Bloodlust for shark that ate student

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 09 June, 2005, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 09 June, 2005, 12:00am

A man-eating shark off the South African coast has sparked a frenzy for revenge after it swallowed a young man whole last Saturday, leaving nothing behind but the tattered remains of his wetsuit.

The shark everyone is looking for is, for once, easy to distinguish from other great whites that patrol the waters off Cape Town. Embedded in its flesh is the spear fired at it in a last, desperate attempt to fend it off seconds before it ate 22-year-old student Henri Murray, who was out spearfishing with a friend.

Fishermen have since spotted the 6-metre shark and locals are calling for it to be killed.

'If you stick a grenade down its throat you send a clear message to the sharks - this is not a safe place to hunt,' said Godfrey Mocke, of the Swimsafe Project in Cape Town. 'The sharks are being lured here by cage dive operators and nature documentary makers who 'chum' [pour blood and offal into] the water. Sharks are beginning to think humans are easy prey.'

Mr Mocke is convinced that once people begin killing sharks that come close to the beaches, sharks will stop killing people.

'Animals have ways of communicating and we should teach them to respect our territory.'

Frenzied shark hunts are frequent following such attacks. In the past two years there have been 19 attacks off the South African coast, four of them fatal. An elderly woman was killed by a great white last year, with the resulting public hysteria creating deserted beaches and demands to slaughter anything with a dorsal fin.

Local newspapers were flooded with letters from people who wanted the navy to launch anti-shark patrols. One reader wrote to The Cape Times to suggest the air force bomb any suspicious-looking shapes in the water.

A tour boat operator who specialised in shark diving, the practice of lowering divers into the water in protected cages, had his boat firebombed last year by suspected anti-shark activists.

So far Murray's parents have pleaded that the shark be left alone, but their call is unlikely to have much impact on the growing bloodlust among would-be shark hunters. Even the prospect of arrest for killing a protected species is unlikely to deter the hunters.

But not everyone supports the hunt. 'It's their territory,' says Robin de Kock, general manager of Surfing South Africa, an organisation representing wave sports. 'That's my personal philosophy and that of most surfers I've spoken to - leave the sharks alone and hope that they do the same.'

Such arguments cut no ice with the would-be hunters. 'As soon as I am ready, I'm going out there to get that shark, and any other I can find,' said Mr Mocke.