Whale blamed for shark attacks

30 January 2012 - 03:29 By DAVID MACGREGOR

Opinion is divided about whether a decomposing whale carcass buried at Port St John's notorious "beach of death" more than 10 years ago could be the cause of an unprecedented wave of deadly shark attacks at Second Beach.

Though the KwaZulu-Natal Sharks Board discounts the theory by pointing out that the attacks happen only during a four-month window period and not throughout the year, others are not convinced.

But internationally acclaimed shark diver Mark Addison says the practice of burying whale carcasses at hard-to-access beaches was a "ticking time bomb" that needed to be stopped.

"There is no large animal stranding protocol and in many cases the animals are buried on our bathing beaches."

He said outlawing the practice was a "no brainer" because the oil-rich carcasses make perfect shark attractant because they take decades to completely decompose into the sand.

"According to eThekweni's own waste management people, it could take up to 40 years for the solid wastes to dissolve if buried on a beach and this is not an option - even of last resort."

Experts agree that the best way to dispose of whale carcasses is to tow them out to sea or chop them up and remove them from the beach, but under-resourced local authorities have been known to bury them on the beach.

Addison said confirmed reports that a rotting whale carcass was buried in a blind river on the north side of Second Beach in August 1998 were cause for concern because sharks in the area would be attracted to the smell for years to come.

But, while the world-renowned shark behaviour expert and several long-time Port St Johns residents called for a thorough investigation of the buried whale acting as shark bait, board head Geremy Cliff - who is leading the investigation into why the tiny stretch of beach has had six fatal attacks in five years - says there is no connection with the unprecedented wave of attacks.

"There is no link.

"People are confusing fact and fiction, there is nothing in it," he told the Dispatch.