Surfers and 'shark tourists' blamed for increase in attacks by great whites - Environment - The Independent

Surfers and 'shark tourists' blamed for increase in attacks by great whites

A A A

Eco-tourists and surfers invading the natural space of great white sharks are directly responsible for the recent spate of attacks, a leading shark expert said yesterday.

Eco-tourists and surfers invading the natural space of great white sharks are directly responsible for the recent spate of attacks, a leading shark expert said yesterday.

George Burgess, director of the Program for Shark Research at the University of Florida, said: "As more people take part in aquatic pursuits they are bumping into sharks more. It's as simple as that. The number of shark attacks is rising year by year while the shark population is dwindling - it's not rocket science to see that something is provoking them. We are swamping the near-shore environment."

He was commenting on incidents in the past few weeks that have seen one Australian killed and two Britons attacked. One was surfing and the other was in a shark cage on a "see great whites" tour.

Dr Burgess had harsh words to say about the growing number of firms in South Africa, Australia and the United States offering "great white shark tours" by boat, or, for braver souls, in a cage lowered into the sea. These often strew bait, known as "chum", in the water to attract great whites. "When you feed a shark you are provoking him, so most shark attacks are not actually attacks, just responses to the environment," Dr Burgess said. "Throwing fish and blood into the sea is altering the way that sharks behave. Shark tourism is not seeing sharks in their natural habitat - what tourists are watching is a circus.

"A lot of what you see with cages is the white shark being fooled by the electrical field from the metal. These animals have very acute electro-magnetic sensitivity, particularly up close, as they use it to catch fish. The cage fools them."

Dr Ellen Pikitich, of the Pew Institute for Ocean Science, New York, agreed: "Putting a cage into an area where there are known to be great whites is irresponsible." In the past decade, both surfing and shark tourism have boomed. The same period has seen a big increase in unprovoked shark attacks, according to the International Shark Attack File. This deals with confirmed cases and excludes provoked attacks, such as when a diver grabs at a shark. In the 1950s, there were barely a dozen unprovoked attacks a year; by the 1980s there were about 20; and last year there were 61.

Very few conform to the popular image fostered by Jaws. A mere handful are on bathers entering or exiting the water; the vast majority are on swimmers and surfers. Forty years ago, attacks on swimmers were twice as common as those on surfers, but last year they were both around 40 per cent.

There is, as yet, no category for attacks on shark tourists, but there may soon have to be. Andrew McLeod, senior aquarist at the Deep Submarium in Hull, said: "The problem is that some tour operators are more scrupulous than others. The practice of tow-roping - baiting a rope and pulling it towards the boat for a better view of the shark - is incredibly irresponsible. It really angers them."

Although attacks on people have been made by 30 or so species of shark, most are attributed to tiger, bull and great whites, with the last most commonly blamed. Yet, surprisingly little is known of what, for all its power, is a creature that experts say combines inquisitiveness and nervousness in equal measure. Its mating and birth have never been observed, its migrations and living arrangements are largely conjecture, and estimates of its numbers mere guesswork.

There are two main theories on attacks by great whites. One is that the silhouette of a wet-suited surfer, strikingly similar to that of a seal when seen from below, leads the shark to mistake it for its favourite meal and attack. When the shark realises it is not the fatty taste it was expecting, it spits the swimmer (or bits of him or her) out.

The second theory is that the inquisitive great whites, which use their mouths much as we do our hands, take a bite to feel an unfamiliar shape. (They have been known to bite platforms, boats and buoys.)

Most shark attacks do not result in death, which is more than can be said for our attacks on them. Last year, seven people worldwide were killed by sharks. And the number of them killed by us? Around 50 million.

Life and Style
tech
Arts and Entertainment
Robin Thicke's video for 'Blurred Lines' has been criticised for condoning rape
music
News
Paper trail: the wedding photograph found in the rubble after 9/11 – it took Elizabeth Keefe 13 years to find the people in it
newsWho are the people in this photo? It took Elizabeth Stringer Keefe 13 years to find out
Arts and Entertainment
Matt Damon as Jason Bourne in The Bourne Ultimatum (2007)
filmMatt Damon in talks to return
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Evil eye: Douglas Adams in 'mad genius' pose
booksNew biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Life and Style
Bono and Apple CEO Tim Cook announced U2's surprise new album at the iPhone 6 launch
tech(but you can't escape: Bono is always on your iPhone)
Sport
FootballFull debuts don't come much more stylish than those on show here
Arts and Entertainment
Fringe show: 'Cilla', with Sheridan Smith in the title role and Aneurin Barnard as her future husband Bobby Willis
tvEllen E Jones on ITV's 'Cilla'
News
i100
Sport
Tim Wiese
sport
Life and Style
Kim Kardashian drawn backlash over her sexy swimsuit selfie, called 'disgusting' and 'nasty'
fashionCritics say magazine only pays attention to fashion trends among rich, white women
Arts and Entertainment
TVShows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Arts and Entertainment
Hit the roof: hot-tub cinema east London
architectureFrom pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
Travel
travel
News
The ecological reconstruction of Ikrandraco avatar is shown in this illustration courtesy of Chuang Zhao. Scientists on September 11, 2014 announced the discovery of fossils in China of a type of flying reptile called a pterosaur that lived 120 millions years ago and so closely resembled those creatures from the 2009 film, Avatar that they named it after them.
SCIENCE
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Project Manager with some Agile experience

£45000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client based in Chelmsf...

Data/ MI Analyst

£25000 - £30000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client are cur...

KS1 Teacher Cornwall

£23500 - £40000 per annum: Randstad Education Plymouth: Randstad Education Ltd...

Corporate Communications Manager - London - up to £80,000

£60000 - £80000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Corporate Marketing Communications M...

Day In a Page

Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

The Imitation Game, film review
England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week