My bad, apologies Drew. I kinda jumped in with eyes closed on that one, quite unlike me......
my apologies. However it is not true to say that on any given day there is 1 to 5 boats doing the Tigers here. Today for example and many days in the past four months since arriving here have there been days when due to low visitor numbers or bad weather that operators have not dived.
I am a supporter of this kind of activity as is the majority of image chasing divers. Much loved, or hated, characters have become synonymous with providing such services bringing us into contact with such predators. Andre Hartman, Michael Rudzen, Jim Abernathy, Mark Addison and Stuart Coves as a short list have all seen the potential, if done correctly, to base a business model on the interaction of divers and apex ocean predators. Whilst of course we would all like to think it possible to observe and photograph / film these animals in their natural state it is a sad fact that in 2008 that the more enigmatic shark species are in great decline due to the actions of an indiscriminate fishery.
With deeper pockets than most there are some people who can afford to take extended vacations, travels in their search for the ultimate shark encounters. In seven years of diving almost daily in Micronesia and Palau only once did I witness Tiger Sharks engaged in natural predator mode when I was fortunate enough to film two Tigers chowing down on a Manta, well good for me, bad for the Manta. For the rest who try to live with cameras and who also need to support a family then using an 'artificial' scenario to achieve one's product is, in my view, not a bad thing. The shark gets food, the snapper gets his / her footage / images and then go their own ways. I cannot accept that a shark can get conditioned by feeding activities to a point of being detrimental to its ability to survive if that food were to be taken away. 400 Million Years of evolution cannot be broken by a few handfuls of sardines, sorry but as hard as you may try to argue that with me you may as well be barking up a gum tree.
I would argue also that feeding activities at least take these larger species offshore. The Aliwal dives are done some 4 to 6 km offshore, far away from the bathing beaches. To say that once the food is taken away the animals are then left to approach the beaches due to human activities is just hog wash. There are a million and one stimulants, other than free fishy hand outs, available to the shark between the feeding sites and the beaches. I'm not saying that you insinuated this kind of argument but I threw it in there as some people may think of this permutation to the issue.
I do understand the 'apparent' understanding to protecting the bathing public. The shark nets along the KwaZulu-Natal (KZN) coastline span some 23km and catch some 600+ sharks per year. The majority of shark species caught are Tigers, Blacktip, Dusky and Bull with Tigers leading the catch listings. Whilst unfortunately the nets also do snare other marine life such as Dolphins, Turtles, Whale Sharks and a vast amount of Sea Birds I don't think that Drum Lines are the answer. To put baited hooks within 100m of the shore is certain to attract the larger sharks into closer proximity to the bathers. Sharks attracted to a stimulant are not going to head back out to sea when they see the drum line 'occupied' by some other less fortunate shark. Those free swimming predatory sharks will then become problematic in the immediate coastal regions frequented by people. Public outcry to 'attacks' in areas where drum lines are located could
then give way to the support of moves by fisheries to eradicate shark populations in coastal regions. It would not surprise me if this kind of thinking is also part of the 'big picture' plan of the Natal Sharks Board which is a fishery, period. Their business license is as a fishery not as a protective or scientific agency as some people would be led to believe.
In my view I think all drum lines and shark nets should be abandoned. Why should there be any more attacks along this coastline as opposed to other regions along the KZN and south eastern coastlines of Africa for that matter which have the same, if not higher, densities of these same species. Take a trip along the wild coast down here and with much reduced human incursion the numbers of sharks tends to appear greater. Ask any 'Spearo' next time you're down here. The initiation of the Natal Anti Sharks Measures Board was borne at a time when commercial whaling was still prevalent along this coastline, way back in the 50's. With an over riding stimulus of whale blubber, blood and carcases in the water the number of sharks in close proximity to places such as Durban, Scottburgh and Rocky Bay, where the main whaling stations were located for this area, were, I'm sure, massive. Nowadays though?? I think the need for these measures is well past its validity date. The only reason they continue to be implemented is due to a multi million Rand fishery which continues to exist at a very high governmental level.
I did have a recent discussion arguing the need for public protection against potential shark 'interactions' at public beaches but just to get points across. I backed the mentality of the public who, if uneducated, will be led to believe that there is still a very big need for preventative measures. If they knew the truth about why these measure continue to exist then maybe things could change.
As for the densities of Tiger Sharks. It is the sharks who are the seasonal visitors in such numbers. The females are all coming here for some reason, above the chance for free sardines. At other times of the year their numbers are reduced and sightings, whilst almost daily, tend to be solitary animals as opposed to the sixes, sevens and eight's we are currently seeing. That said the fishermen, if they so desired, would lay out a bucket load more stimulant or chum in order to catch these animals. It is also not a crime to catch Tiger Sharks outside of the MPA in Aliwal so who's to say that the sharks we are seeing are not the survivors of a gauntlet of fishing operators surrounding the area? Speculative but not unproven.
In light of the recent fishing incident I'm glad to say, as a closing point, that I was diving yesterday in incredible conditions for here; 25m viz, drifting over a beautiful rocky reef with sand patches etc. We were in the presence of four Tiger sharks, around 30 Black tips. We also got buzzed by a pod of Dolphin, an Eagle Ray, a massive school of Barracudas and saw many a stingray buried in the sand patches. All good stuff.