Shark Attacks In South Africa

A warning at a South African beach alerting surfers and swimmers about shark attacks.

Shark Attacks In South African Waters -

Sharks are apex predators and have little fear of other sea creatures with the exception of orcas. These carnivores usually do not attack humans for food, and often bite humans due to mistaken identity. Such bites are usually exploratory in nature but might cause grievous injuries to the victim if strongly bitten. Some shark bites are, however, unprovoked and not due to mistaken identity. Several reasons trigger sharks to prey on humans and coastal waters of some parts of the world are infamous for fatal shark attacks.

As per the data provided by the International Shark Attack File, 2,899 confirmed unprovoked shark attacks including 548 fatal attacks occurred across the world between 1958 and 2016. South Africa is one of the countries of the world where shark attacks on humans are relatively frequent in nature. The fatality rate of shark attack in South Africa is 27%.

Which Shark Species Are Commonly Involved In Such Attacks? -

In the recent decades, three species of sharks out of the 480 shark species, namely the tiger sharks, bull sharks, and great white sharks have been held responsible for most of the unprovoked shark attacks on humans and related fatalities. However, during the World War I and II, the oceanic whitetip was considered to be the most dangerous shark of all. However, since it rarely approaches coastal waters, current attacks on human victims near coasts are not related to this species of shark. During the wars, a large number of air and marine disasters took place where the human victims became the prey of the oceanic whitetip.

One of the infamous examples of whitetip related death occurred near South Africa on November 18, 1942, during the World War II. A British steamship, Nova Scotia was sunk by a German submarine. The ship was carrying 1,000 passengers and crew of which only 192 survived, and many became victims of whitetip attacks.

Types And Causes Of Shark Attack -

Shark attacks can be provoked or unprovoked. The former occurs in the case of sharks that are teased, poked, speared, hooked, netted, or otherwise threatened by humans. Provoked shark attacks are more frequent in areas with captive sharks like aquariums and holding-pens. Often, humans might unintentionally harm a shark. For example, sharks might be provoked to attack when a surfer’s board accidentally hits it.

Unprovoked attacks occur when sharks attack humans even when humans do not pose any threat to them. Some of the common types of unprovoked shark attacks are:

Hit-and-run attack: Often a case of mistaken identity and usually non-fatal in nature, such attacks involve a shark biting a human and then leaving the site. It often happens in murky waters or surf zones.

Sneak-attack: Extremely rare in occurrence, sneak attacks occur when sharks intentionally attack a live human with the aim of preying on the human victim. The victim usually is unaware of the shark’s presence and sustains multiple deep bite wounds as a result of the attack.

Bump-and-bite attack: Here, the shark circles the human victim and bumps the victim, often biting multiple times. It is believed sharks exhibit such behavior to identify what it is biting. Panicking during such attacks, thrashing in the waters might lead the shark to identify the human as its natural prey leading to a fatal attack.

Shark attacks during air/sea disasters and postmortem scavenging for human remains are not classified into either of the two categories and are treated as separate types of shark attacks.

Though sharks by nature are not modeled to consider humans as prey, in regions like South Africa, sneak attacks by sharks are more common than in other parts of the world. This fact is true since, in South Africa, sharks are used to human presence and associate humans with food due to the practice of "chumming" to lure sharks to cages during “diving with shark” activities. This increases the incidence of South Africa shark attacks.

An incident which could have been a case of unprovoked shark attack without the involvement of mistaken identity occurred in 2011 off the coast of Seal Island in South Africa. A research vessel carrying seven persons on board was studying sharks using sardines as bait when a great white shark jumped on the vessel. The shark land on top of the vessel, stranding the crew and researchers for quite some time. Water was poured on the shark's gills to keep it alive, and after the humans were rescued, great efforts had to be made to keep the shark alive and release it into the sea. However, the researchers labeled this incident as an accident, but nothing is known for sure.

Notable Cases And Black December -

Six deaths resulted from nine cases of shark attacks between the short span of time from December 18, 1957, to April 5, 1958. The incidents took places along the KwaZulu-Natal coast in South Africa, and a number of factors were held responsible for these deadly shark attacks. Factors that resulted in attracting sharks to the coastal waters in the area included whaling operations in the vicinity, flooding of rivers loading the Indian ocean with carcasses of livestock, murky river deltas, development of seaside resorts and increased number of tourists swimming or surfing in the coastal waters.

Known as the Black December, the dark period caused South Africa to suffer a great economic loss due to a decreased footfall of tourists in the country’s beaches. A number of measures were taken by local authorities to ward off the sharks, but none were really effective. Lack of sufficient research on shark behavior and awareness among swimmers and surfers about safety measures to be adopted further aggravated the situation. In the aftermath of Black December, the KwaZulu-Natal Sharks Board was formed with the aim to maintain drumlines and shark nets at several places along the coastline to protect surfers and bathers from shark attacks.

Do Dolphins Protect Humans Against Shark Attacks? -

A very interesting phenomenon has been recorded during a few shark attacks on humans. Bottlenose dolphins have been observed playing an active role in protecting humans against shark attacks. Two notable cases involve dolphins protecting a surfer from the shark attack in northern California in 2007 and the other in 2004 when life- guards were saved from a menacing shark by a pod of dolphins.

In the second case, the lifeguards were training at a beach near North Island in New Zealand. While they were in the water, a 3-meter shark started threatening the lifeguards. As per the accounts of the eyewitnesses, half a dozen dolphins suddenly appeared and surrounded the lifeguards and guided them back to safety. The lifeguards believe that the dolphins were definitely trying to save them from near death. Is is sad that these intelligent and selfless animals are today hunted and brutally killed by humans across the world.

Shark Attack In South Africa

Type Of AttackNo. Of Victims
Unprovoked (total)393
Non-Fatal And Unprovoked297
Fatal And Provoked96
Provoked/invalid/sea disaster/boating counts (Total)171
Boating 50
Sea Disaster5

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