Great White Shark Exclusion Net Goes Up In South Africa

A great white shark exclusion net has been placed on Fish Hoek Beach near Cape Town, South Africa. The pilot project began yesterday, and it will run for the rest of the year while the officials are testing to see if it’s a safe way to protect swimmers without harming the sharks or other wildlife.

The project was debated for a year before the net was finally designed and put into place. After several well-publicized shark attacks, “Tourism is in a general slump…[and] the portrayal of Fish Hoek beach as being a place that you will get eaten by a great white shark will not have helped,” noted Cape Point Chronicle’s Russell Hepworth.

Gregg Oelofse, a Cape Town environmental official, explained the new design is intended to act like an underwater fence, not a traditional net that could trap swimming sea life. The net will actually be put up and then taken down each day, so that no whale or dolphin could be trapped for a dangerous length of time.

The net will also be removed when the seas are especially rough, which isn’t a time when people will be out swimming anyway. Two local groups, Shark Spotters and South Africa Whale Entanglement Network, will remain on the job to keep the beach safe. In fact, the network has said they will keep a special team on 24-hour standby to be ready to free any trapped whales.

There have been three attacks by great white sharks at Fish Hoek beach in the last eight years. Two people died. A 42-year-old British tourist had both legs amputated after a gruesome attack in 2011.

Australian and British scientists released a new study this week showing that great white sharks have much higher energy needs and thus need to eat more than humans had previously understood. They often eat animals with lots of blubber like seals, but apparently they sometimes become confused and attack human swimmers instead.

The new net will reportedly be tested until January 2014, giving wildlife officers time to figure out if the device will work to protect against further great white shark attacks.

[great white shark photo courtesy Terry Goss and Wikipedia Commons]