Have WE turned sharks into maneaters: Baiting leads to rise in Great White attacks
By Andrew Malone
Last updated at 12:30 AM on 15th January 2010
Fiddling with his swimming goggles as he strolled across one of Cape Town's most popular beaches, Lloyd Skinner did not notice anything amiss.
With temperatures in the 90s, the sand was packed with families enjoying the delights of the South African summer.
The sea appeared calm - perfect to escape the heat. But as he waded out, something terrible started to happen. A strange ripple effect circled him in the water. On the beach, people started waving their towels and shouting at him desperately.
Great White sharks are known as apex predators of the sea
It was too late. A great white shark struck 37-year-old Skinner with devastating force. The world's deadliest coldblooded predator then turned and, amid thrashing water, pulled its human prey under the waves.
Astonishingly, all was not lost. An endurance runner and fitness fanatic, Skinner somehow managed to struggle to the surface as the sea turned red around him.
He disappeared again moments later. The shark simply circled and struck again, knocking the man into the air before pulling him under once more. He has not been seen since.
This was no ordinary shark attack. The beast was simply enormous - indeed, one eye witness described the animal as being the size of a 'dinosaur or bus'. And chillingly, some experts believe the deadly predator, hungry for meat, could have been tempted to shore by humans themselves. It may be that it is we, not the Great White, who are at fault for this horrific attack.
Despite lifeguards' best efforts, Mr Skinner was doomed. With Cape Town's beaches packed because of a heatwave, lifeguards raced into the water. 'I was shouting "Shark! Shark!'' ' one said last night. 'These bathers were about 15 metres away and could not see what was happening. Then it was over. There was this pool of blood in the water.'
Using its unique ability to detect the tiny electrical pulse emitted by a human heart, this fearsome creature - estimated to weigh more than five tonnes - had attacked the tourist, striking from beneath at up to 25mph.
Watching from his holiday home overlooking the beach, Gregg Coppen was horrified. 'Holy s***! We just saw a gigantic shark eat what looked like a person in front of our house! That shark was huge! Like dinosaur huge!'
He added: 'It was this giant shadow. . . it sort of came out of the water and took this colourful lump and went off with it. You could see its whole jaw wrap around the thing - which turned out to be a person.'
Renting shark cages to tourists has led to Great Whites getting increasingly used to human interaction
Horrified British visitors also saw the carnage unfold at Fish Hoek, a popular tourist resort 30 minutes outside Cape Town, a premier destination for Britons keen to escape freezing temperatures at home.
'We saw the shark come back twice,' said Phyllis McCartain from Arundel in Sussex. 'It had the man's body in its mouth and his arm was in the air. Then the sea was full of blood.'
Denis Lundon, her holiday companion, watched as the swimmer was thrust out of the water by the shark's strike. 'I jumped, waved my hat and roared and screamed at swimmers to get out of the water,' he said. 'I never want to experience this again. I'm going to block it out of my mind.'
Kyle Johnston, another tourist, said: 'We were at about chest depth and he was deeper. We saw people waving towels at us, then we looked further out to sea and saw what looked like blood, and a man's leg come up.'
An engineer from Zimbabwe who ran mines in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Skinner was on holiday in South Africa to attend the wedding of his partner's daughter, who was on the beach as the horror unfolded.
As the police helicopters scoured the area yesterday, and beaches remained closed, a coastguard-spokesman said: 'Whether we find body parts . . . it's very unlikely. The possibility of the body being completely consumed is being considered. We think the shark took everything.'
By last night, only the tourist's goggles had been recovered. Shark spotters were desperate to locate the Great White responsible. Because sharks are territorial creatures, experts say a beast this size is likely to return again and again to the same spot where prey is known to live.
Ever since the Steven Spielberg film Jaws, this lethal predator has been reviled and feared.
But many believe humans, not the Great White, should be blamed for this horrific death, the latest in a string along South Africa's coastline, which has one of the largest Great White populations in the world.
Indeed, seas around Cape Town teem with these creatures. Despite their fearsome reputation as a so-called apex predator, with only humans higher in nature's hierarchy, Great Whites seldom attack humans. They feed instead on seals, dolphins and large fish such as tuna.
But now the tables are being turned - and humans are being hunted. With no reported attacks for decades, up to three fatal attacks - as well as countless lesser incidents - are now being reported each year.
Many believe this is due to the greedy, irresponsible actions of dozens of tour operators, which have sprung up along a place known locally as 'shark alley', offering tourists the chance to 'swim' with these monsters of the deep.
Shark baiting is believed be behind the surge in Great White attacks
Touting for business at tourist spots such as Cape Town waterfront, they charge tourists £100 a time to be taken out by boat, placed in a cage and lowered into the water, hoping for the Great White shark of Jaws legend to circle.
The methods used to entice the sharks to the paying tourists are being blamed for turning these Great Whites into man-eaters.
Environmentalists and surfers blame these tourist boats for 'chumming': dropping bloody bait, such as meat and rotting fish, into the sea to lure sharks towards the tourists.
Surfers and swimmers say this pungent bait drifts all over the sea, luring sharks dangerously close to the shore. They say chumming is behind the upsurge in lethal attacks.
Craig Bovim, a marine engineer who survived a shark attack, has set up a group to lobby for cage diving to be banned, saying the presence of people in the shark's habitat was creating a familiarity between the two species - with deadly results.
'We should stop this craze,' he says. 'Baiting of leopards and lions is no longer allowed. We should not do it to sharks. They are magnificent animals.'
Adrian Charles, another surfer, said: 'Sharks are intelligent creatures and they learn to associate human beings with food. They follow the boats into the harbour when in the past they wouldn't come all the way in.'
The remarkable proliferation of these sharks around Fish Hoek, where the Atlantic first touches the Indian Ocean on the eastern side of Cape Town known as False Bay, has also brought an influx of wildlife photographers and film crews.
Their methods, according to locals, are also making these sharks associate humans with food. With cameras rolling, many film crews tow dead seals behind their boats in the hope that a Great White will leap out of the water and attack.
Even Peter Benchley - whose book inspired Jaws the movie, sealing the reputation of the killer Great White - now campaigns to save sharks, more than 100 million of which are killed by humans each year for soup and as a by-product of industrial netting.
So big is the threat to their future - and they are a vital part of the ocean's eco-system - that many species, including the Great White, have been designated as endangered.
But with beaches last night still closed amid the Cape Town heatwave, and spotters buzzing the sea in helicopters, some people were already going back into the water.
Incredibly, lifeguards had to chase several people from the sea where this week's fatal attack happened.
So is cage diving to blame for the latest death? Hard to say - but this dreadful attack did, at least, give an insight into the relative intelligence of humans and Great White sharks, regarded by scientists as the number one and number two predators on the planet.
In the water, however, the shark always wins.
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