KwaZulu-Natal Sharks Board Maritime Centre of Excellence

History of protection against shark attack in KZN

Warm water (19-26°C), a mild, subtropical climate and wave-lapped beaches have long attracted visitors and residents to the sea at Durban and the adjacent coastline of KwaZulu-Natal (KZN). Unfortunately the pleasure of such visits has occasionally been marred by shark attack


As early as 1907 the Durban City Council decided to erect a large semi-circular enclosure, approximately 180 m in diameter, to protect swimmers from the surf and strong currents and against shark attack. The enclosure was constructed of steel piles with vertical steel grids placed between them.


In 1928 the enclosure was demolished as a result of the damage it had suffered from the often rough surf, extensive corrosion and the high cost of maintenance. In the next 11 years there was little evidence to suggest that shark attack was a problem in KwaZulu-Natal.


This changed in 1940, when five attacks took place along an 8 km stretch of coastline to the south of Durban, between Amanzimtoti and Winklespruit.


In 1943 the Durban beaches became the focal point for shark attack. Between 1943 and 1951, Durban experienced 21 attacks, seven of which were fatal. Desperate for a solution, the city authorities adopted a system that had been successfully used in Australia since 1937. There large-meshed gill nets anchored seaward of the breaker zone at several Sydney beaches not only trapped large sharks but also reduced the incidence of shark attack.


In 1952 seven gill nets, each 130 m long, were laid along the Durban beachfront. In the first year of operation 552 sharks were caught in these nets, but, more importantly, the desired effect was achieved and no serious shark-inflicted injuries have occurred since at Durban’s beaches.

Unfortunately the resulting safe bathing conditions did not extend to other holiday resorts on the KwaZulu-Natal coast, particularly those south of Durban, where a series of attacks between December 1957 (since known as the infamous Black December) and Easter 1958 claimed the lives of five people in 107 days. These incidents had a devastating effect on the coastal tourist industry because they led to a mass exodus of panic-stricken holidaymakers.In response to the public outcry, and fearing financial disaster, several coastal towns tried erecting physical barriers in the surf zone to enclose their swimming areas. 

These unsightly structures, built from poles, wire and netting, could not stand up to the heavy wave action and were soon abandoned. Dedicated depth-charging by a South African Navy frigate is known to have killed eight sharks but probably attracted more sharks to the area to feed on dead fish


The logical solution was an expansion of Durban’s netting operations and in 1962 shark nets were installed at some of the larger holiday resorts to the north and south of Durban. At that time the Natal Provincial Administration created a statutory body, known as the Natal Anti-Shark Measures Board, now called the KwaZulu-Natal Sharks Board (KZNSB), which was “charged with the duty of approving, controlling and initiating measures for safeguarding bathers against shark attacks”.


By March 1966 there were fifteen beaches with protective nets, maintained either by commercial fishermen or municipal employees. At this stage the KZNSB field staff worked in a supervisory capacity, but in 1974 the organisation began to take over the servicing and maintenance of net installations and by 1982 it was solely responsible for all shark netting in the province of Natal (now known as KwaZulu-Natal).


After 1970, the length of netting continued to increase, peaking at 45km in 1992, when there were 44 protected beaches. Between 1999 and 2004, a phase of intensive net reduction at most beaches resulted in a decline in the length of netting down to 27km, a reduction of 40%. In February 2007, drumlines replaced half of the nets at 17 of the 18 beaches along the Hibiscus Coast in an effort to reduce the entanglement of bycatch species.