World Environment News

South Africa Shark Attack Raises Spear Fishing Fears

Date: 01-Dec-03
Author: Ed Stoddard

Police originally said Sheldon Jee, a 21-year-old dive instructor, was presumed to have fallen victim to a shark while scuba diving off Sodwana Bay on South Africa's northeast coast Thursday. His severed left hand was all that was found.

But his diving school said Saturday he had been spear fishing at the time. They think he was attacked by a 13-foot tiger shark far from the dive sites of Sodwana, famed for stunning coral formations and tropical fish.

The fact that he was spear fishing at the time will come as a relief of sorts for the thousands of scuba divers who will descend on Sodwana over the Christmas holiday period, as sharks almost never attack divers.

"Scuba divers usually don't get attacked. The shark recognizes them as non-food because of their odd shape such as the tank. The bubbles may also bother them," said Phil Heemstra, a marine biologist with the South African Institute for Aquatic Biodiversity.

Spear fishing is a different matter: "Spear fishermen sometimes pass out from holding their breath, and he may have blacked out and then been taken by a shark.

"They (sharks) also pick up the vibrations and blood from the speared fish and that gets them excited and puts them in feeding mode," Heemstra said.

Debby Oscroft, who works for Jee's diving school Coral Divers, said: "Sheldon was spear fishing when he went missing and he was in deep water hundreds of meters out from the reefs where people scuba dive.

"The divers who searched for him Thursday came across a four-meter tiger shark in the area where he went missing. It was so big that a search plane also saw it from the air," she told Reuters.

Tiger sharks, which can grow to 5.5 meters (18 feet), are among the most dangerous sharks in the sea.

Fatal shark attacks in general are rare.

The University of Florida's International Shark Attack File shows 60 unprovoked shark attacks were recorded in 2002, lower than the 72 in 2001 and 85 in 2000. Only three people around the world were registered on the file as killed by sharks in 2002.

© Thomson Reuters 2003 All rights reserved

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