On Sunday Morning, a 39-year-old woman was brutally killed by a Great White Shark at Central Beach, Plettenberg Bay, a popular holiday destination in South Africa’s Western Cape province. This was just less than 3 months after another fatal attack in the Bay. The local Bitou municipality – which oversees the beach – and the National Sea Rescue Institute (NSRI) described the frequent incidents as ‘very unusual when compared with previous years’.
The victim had been bathing in the shallow water close to the shore when the shark quickly appeared from deeper water and grabbed her in its jaws. The victim, whose name is yet to be disclosed, was reportedly a resident of Cape Town who was holidaying at the popular Garden Route Resort. Her husband and children were said to be present at the ghastly scene.
Just before 8AM, the NSRI recovered the victim’s body just about 15 metres from the shore as screaming swimmers and surfers cleared the water. Spokesperson for the NSRI Craig Lambinon, and communications manager for the Bitou Municipality Andile Namntu, said that NSRI Plettenberg Bay and the South African Police Service (SAPS) were alerted at 7:53AM.
‘…I just heard lots of screaming and saw people running out the water. I guessed it was a shark attack but I was quite a way away and then the lifeboat turned up. I then heard a woman had been attacked while swimming only two or three waves out so it was quite shallow but it was said nothing could be done to help her,’ an eye witness recounted to rescuers.
The Bitou Municipality has since shut down the Bay and put up signs warning locals and visitors to steer clear of the water.
The Forensic Pathology Service and SAPS opened an inquest docket after the victim’s body was handed to them.
The woman is the third shark attack victim in Plettenberg Bay in the past 11 years. In June, Bruce Woloy, a family man, stockbroker, acclaimed long-stance swimmer and snorkeller, was swimming at Sanctuary Beach in Plettenberg Bay when he was attacked and killed by a Great White Shark.
And in 2011, Tim Van Heerden, a local carpenter and surfer, was on his surf board when he was attacked by a Great White Shark. Van Heerden was able to get to the shore with the help of his friends, but had sustained two severe bite wounds to his groin and upper leg. He did not make it.
Before 2011, there had never been a fatality at the Bay. Bitou Municipality Mayor David Swart spoke about their plans to put up a shark barrier and increased warning signage to avert more disasters. Swart also said they would start the ‘lifeguard’s season a month earlier than usual’.
‘There seems to be no change in the shark’s behaviour in this area so it is a bit of a mystery why we have had three fatal attacks in such a short space of time. Our thoughts go out to the woman and her family at this time,’ said Swart.
Great White Sharks naturally prey on seals, sea lions, dolphins and turtles. However, humans are usually mistaken for seals – especially when wearing wet suits – so experts say attacks on human are actually ‘experimental’ rather than intentional. Unfortunately, by the time the sharks realise that the humans are not their usual prey, enough damaged would have been done.
‘You have to remember the ocean has always been the territory of the shark – they rule. There are more and more people in the water these days what with surfing and paddle boarding and swimming and the sharks are always never very far away. But they are not seeking out humans and attacks are rare and usually not intended as they mistake humans for prey but the results are often fatal. You have 47 times more chance of being killed by lightning or 11 times more chance of being killed by fireworks than being killed by a shark. Wrong place wrong time,’ said a South African shark expert.
In the past 25 years, 37 people have been killed in shark attacks off the coast of South Africa. Shark activity especially increases in Plettenberg Bay and its environs during winter due to the annual sardine run.
Just a month before Woloy’s attack in June, the NSRI and Bitou Municipality appealed to people in the area to be careful on the Keurbooms Rivers and along the Plettenberg coastline, after a Great White Shark was spotted in the river during an NSRI routine exercise.
Sources: IOL News, Daily Maverick