Thursday, September 01, 2011

Tiger sharks of Aliwal Shoal: Where have they gone?....

Aliwal Shoal tiger shark
Photo: Wolfgang Leander (2008)
Click to enlarge

William Winram is a world champion freediver who, in the past, had teamed up with a shark dive operator in South Africa to offer, along with Fred Buyle, freediving courses with the most attractive bonus of practicing going down on one breath of air among tiger sharks.

William Winram swimming with a tiger shark
Photo: Felix Leander (2008)
Click to enlarge

This is what William wrote me today:

"Very sad the state of things in South Africa..not a single Tiger sighted when Fred Buyle was there and I have not heard of anyone else that has taken a trip there seeing any either...very, very sad. Seems there are collectors paying top dollars for the jaws of big predators and I am guessing with everything else it is just too much pressure for a species like that to survive."

Much to my chagrin, it now appears that I was probably right in assuming that the poaching in the Kwazulu Natal area, in addition to the devastating effects of the shark nets along the Scottburgh beaches, and elsewhere, have taken their bloody toll, heavily.

I witnessed the gradual decline of tiger shark sightings between 2007 and 2010. Instead of getting to the bottom of this, and trying to find out why this was happening, some of the shark dive operators, the one I was with, for example, preferred to speculate outwardly about such simplistic and very unconvincing reasons as currents, winds, water temperatures. They knew, or must have known, the real causes for the drastic dwindling of the tiger populations in the KZN area but preferred to do nothing serious about it.

Too bad the majority of the shark dive operators, some of them self-styled conservationists, and all those shark activists in South Africa did not want to address the problem collectively and aggressively. Most of them, so I was told, were cooking their own soups, trying to work "behind the scenes", rather than uniting resolutely, and leaving their ego issues and personal agendas aside, if only for once...

Have these people ever considered contacting the PEW organization which was instrumental in advising the Bahamian government to enact a ban on all shark fishing activities, both commercial and recreational, in the vast archipelago? One individual did but she had no peer support.

I cannot escape the feeling that there is a considerable element of parochialism in the South African society that seems to be an ugly legacy of its not so glorious past...

A notable exception fighting for the survival of the sharks in South Africa is Lesley Rochat. But she faces precisely the obstacles I just mentioned making it very difficult for her to move forward effectively.

The shark dive operators in the Umkomaas / Scottburgh area should make no mistake: The ONLY attraction of Aliwal Shoal are (or should I say: were) the tiger sharks, and, to a lesser extent, the black-tip sharks - everything else, the average visibility, the variety of fish species, what little corals you find there, are not spectacular enough to compete with other international dive destinations.

Playful Aliwal Shoal tiger shark
Photo: Felix Leander (2008)
Click to enlarge

Interacting with a tiger shark in Aliwal Shoal
Photo: Roger Horrocks (2007)
Click to enlarge

I had absolutely fantastic tiger shark encounters in Aliwal Shoal, and I have spent some of my very best and most exciting dives of my live in that spot.

It literally hurts me to imagine that the beautiful, incredibly gentle tigers I met there, all adult females, are gone, most likely killed for either their fins, their low value meat, or their jaws.

This is a major tragedy I cannot fully fathom yet...

No comments: