think a third time, before it got his leg. It was like someone pushed a button to turn the sea from a clear blue to dark red, that’s how quickly he was losing blood from the wound.”

The attack has occurred at the same time documentary-maker Chris Fischer, who stars in the National Geographic hit reality show Shark Men, has been independently researching great whites in the Cape amid controversy over the baiting technique he has been using.

Known as “chumming”, the technique is used by researchers and cage dive operators to attract sharks to their boats so the animals can be viewed up close. The practice involves pouring large volumes of fish oil and entrails into the water to attract the sharks.

The technique has been heavily criticised by marine conservationists, who suspect it attracts sharks towards populated beaches when done close to shore, and it associates humans with prey.

In Shark Men scientists gathering information about the predators attract the great white sharks on to an underwater platform with chum. Once on board, it is raised out of the water, giving viewers a unique shot of the animal. The shark is then released.

Before the filmmaker’s arrival, conservationists, False Bay locals and surfers called for a high shark alert to be issued to the public because up to five tons of chum would be used over the month of filming. This was not heeded by the authorities.

On Thursday, environmental affairs spokesman Zolile Nqayi said while they felt the incident and Fischer’s activities were unrelated, the department had decided to pull his licence regardless.

“Because of the controversy that has followed it [Fischer’s research], we have decided to cancel it immediately,” Nqayi said.

In his defence Fischer posted a message on Shark Men’s Facebook page denying his research work was connected to the attack, as they had left long before it happened.

“We departed False Bay over three days ago after working there from Sunday afternoon ... to Monday afternoon ... During our 24 hrs of work ... there we chummed 24kg of pilchards,” he said. This was less than the amount released by a single cage diving boat operating in False Bay each day, he added.

Fischer’s position was supported by independent marine biologists who said there could be numerous reasons why the sharks entered Kogel Bay that day. Nevertheless, hundreds of South Africans have been criticising Fischer and his team on the internet since the attack.