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33,000 sharks, 2000 dolphins & 2000 turtles killed to boost beach tourism in South Africa

16/06/2009 13:42:04

Nets set around Kwazulu Natal beaches kill thousands of marina animals every year. Credit Sea Shepherd Society

Remove the Nets: Join the Shark Angels' Campaign against Shark Nets!
June 2009. It is difficult to believe in this day in age, with all that we know about sharks' plummeting populations, their critical role in ocean ecosystems and the minimal risk they pose to humans, that the archaic and destructive practice of installing shark nets for "bather protection" still exists. But in KwaZulu-Natal (KZN), South Africa, a province ironically known around the world as one of the few places left where sharks and the ecosystems they keep healthy still thrive, untold numbers of harmless sharks, turtles, dolphins, and rays meet an untimely and senseless death each year by entanglement in the approximately 28 kilometres of ‘shark' nets that are installed just off the beaches.

What are shark nets?
Shark nets are essentially gill nets: long rectangular nylon mesh nets, 200-300 metres in length, that are positioned near the surface of the water and kept afloat with buoys. Sharks swim into these nets and are caught by their gills. The squares of mesh are designed to be just large enough for sharks to become entangled, but not escape. The more a shark or any other animal struggles in these nets, the more hopeless their situation becomes, and the more impossible their chances of escape and survival. The vast majority of these animals die an agonizing death by suffocation. Gill nets are widely considered to be one of the greatest threats to the survival of many species of marine animals.

To join the campaign to remove
these killer shark nets, click here.
33% of sharks in nets were leaving beaches!

In South Africa, the shark nets are installed in tiered patterns by the KwaZulu-Natal Sharks Board (KZNSB). Just beneath the surface, they do not fully extend to either the top or the bottom and do not even come close to fully enclosing the beach areas. The result is that sharks can easily swim around or under the nets and into the shallow waters in which humans swim and surf. In fact, the KZNSB acknowledges on its own website that at least 33% of the sharks killed in these nets were actually on their way OUT from the beaches, rather than on their way in, and other sources estimate that this number is closer to 70%.

Bait is set to attract sharks
You see, the goal is not to provide a physical barrier to keep sharks away from the beaches, but rather to control shark populations by culling them. In many cases, the KZNSB places baited drumlines just outside the shark nets, which are designed to attract sharks in towards the beaches and kill them, either by biting the baited hooks on the drumlines or by entanglement in the nearby gill nets.

Nets installed in Marine Protected Areas!
The process is entirely unselective, with nets installed all along the coast, including in Marine Protected Areas! The sole purpose of these nets is to kill all sharks in the area, including highly endangered species that would otherwise enjoy stringent legal protection, such as whale sharks and the great white shark.

According to the KZNSB's own website, "The Marine Living Resources Act (Act 18 of 1998) controls the exploitation of marine plants and animals in South African waters. . . . The great white shark is totally protected; in 1991 South Africa being the first country in the world to do so." And yet, the KZNSB, which is governed by the KZN Department of Arts, Culture and Tourism, is exempted from these important conservation regulations in the interest of making tourists feel safe.

Brutal, indiscriminate killers
Sea Shepherd's Director of Shark Conservation, Kim McCoy, a founding member of the Shark Angels alliance, was outraged to witness first-hand the carnage caused by South African shark nets. "Sharks and other animals don't stand a chance against these nets," said McCoy. "They are brutal, indiscriminate killers designed to systematically cull a species for no other reason than to boost tourism by giving beachgoers a false sense of security against a severely sensationalized threat."

Shark tourism
Shark Angels co-founder, Julie Andersen, who frequently leads groups of people on diving trips with the tiger sharks of Aliwal Shoal, clearly illustrates the irony of using shark nets to increase tourism, noting the number of tourists who come to South Africa each year specifically to dive with sharks. "Sharks in South Africa contribute a significant amount of revenue to the South African economy and provide countless jobs," said Andersen. "Live sharks mean tourists, jobs, and money. And that is recurring income-not the one-time income generated when a shark is killed."

The shark nets are indiscriminate about what they catch and kill. Credit Sea Shepherd Society.

The shark nets are indiscriminate about what they catch and kill. Credit Sea Shepherd Society.

33,000 sharks, 200 turtles, 8000 rays and 2000 dolphins killed in shark nets

Over the last three decades, more than 33,000 sharks have been killed in the KZNSB shark nets. And if that's not alarming enough, 2,000+ turtles, 8,000+ rays, and 2,000+ dolphins were also ensnared and killed.

In addition to the countless deaths of sharks and other species caused directly by the shark nets, their impact on our collective psyches is damaging to shark conservation efforts worldwide. The very existence of shark nets perpetuates the myth that sharks are bloodthirsty man-eaters, and that humans require some form of protection from them. The installation of shark nets reinforces our misguided and often irrational fears of sharks by legitimizing these concerns as valid. This in turn fuels the biggest issue faced in shark conservation: the public's apathy, or even loathing, towards sharks.

It could be said there was once a time and a place for shark nets. Perhaps decades ago, when the public knew little about sharks, the fear of shark attacks was running high, and shark populations were far healthier than they are today. The practice of installing shark nets in South Africa began in 1952, when little was known about sharks, and humans had yet to spend the next 50+ years ravaging our oceans, causing irreparable damage and the collapse of species after species. The public wanted "protection" from sharks, and shark nets served this purpose.

Shark populations endangered
But since then, shark fishing has skyrocketed, eliminating a large percentage of the world's shark populations, and the public has been exposed to much information about the importance of biodiversity conservation and the true nature of shark behaviour towards humans. In recent years, it has been proven that a variety of non-lethal shark deterrents, such as the Shark Spotters program funded by private donations and the City of Cape Town, can be equally effective, and that animals need not be killed to allow for peaceful coexistence in their domain. The need for shark conservation is now a well-established fact, as is the fact these animals are significantly misunderstood, with the actual risk of an unpleasant shark encounter infinitesimal.

Shark nets are an unnecessary and outdated practice designed to address an issue that could easily be tackled in a non-lethal way, and they blemish South Africa's image as a world leader in conservation. It is time for a change. It is time to get these shark nets out of the water, once and for all.

Read the comments about this article and leave your own comment


Although I am disturbed by the number of sharks killed in these nets, I am more troubled by the high levels of bycatch that no one seems to be addressing. All species of sea turtles are highly endangered world wide. Dolphins and rays are also dying as bycatch. The nets are ineffective and the rates of bycatch too high. They are not only killing sharks, whos populations are already at risk, but also completely harmless animals that are endangered. Remove the nets. If you cant stand the wildlife stay out of the water.

Posted by: Michelle | 02 Sep 2011 16:11:35

Shark Fin soup=bad

Many sharks are dieing because of shark fin soup too.

Posted by: Kevin | 12 Oct 2009 05:02:07

This article is based on pure sensationalism. I will not deny that what you say is true I do believe that you have inflated the numbers and that you have not provided any scientific data or any website references to back up these claims. How can any serious conservationist take your claims legitimately?

This is the kind journalism that illicits an over emotional response (especially when you call your campaigners 'Angels'). I am aware of the destruction that Shark nets cause both in South Africa AND in Australia (which you have conveniently left out of the article).

If I take the shark figures above (33 000) and divide them by the kilometres (28km) and by the number of years since the shark nets have been installed (56yrs), it comes to ±21 sharks per km per year (or ±two a month).

Then again, Australia has some 200km of shark nets ... wonder how many sharks they have caught in the last 40 years?

You can sensationalise as much as you want but at the end of the day these figures speak for themselves ...

Posted by: FigTreeForest | 06 Jul 2009 03:55:16

shark nets

aoplogies for last sentence in comment below. Should read:It worked for canned !!!!!

Posted by: amanda | 20 Jun 2009 13:03:34

Shark nets

There are sooooo many pressing problems in South Africa, and
so much corruption in government that it is not only our wildlife but also our people that are biting of the wrong end of the stick! Survival equals the greasing of palms, not education. The apathy is definately due to lack of understanding and knowledge.
South Africans are for the most part truly proud of their wilflife heritage and needs tourism badly to boost the ecnomy.
By highlighting issues such as the shark nets, enables people to understand and become aware of the issues, and hopefully mobilize them to action!!!
I worked worked for canned hunting!!!!

Posted by: amanda | 20 Jun 2009 10:02:01

how much more bad news can SA cope with before tourism declines ?

crime, canned hunting, gin traps and now the netting in KZN......

what puzzle me most: these news on netting are not new and the Natal Sharks Board praises itself for "understanding" conservation.

I can't help but I would love to get good news coming from SA.

Posted by: pippa | 19 Jun 2009 19:28:54


Are you telling us that Natal Goverment Agencies have been hoodwincking us for years?I have swum off many of Natals beaches protected and unprotected and have survived.I have also met up with sharks on the wrong side of the nets.My attitude has always been that if a shark wants to have a go ,not even nets will really deter them and I actually believe that nets give a false sense of security.Understanding the animal is your best protection.

Posted by: Pat Ford | 19 Jun 2009 15:09:54

Tourism = Death

The sea has been home to these creatures for millions of years. It is their habitat, NOT the tourists.

Posted by: Karla F. | 18 Jun 2009 23:32:46

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