Success of the KwaZulu-Natal sharks Board in preventing shark attacks
Although shark attacks are relatively infrequent, they attract a high level of media response due to the emotional response of the public. Given that South Africa is well known for its warm climate, beach culture, the popularity of water related activities and has 2,500 km of coastline it is perhaps not surprising that is has a relatively high rate of shark attack.
Records of shark attacks in South Africa have been recorded from as early as the mid 1800’s. However, it was only after the establishment of the International Shark attack file (ISAF) in 1958, that shark attacks were investigated in detail. The KZN Sharks Board was appointed the official curator of the South African shark attack file in 1974.
Shark attacks can be categorised as either unprovoked, or provoked. An unprovoked attack is defined in the ISAF as incidents where an attack on a live human occurs in the shark’s natural habitat with no human provocation of the shark e.g. swimming or surfing. Provoked attacks occur when a human initiates interaction with a shark in some way. These include instances when divers are bitten after harassing or trying to touch sharks, attacks on spearfishers, attacks on people attempting to feed sharks, bites occurring while unhooking or removing a shark from a fishing net, and so forth. These provoked attacks have been excluded from analysis contained in this report.
Globally the number of shark attacks is increasing, a trend which is attributed to a greater number of people entering the water. A similar trend is evident is South Africa, which has experienced 394 recorded unprovoked attacks, the majority of which have occurred since the 1940’s. Of these 90 have been fatal.
During the first half of the 20th century, in South Africa, the majority of shark attacks were recorded off the coast of KwaZulu-Natal. Indeed, it was the high number of attacks and the collapse of the local tourism industry, which resulted in the deployment of nets to capture sharks. Since the deployment of the first nets off Durban, and expansion of the KZN Sharks Board operations the number of attacks has continually decreased along the KZN coastline. This is in marked contrast, to both the Eastern and Western Capes where attacks have continued to increase. These contrasting trends clearly highlight the effectiveness of the KZN Sharks Board bather protection program in providing protection from shark attack.
Since the inception of bather protection gear there have been only 27 attacks, none of which have been fatal, in the 67 years since their inception. Indeed, the serious injury at a protected beach involved a surfer at Umtentweni who were bitten on the leg by a great white in 1999. Without the KZN Sharks Board programme it is highly likely that the shark population would slowly increase along the KZN coastline, eventually resulting in a fatal shark attack and economic catastrophe to the local tourism industry.