Since professional surfer Mick Fanning was attacked by a great white shark in Jeffreys Bay while he was surfing in the finals of the JBay Open on 19 July, the question has been asked – just how sharky are South African coastal waters?
The KwaZulu-Natal Sharks Board reports that an analysis of South African shark attack records over the last four decades confirm that attacks are rare, with an average of only six incidents a year.
“Since 1990 only 26% of attacks have resulted in serious injury and only 15% were fatal.
This equates to an average of one serious shark-inflicted injury every year and one shark-inflicted fatality every 1.2 years along some 2 000km of coastline from the Mozambique border to Table Bay (Cape Town),” says the sharks board.
Shark Spotters, a pioneering shark safety programme and now the main shark safety programme used in Cape Town, echoes the words of the KwaZulu-Natal organisation.
It says that shark bites are rare typically random events. “On the Cape Peninsula, the first fatalities were recorded at Seaforth and Simonstown, in 1900 and 1901. Since 1960 however, only 25 attacks have occurred on the Cape Peninsula. That is less than one attack per year.
“Of these 25 attacks on the peninsula, a high percentage has been on spear fishers. Only four of these last 25 attacks have proved to be fatal.
Sharks don’t see people as their natural prey, but they may occasionally bite to investigate what you are, they may also bite because they feel threatened or in some cases they may even mistake people as their prey.”
The last fatal shark attack in Jeffreys Bay took place in October 2013, when local open water swimmer, Burgert Van Der Westhuizen was attacked and killed by a large Great White Shark while swimming near the Point surf break.