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Cape Town sharing waters with deadly sharks

Saturday, June 23, 2012

S AFRICA: Undetected on the mountain slope, Tino Simmerie sweeps his binoculars over the South African bay where bathers happily splash about in turquoise waters.

"They don't have a clue what's going on basically," he said, staring out at the popular Fish Hoek beach where he once saw a shark come up to the shore.

"We never know for sure when a shark is going to come into this bay -- that's why we're every day up here to just keep an eye out." Armed with a walkie-talkie, binoculars and polarised sunglasses to protect against the harsh ocean glare, the 22-year-old is part of Cape Town's frontline against the Great Whites sharing its seas.

The pioneering programme, Shark Spotters, started in 2004 after a spate of bites and sightings by placing human look-outs at busy beaches to give the alert for the sea to be cleared if fins are seen moving in.

South Africa records fewer attacks than other shark hotspots such as Australia and the United States. But the fatality rate is high: South Africa accounts for one-third of the 24 deaths worldwide on the International Shark Attack File for the past three years, despite local bites making up less than 10 percent of all attacks.

The latest victim was a young Cape Town bodyboarder who died on April 19 after his leg was bitten off at a remote surfing spot, which followed a near-fatal mauling in September across the bay at top swimming site Fish Hoek.

Attacks in the age of Twitter have sparked alerts of "dinosaur huge" killers -- as tweeted by a witness to a 2010 death on Fish Hoek -- and fierce debate over theories of why bites are on the increase. "You can understand, it's a very emotional issue especially for the people who have witnessed shark attacks," said Sarah Titley, Shark Spotters project manager. "Being eaten by a very large fish is a very scary unknown that makes people react in a completely disproportionate way to what the actual sense of risk is. You've got a one in 253 million chance of being killed by a shark." "So the risk is very small but it's such a traumatic event for people and it really does cause a lot of hype and hysteria." -- 'We don't want to kill the sharks' To counter some of the fears, an exclusion net is on the cards for Fish Hoek, to add another layer to the city's prevention buffers after the attack seven months ago deepened its deadly reputation on the back of two deaths since 2004.

AFP

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