Hawaii hosts sum­mit on white sharks

Spot­light on cage-div­ing and con­ser­va­tion as world’s ex­perts gather

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - NEWS - HE­LEN BAM­FORD

GREAT white shark at­tacks and con­tro­ver­sial cage-div­ing will come un­der the spot­light at an in­ter­na­tional white shark sym­po­sium in Hawaii next month.

Ali­son Kock, white shark sci­en­tist with the Save Our Seas Foun­da­tion, will be pre­sent­ing two pa­pers and is also on the or­gan­is­ing com­mit­tee.

Lead­ing white shark re­searchers from around the world will dis­cuss is­sues such as hotspots, mod­ern threats, re­search ethics and con­ser­va­tion poli­cies and will come up with a list of rec­om­men­da­tions and ad­vice to gover nments fol­low­ing at­tacks.

Kock said the last in­ter­na­tional con­fer­ence ded­i­cated to white sharks was held in the US in 1996.

“They came up with a ‘bi­ble’ of white shark in­for ma­tion which is still used to­day. Our aim is to pro­duce a com­pre­hen­sive book con­tain­ing the most re­cent sci­en­tific in­for­ma­tion.”

White sharks, which can live up to 60 years, are listed as Vul­ner­a­ble to Ex­tinc­tion by the In­ter na­tional Union for the Con­ser­va­tion of Na­ture Red List of threat­ened species.

Shark at­tacks have made head­lines in re­cent weeks af­ter the at­tack at Fish Hoek beach which claimed the life of Zim­bab­wean tourist Lloyd Skin­ner last Tues­day.

Kock said the pri­mary ob­jec­tive of the con­fer­ence would be to ed­u­cate de­ci­sion­mak­ers by pro­vid­ing them with a con­cise sum­mary of white shark bi­ol­ogy and be­hav­iour, and put shark at­tack risk in the proper per­spec­tive.

She will be pre­sent­ing pa­pers on Cape Town’s unique Shark Spot­ting pro­gramme and on in­for­ma­tion gath­ered from a num­ber of “crit­ter cam­eras” at­tached to sev­eral sharks in False Bay.

The shark-spot­ting pro­gramme was started in 2004, af­ter an at­tack on teenager John Paul “JP” An­drew whose right leg was bit­ten off at Muizen­berg beach. It gained mo­men­tum fol­low­ing the at­tack a few months later on Tyna Webb, 77, who was killed by a great white shark while swim­ming at Fish Hoek beach.

“There is no other pro­gramme like it in the world,” Kock said. “It’s not just about beach safety but also about edu- cation and aware­ness be­cause the spot­ters keep detailed records of wa­ter users as well as dol­phins and sharks.”

Kock will also present her find­ings on sharks at Seal Is­land in False Bay who have been fit­ted with “Crit­ter­cams”, small cam­eras, which are tem­po­rar­ily at­tached to the first dor­sal fin of male and fe­male sharks pro­duc­ing im­ages of sharks in­ter­act­ing with their en­vi­ron­ment and hunt­ing.

The cam­eras can be set for up to eight hours and af­ter­wards are re­leased and float to the sur­face where they can be picked up via a ra­dio sig­nal from up to 40km away.

Kock said there would also be dis­cus­sions on cage-div­ing and eco-tourism.

Some crit­ics claim there have been more at­tacks since cage-div­ing ven­tures start­ing op­er­at­ing and us­ing chum to lure sharks to their boats.

But Kock said that while there did need to be more re­search on the mat­ter, there were in­di­ca­tions that sharks spent very lit­tle time around cage-div­ing boats be­cause they didn’t get a re­li­able or sig­nif­i­cant amount of food.

“But it is cru­cial to en­sure that sharks are not ac­tively fed be­cause that would af­fect be­hav­iour.”

Kock, who has been study­ing white sharks full-time since 2003, worked as a guide on a cage-div­ing boat in False Bay in 1999 and 2000. It was one of the rea­sons she went back to uni­ver­sity to study the an­i­mals.

“Ev­ery ques­tion I had was met with the same re­sponse – ‘don’t know’ – so I went back to var­sity to do my mas­ters.” She is cur­rently do­ing her PhD.

Kock said South Africa was still re­garded as a leader in white shark con­ser­va­tion al­though there had been a spate of cases where shore an­glers were catch­ing the sharks.

“But we prob­a­bly have some of the best study sites in the world,” she said.

The In­ter­na­tional White Shark Sym­po­sium will be held in Honolulu from Fe­bru­ary 7-10.


APEX PREDA­TOR: A white shark mea­sur­ing about 3.5m glides through the wa­ter off Dyer Is­land.


TRACKING: White shark sci­en­tist Ali­son Kock uses a VHF ra­dio trans­mit­ter to lo­cate a ‘Crit­ter­cam’, a small cam­era tem­po­rar­ily at­tached to the dor­sal fins of sharks.

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