Had a few concerned surfers contact me over the last coupla weeks - the ou's have been hearing rumours of a gig in town that's gonna build themselves a shark cage diving boat. Now obviously shark cage diving boats plan on going shark cage diving one would assume. So what do PE locals think - good or a bad thing?
Personally I'll have to admit my gut reaction is emotional and not based on scientific fact. I just think it's a kak idea for no other reason than I think it's a kak idea. Scientific fact says there is zero empirical evidence that shows that cage diving (a) attracts more sharks to the general area or (b) is in any way related to an increase of attacks on humans.
The chumming associated with cage diving will attract sharks to the boat that are in the immediate area of the chum slick - and not draw them in from doer-en-gone out in the ocean. So basically sharks that are already in the immediate vicinity will just pull past to have a looky-see. So it doesn't cause more sharks to come to the area - well, not what the research shows anyway. And I've read plenty scientific papers on White Sharks and cage diving. So technically, if you're chumming out at Bird Island - which remember is 60k's from our main beaches, we're not gonna be affected. Different story if you're chumming off the back of Hobie...
Similarly, research shows zippo correlation between shark cage diving and an increase in attacks on humans. Sharks aren't morons, they're apex predators - you don't get to be apex by being doff. It has enough brain cells to differentiate between boat and human. I mean, do you think you look like a boat?
But, being a typical emotionally driven human and ignoring the scientific facts - I'll be honest - I just don't like the idea.
We're in an interesting position here in PE - if we aren't keen on shark cage diving we get the opportunity to bitch and moan about it before it actually happens. Not like the Cape Town ou's who have to deal with it once it's already in place (and are faced with cage diving operators who are earning big bucks and not keen to give that up!)
So how's the whole jol work anyway? Turns out the Dept of Environmental Affairs (DEA) earmarked Algoa Bay as being allowed 2 White Shark Cage Diving (WSCD) permits a while back. To date no-one has applied for these, but things might change. The Minister determines the number of WSCD permits and areas of operation in line with the Marine Living Resources Act 1998 (MLRA). You apply to him, pay your non-refundable application fee of about R9000, and provided you're lekker BBBEE and have good gender equality; you're in with a shout.
Or maybe not. There's a bit of debate about whether Environmental Affairs actually has the jurisdiction to issue the permits, or if it should be the Dept of Fisheries. Something to do with section 13 of the MLRA. Another lil glitch come up in section 7 - which states that "permits will be issued for designated areas. The designation of areas and number of permits to be allocated will be reviewed and adjusted from time to time, based on scientific grounds."
Funny thing is - the DEA have never consulted the local shark researchers & scientists in Algoa about WSCD. So when they're talking about awarding permits based on "scientific grounds", which tree did they pull that out of? Read it off the back of a cereal box maybe?
Before every gets into a flurry about the possibility of cage diving starting up in PE, bear in mind some salient points. Local shark scientist Matt Dicken points out that Bird Island is 60k's from PE Harbour. Which means a 120km round-trip. That's gonna cost a bucket load of cash for petrol, and not only that - the weather window to be able to make a run out to Bird Island is pretty limited during peak shark viewing season.
Peak viewing season off the islands is in winter, and let's face it - it ain't lekker to have to beat back into the teeth of a howling west for 60km - anyone who's ever been on a boat will testify to that - let alone some unseaworthy tourist who'll be puking their lungs out all the way home. Not gonna get much repeat business!
Not only are the fuel costs and weather issues a drawback to running a financially viable operation, there's the issue of do we actually have enough sharks to see? Matt reckons there's a pretty small population of Whites in Algoa Bay and at Bird Island, many of which are probably transient not resident - and not all of them are there all the time. Often they go out there and see none - zero. So you might mission 120k's in kak weather - and not even see a shark. Again - no repeat customers here! You just paid R2k to puke your lungs out and have a shit day!
So, you have far to travel, few potential tourists, a small weather window, and too few sharks. If the prospective WSCD operators do their homework hopefully they'll come to the obvious conclusion. It just ain't viable. How can they hope to compete against the Gansbaai ou's who have their sharks just 5 minutes offshore, and can guarantee sightings - cos there's a moerse klomp sharks at Dyer island.
So what you guys reckon - does shark cage diving in Algoa Bay get a thumbs up or a thumbs down? Go vote on the Home page.