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Shark tour operators endanger surfers

There have been 46 unprovoked great white shark attacks in South African waters since 1960  

November 3, 1998
Web posted at: 1:50 PM EDT

By Environmental News Network staff

(ENN) -- Shark tour operators competing for business in the narrow channel at Dyer Island near Cape Town, South Africa, are putting tourists and surfers at risk, according to an article published the New Scientist.

Great white sharks proliferate in the channel because it is a breeding ground for seals, a favorite prey of the sharks.

Tour operators compete for business by floating surfboards and children's toys on the surface of the water above tourists locked in cages underwater. Conservationists are worried that these techniques may lead great white sharks to associate food with items such as surfboards.

"The sharks are getting the opportunity to find out that every time they see a surfboard there might be food around," George Burgess, a shark expert at the Florida Museum of Natural History in Gainesville, Fla., told the New Scientist. "One day they will find out there is a human on the other side of the sandwich."

Conservationists are asking tour operators to act responsibly in order to prevent a tragedy. Sarah Fowler of the Shark Trust in Newbury, Berkshire, told the New Scientist that tourism can be harnessed to promote the conservation of sharks.

"Done the right way, shark-dive tourism is very important for the future of sharks," she said.

However, just one tragic accident and sharks will once again be thought of as brutal, cold-blooded killers. Conservationists have been working hard to change this image.

To date there have been 46 unprovoked great white shark attacks in South African waters since 1960. However, conservationists fear that number will rise due to the antics of tour operators.

The South African government is aware of the problem, and in August imposed a temporary moratorium on cage diving in the Dyer Island channel, the New Scientist reports.

Copyright 1998, Environmental News Network, All Rights Reserved

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