Monday, September 15, 2008

The Chumming Debate

From the Blog Gansbaai-News today the issue of "chumming" in South Africa. This is one of the better pro shark looks into this issue. It also highlights the need for pro industry PR:

Blood and Guts

Different perspectives on attracting sharks using chum and bait.

Perceptions are interesting, all depends on where you are coming from.

Underwater photographers always want that great photo, and here is veteran photographer, Steven Frink’s take on bait :

“Speaking of chum (called “burley” in this hemisphere, as in “hurly-burley”, as in “puke”), Rolf had the good stuff. Tuna gills full of blood and stomachs still holding sardines, plus a blood and tuna oil secret-sauce added to the mix. In my opinion, scrimping on bait on a white shark charter is a crime. One can spend thousands of dollars and days of their life travelling to where great white sharks are, spend big bucks on charter boats to find proximity to great white sharks, only to find yourself out at sea with desiccated fish carcasses that no self-respecting shark would eat. The right bait is a critical component of white shark photography.”

Steven also says:

“As important as the quantity was the quality of the action, for these were players. These sharks were not put off by bubbles, or proximity to the cage, or sunshine, or lack of sunshine, or the profile of the boat, or the size of the wave, or the colour of my jacket. All of these and more have been offered as excuses by various shark wranglers at various times in various places as to why the sharks won’t come close to the boat. But here we had good bait, sharks eager to take it, and savvy wranglers able to lure the sharks close to the cage.”

Steven Frink is based in Florida, USA and he is describing a trip he did to Australia.

It is worthwhile noting that Steven had been to South Africa twice between 2001 and 2004, and did not not get that special day. On the other hand, he had also got skunked in Australia. Twice. Third time lucky ? The point of this is not to try and compare Gansbaai with Port Lincoln.

The issue here is the chum and the bait. Clearly photographers like Steven want lots of nice bait, they demand it.Californian Sean Van Sommeran is a fierce critic of Gansbaai cage diving operations, particularly the way baits are used. His standard line is ” don’t feed the wildlife”.

He does not want baiting to take place, not because he thinks sharks are being taught to attack people, but because of possible entanglements and resulting injuries to the sharks.

Unlike Steven Frink, Van Sommeran has never been to South Africa or Gansbaai, he was mainly relying on what self styled ” shark researcher ” and “expert” Craig Ferreira was telling Sean’s “envoy”, or rather his buddy that then went back to California and gave Sean his own warped ideas.

Later Van Sommeran decided that well known False Bay operator Chris Fallows was doing it exactly right, and held Chris up as an example of how things should be done.

Ironically, and apart from towing a decoy at sunrise, the methods of Gansbaai operators and False Bay operators are identical. It seems Van Sommeran is extremely jealous of the fact that South Africa, and particularly Gansbaai became the number one White Shark destination in the world.

Van Sommeran claims to be concerned about the conservation of White Sharks and over the years had a great deal to say about how terrible the Gansbaai operations are, his main concern was injuries to White Sharks .

Yet, and this is very strange… In more than 10 years he has never ever said anything, not one single word about the biggest threat to White Sharks in South Africa.

The Natal Shark Board netting programme.

One of the biggest killers, if not the single biggest killer of sharks on the South African coastline. That is apart from turtles, whales and dolphins.

In 10 years .. Not one a singleword about this from Sean van Sommeran! He claims to know what is happening in South Africa.. Yeah right Sean.

In South African White Sharks Cage Diving operations the aim is not to create shark action by feeding the sharks.. On the contrary , the sharks are not fed.

The sharks do manage to steal baits, particularly if the sun is coming in at an angle and the water is murky. It is important to note that there is no feeding effort taking place, crews do their best to keep the sharks from taking the bait.

The University of Cape Town has an excellent Oceanography Department.

Their web site is here :

On this web site they have a poll :

“There is much debate surrounding the increase in shark attacks occurring around the coast of South Africa. A possible reason is that it is a result of the ‘baiting’ of sharks during Shark Cage Diving activities.

Do you think that Shark Cage Diving is responsible for the increase in Shark attacks?”

About 70% of participants voted Yes, that Shark Cage Diving is responsible for the increase in shark attacks.

Oops, but what is wrong here ?

Unfortunately there has been NO INCREASE.

Imagine , a well respected University Department of Oceanography , having a little poll on their web site based on factual mistakes.

This example illustrates the perceptions that are out there, and it is clear that the South African Cage Diving Industry need to increase their PR effort.

The truth of the whole matter is that the cage diving operators are actually restricted on the amount and type of bait they are allowed to use.

No part or blood from any mammal may be used. This includes all land animals as well as seals, whale blubber or any blood or part of any sea mammal.

The operators are restricted to fish , this mains mainly sardines and tuna. They are also restricted to how much ( expressed in kilograms) they may use on a given day. For now this is all that I am going to say about this issue, comments are welcome, and I am quite sure that this topic will be examined in full detail.

Editors Note: Nicely written!

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