The annual illegal hunting of great white sharks has begun with a man hooking a two-metre shark in Mossel Bay, then hauling it on to the rocks and posing for a photograph with the animal while it was alive.
The unidentified man, who told locals he was from Cape Town, apparently spent nearly an hour getting the shark on to the rocks, where he measured it before posing for pictures on Friday.
Shark scientists say great white shark sport fishing begins about this time every year, when these sharks spend more time close to shore.
Great whites are protected and it is illegal to kill them or target them for sport. To date, no one has been prosecuted.
Angry shark researcher Ryan Johnson of Oceans Research, based in Mossel Bay, said concerned members of the public had alerted him. While fellow researcher Enrico Gennari, director of Oceans Initiative, phoned law enforcement, Johnson rushed to the beach.
The shark had been pulled – apparently by the gills – about five metres on to the rocks and the man and his two sons were posing with it, holding the tail. Its blood had pooled in a hollow in the rocks.
“I ran up and shouted that this was a protected species and what he had done was illegal,” Johnson said.
“I used some choice words to tell him to move away. I was pretty emotional because this happens frequently. He said: ‘So what if it’s illegal? Everyone does illegal things all the time, so what’s the problem?’”
With the help of another man, Johnson got the shark back into the sea, pulling it each time a wave washed on to the rocks. Once in the water, it swam straight into the rocks, and then moved out of sight. Johnson says he is unable to say whether it will survive.
“These guys know exactly where to catch them. They had a kayak for paddling out the line because you can’t cast bait that big, and he had one of those big sport fishing harnesses.
“When they started packing up he said he recognised me from a TV programme. He said he knows who I am and he can also play dirty.”
Gennari phoned the area’s Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries law enforcement officer. The officer said he would come to the scene, but failed to arrive. When phoned again, his cellphone had been switched off.
Gennari said: “(The fisherman) took more than an hour to get the shark from the water to the rocks to get his ‘cool’ pictures. When he realised he could not do it in a natural way he decided to pull the shark by the gills – that’s why there’s all the blood – probably destroying the (shark’s) breathing apparatus, dooming it to a likely death.”
Gennari said many people in Mossel Bay were angry about great white shark hunting and felt it “brought shame” on recreational fishing.
Johnson said it was the fourth time he had confronted sport fishermen “all kitted up” for shark hunting.
“Their defence is they had no intention of targeting white sharks. The law says if you hook one, you must cut it free. But all these guys know exactly where to catch them. This guy’s been seen before. He leaves the carcass on the beach.”
When the law enforcement officer did not arrive, Johnson phoned Mike Meyer of Oceans and Coast in the Department of Environment Affairs, who said he would follow up.
Shark scientist Alison Kock said that several international conventions protected great white sharks, which were classified as being vulnerable to extinction.
“This happens every year, when the white sharks spend more time close to shore, with little enforcement, because no one is prosecuted.”
The Cape Times phoned the fisheries enforcement officer but his phone was switched off.
Department spokesman Hein Wyngaard was asked to comment, but had not done so by the time of going to press.