Open letter to the Cape Surf community

Well its now happened, another well-loved person doing what they love has lost their life to a shark, and the chumming continues.
Dave Lilienfeld was a very accomplished wave-slider and will be sadly missed by the Western Cape surfing family. Our deepest sympathies for his family and friends, and we hope he finds perfect wedges up in the clouds.

But its time to stop bullshitting people and start calling a fish a fish, chum-ps.

This madness of chumming Great Whites in our waters is causing serious harm. If its so safe, why does a film-crew from California, which has one of the worlds largest populations of Great White sharks, have to come here to South Africa to shoot these documentaries and do their research. Chris Fischer, Ryan Turner and the Ocearch team, Go chum your own fricken water, we don’t want you here.

To the disbelievers, lofty science voices, screaming for facts, here you go. Large amounts of chum are unseasonally dropped into False bay, an area used daily by thousands of local ocean-lovers .Many new Great Whites are attracted into the bay as a result. The crap you and your ‘scientists’ drop in the ocean smells like food, but the sharks get no meal or reward, other than an awoken appetite and a nice shiny new tag drilled into their fin. The notion that only the area within 2km of the chum drop is of concern, and obviously ignoring the chum-slick, is now totally blown out of the water, as is also illustrated the fact that it happened three days after the initial chumming, showing a higher than normal amount of large great whites had actually hung around in the area, probably in search of food, and therefore showing a very clear direct change in behaviour. (Up to 6 large (3-4.5m) Great Whites were seen around Koeel Bay just after the incident, this is not an usual occurence)

To the surf-riders sitting on the fence, denying whats going on infront of us, join ranks, voice your discontent.

I’m not saying I condone they guys who dropped a few matches on the cage dive boat after the negative review on Carte Blanche all those years ago, but I’m saying lets make it hard for them to operate, laws take years to get things done, public power and opinion can change things in minutes. Let our community come together, and by this I mean you, not some other people. We each have a responsibility to do something, come up with clever publicity stunts, write to newspapers, blog the hell out of it, then… organise protest marches in the towns of the main chum-ps, thousands of angry citizens saying enough is enough … in the townships people go bos when they’re not happy, lets go bos over unethical treatment of our animals, endangerment of ourselves and friends, and threatening our safety whilst we exercise our God-given right to slide through salt-water tunnels. The vibe will get a lot of media coverage, and if it hits the overseas news, its a done deal. Using chum to attract Great White sharks is not cool.

Surfers for Responsible Shark Cage Diving aims to be a collective movement that opposes the use of chum to attract sharks in South African waters. If you feel strongly about this you can submit your name to our membership list, befriend Justin Othersurfa on Facebook, and help form a powerful group that can create change.

8 thoughts on “Open letter to the Cape Surf community

  1. Just a thought or two:

    There are up to 75,000 seals that live on Seal Island. The amount of natural “chum” that they produce leaves a huge slick in itself. Then, they get predated quite regularly – that’s why the GW Sharks are there – and each time a seal is chomped, that also leaves blood (ie chum) in the water. Anyone know how many litres of blood a seal contains?

    So is the 24kg of chum per day dumped by these guys significant? Hard to see how.

    It’s not as if the chum is being dropped in pure water – it’s not, it’s filthy water (in terms of scents and slick).

    Maybe this huge energy being devoted to shutting down the chumming/cage diving should rather be directed at taking steps that are known to work – like the shark spotters. Instead of wasting time on the chumming, have a march demanding more shark spotters. That’ll have a direct effect on the safety of surfing.

    If you want to make surfing safer, demand more shark spotters. (Apart from making protected beaches safer, it brings direct economic benefits in the form of more employment)

  2. Rob,
    Of course seals being predated in False Bay causes a chum slick, but that is not the argument. The problem is when humans are directly involved in feeding the chum to the sharks that this becomes a worrying concern. The fact that the OCEARCH team not only lured the sharks with the chum, but also captured and molested them onboard. Is it not possible that the greatest predator of all time has feelings, and can discern that it is us humans that have caused it this stress. Is it not possible that they feel anger, and possibly also seek retribution. Unless you are one of those people who think ‘fish don’t have feelings’, its hard to imagine a living, bleeding creature does not.

    I wholeheartedly support the call to fund more shark spotters, but the nature of our coastline does not offer them good vantage points at all surfspots.

    Why do so many people want to ignore the ‘what if’s’ of chumming? Are we going to wait for Hiroshima before we agree that this nuclear bomb is indeed a bad thing. Will it not be too late by then? Its already happening, and we as custodians of this earth and inhabitants need to start acting like the evolved species we are and start taking care of our world, not arguing about who’s right and waiting for someone else to do something about it.

  3. If the sharks really had the ability to feel anger and were able to identify the fact that they’d been messed with by humans, there would be a massacre. If the shark was “angry” why did it bite only one person?

    Just asking for a reality check here. Even if you do stop chumming (which, by the way, I disapprove of on principal) do you really believe that incidents between swimmers and sharks will stop? Clearly not – many of the 75 incidents that took place world wide last year took place in areas where there isn’t chumming.

    I’m really concerned that people have too much invested in this chumming story – and that there will be a backlash when the next incident occurs – as it will.

    I also think more education of surfers is important. For example, if you see a pod of dolphins behind the break, it doesn’t mean that it’s safe. It probably means that they are hunting. (One of the stories about the tragedy last week said that people had seen dolphins before the guys got in the water) Dolphins are predators too. Where there’s one predator, there will be more. If you see diving birds, bait balls, jumping fish, seals porpoising in groups as they swim or dolphins, stay out of the water.

    There are so many changes happening in False Bay:
    - Seal culling stopped in 1990 – the population on Seal Island expanded as a result.
    - Purse seine netting of bait fish was stopped at about the same time – 20 years later, we’re seeing more and more bait fish in the bay. (In the last two years, as paddlers we’ve never seen so many bait balls.) Orcas are being seen in the bay more frequently too, as are species like Steenbras and Yellow Tail (although strangely not this season, where they seemed to stay out of the bay).
    - GW sharks were protected in 1997. Has the population expanded? Maybe, although the sharks are unprotected when they go offshore and they have a very long and slow reproductive cycle.
    - Far more people use the water; before 1994 remember, the majority of the population wasn’t allowed to use most of the beaches – see what happens now on public holidays. It’s great – but there are many, many more people in the water.
    - One thing that has actually remained relatively constant though is the chumming – it only happens on about 80 days a year here during the season and it’s tightly regulated (that will get flamed I know) in contrast to the situation that provoked the study in Australia where chumming had expanded to 270 days a year.

    So all I’m saying is, the likelihood that chumming significantly increases the risks to us as recreational water users in False Bay is not great when you consider the bigger picture.

    Whether there should be chumming at all is up for debate – but don’t think that stopping it would be a silver bullet when it comes to safety of water users. There are many other factors that can reasonably explain the increase of shark/human interactions.

    • I agree with you Rob, outlawing chumming for tourist/researcher gain would not stop surfers being attacked by sharks. But it would be an environmentally conscious decision that could not hurt!

      • In Australia the cage divers are having success in luring sharks with sound – music, played underwater… Apparently AC/DC is very effective, I kid you not. Personally I would be much happier if they were to do this, rather than putting chum in the water.

        Of course if you happened to be listening to AC/DC on your waterproof ipod…

  4. Until they have hard scientific data that proves that chumming and sharks attacks are not related, the authorities that be, are willing to risk people’s lives based on their opinion that they are not related. Not sure if government agencies are supposed to operate like this?.

  5. Well, look at it from the government’s point of view. They have to assess the situation. So they say:

    What are the positives? Ecotourism is valuable to country – it brings people and money to Cape Town. It gives people jobs.

    What are the negatives? Well, you’re putting chum into the water, which attracts sharks to the boat. This has potentially negative impacts in that it might change shark behaviour to the point that they start attacking people on the beach. Shark attacks are extremely bad publicity and should be avoided at all costs.

    To cut a long story short, they’ve applied their minds and presumably decided that a limited number of operators using a limited amount of chum, operating a short 80 season shouldn’t present an appreciable risk.

    So they tightly regulate the operators – there are only a few allowed; they’re limited in the use of chum and they’re not allowed to feed the sharks. A study was published a while ago that shows that sharks in the vicinity of Seal Island will follow a chum slick only a few times before ignoring it. In other words, the sharks seem to learn quite quickly that chum does not lead to food – my conclusion, not the study’s.

    So it’s not at all the situation that there’s a free for all situation going on (as there was in the Australian study, where operators where chumming 270 days of the year). The operations are regulated and monitored.

    So from the government’s point of view, they are sensitive to the issues, they have looked into the best possible available evidence and have concluded that the benefits of ecotourism outweigh the negligible risk to other users of the bay.

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