Bloomberg News

Deadly Shark Attack in South Africa Claims First 2012 Victim

January 16, 2012

(Updates with comment from shark experts, starting in fifth paragraph.)

Jan. 16 (Bloomberg) -- A 25-year-old man died after being bitten by a shark while swimming off Second Beach at Port St. Johns in South Africa’s Eastern Cape Province, the world’s first deadly attack of 2012.

The man sustained “multiple traumatic lacerations” to his torso, arms and legs, John Costello, station commander for the National Sea Rescue Institute in Port St. Johns, said yesterday in an e-mailed statement without identifying the victim. The man, who was swimming in waist-deep water with a crowd of bathers, was declared dead at a local clinic “after all efforts to save him had been exhausted.”

Fourteen people died after being bitten by sharks last year, the highest number of people since 2000, according to data from Princeton, New Jersey-based Shark Research Institute Inc.’s Global Shark Attack File. Of the attacks, 12 took place in the Indian Ocean, four of which were in Australia and three in South Africa, the data shows. Exactly a year ago, 16-year-old South African, Zama Ndamase, died after a shark bit him while surfing off the same Port St. Johns’ beach.

KwaZulu-Natal’s Sharks Board is “carrying out studies in an effort to try to determine why there has been such a frequent spate of shark incidents in Port St. Johns,” Costello said in the statement. The sea water was very warm and there was low visibility off Second Beach yesterday, he said. The victim’s name is not yet being released, Craig Lambinon, the National Sea Rescue Institute’s spokesman, said by phone today.

Human Impact

With the world’s population now topping 7 billion people, low cost travel and an increasing number of people engaging in activities such as scuba diving, there are more people in the water than ever before, according to research done by George Burgess, director of the Gainesville, Florida-based International Shark Attack File. The sharks most often cited for fatal attacks, which include great white sharks and bull sharks, have not become more aggressive, International Shark Attack File said.

“With all the human pressure on fish stocks and impacts on the natural food chain, there may be times when there is less natural prey available to the shark, so they hunt what they can to survive,” Amy Wilkes, a senior aquarist at the Sydney Aquarium, said in an e-mailed response to questions. “Increased numbers of attacks in one area are not necessarily the same shark, rather there are more sharks in that particular area.”

Climate Change

In the past three years, countries including Russia, Seychelles, Egypt and Australia have recorded more than one fatality in the same area over a short period of time, according to Global Shark File data. These attacks often result in calls for the culling of sharks or the use of shark nets, measures that may disturb the ocean’s balance and cut the shark population.

“Changes in climatic conditions, whether anthropogenically driven or otherwise, are likely to produce knock-on effects within marine ecosystems, affecting the movement patterns of large, wide ranging predators,” David Jacoby, who studies shark behavior at The Marine Biological Association of the U.K., said in response to e-mailed questions. “Of course some places just have a larger population of these animals within their waters, such as South Africa.”

--Editors: Vernon Wessels, Antony Sguazzin

To contact the reporter on this story: Renee Bonorchis in Johannesburg at rbonorchis@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Edward Evans at eevans3@bloomberg.net


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