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Sharks & Surf Trips: the most dangerous areas

After the recent fatal attacks off the coast of Reunion Island and Western Australia both starting in 2011, the discussion among governments, surfers, activists and scientists to prevent these increasing number of attacks is on fire. The introduction of new shark culling policies continues to make headlines as they’re continually denounced by animal-rights activists, especially in Australia.

The three main species that cause most of those attacks are the great white, the tiger and the bull shark (there are 480 species of sharks). So we thought to give you some info on the most sharkiest surf areas on the Planet.

 

 

GLOBAL OUTLOOK

From a quick view at the International Shark Attack File, the number of reported attacks per year over the last decade has remained more or less stable, ranging between 60 to 80 year – an exceedingly rare occurrence when you consider the total number of swimmers, surfers and divers on the planet today, although obviously the number of sharks have dramatically decreased (environmental activists Sea Shepherd estimate 100 million sharks are killed every year!). Statically, it’s more probable to die because of bees or car incidents than shark attacks. Nevertheless, you’d still do well to know a little about the following areas before deciding where you wanna take your surf trip…

 

 

BRAZIL

A 20-kilometre stretch of coastline encompassing the north-eastern coastal city of Recife is statistically the most dangerous place in the world for swimmers and surfers. Since 1992, there have been a record total of 53 shark attacks, 20 of which have been fatal. Previous to that year, shark attacks were more or less unheard of.

Why such a dangerous area? Brazil is huge and only the area around Recife has registered so many shark attacks. The problem first arose in the 90s following the construction of a huge harbor just 40km south of Recife in Boca del Suape. To facilitate the construction process, two freshwater estuaries were interrupted where a population of bull sharks were known to spawn.

Probably north-bound currents and fewer available fish displaced the sharks towards Recife, while a combination of over-fishing, increased maritime traffic and river waste (in particular slaughter houses discharging blood into the Jaboatão River) also attracted a further population of sharks closer to the coast in search of food.

As with our next shark zone, Reunion Island, the outbreak lead to a ban on surfing, authorities concerned at the negative knock-on effect attacks were having on local tourism.

In more recent years, authorities have taken to capturing and relocating the bull shark population further afield which is reported to have slowed the number of attacks but that’s not to say the waters are safe.

 

 

 

REUNION ISLANDS

Let’s talk about these tropical islands spotted in the middle of the Indian Ocean. Since Reunion’s surf ban was extended last year the French government has declared the world-class left-hand pointbreak of St Leu, once host to Rip Curl’s world tour Search event, off limits.

While Reunion Island has long been known as a sharky surf zone, never has the popular French Indian Ocean tourist destination experienced such a horrific pattern of attacks as in the last few years.

A total of 10 in the last 3 years. 5 of them fatal. An outbreak of bull shark attacks that at first glance closely resembles Recife, even if the reasons for it might not be identical.

Opinions about the reasons for these increased shark attacks between scientists, surfers, divers and fishermen remain divided.

Having introduced a shark-monitoring programme in 2011, local authorities were initially reluctant to introduce any culling measures (surfers being accused of taking irresponsible risks), but three further attacks in 2012 would force local authorities to come back on their decision, introducing an initial 20-shark cull.

Also the local pro surfer Jeremy Flores is now afraid to surf his own home spots, after the death of a good friend of him caused by a bull shark.

Last July the death of a 15-year-old swimmer just meters away from the shore spurred authorities to implement a further 90-shark cull as well as a near-total ban on swimming and surfing, the results of which are due to be reviewed again this month.

 

 

 

AUSTRALIA

All Australian coasts are potentially a sharky area, even if some city beaches like Bondi Beach are protected by nets. In March 2014, a 3.5 metre long female Great White was caught and killed on a drum line during the Quiksilver Pro Goldie right next to Snapper Rocks.

When it comes to life-threatening animals there’s no place like Australia. From deadly venomous spiders and snakes to saltwater crocs and Box jellyfish, nature doesn’t come much more diverse and hostile than Downunder! And sharks of course make up part of the list.

To date Australia reports the second-highest number of shark attacks after the U.S., but in the last few years nearly all fatal attacks have occurred in Western Australia. In contrast to Reunion Island, Great Whites have been responsible for these. Between 2011 and 2012, the state of Western Australia recorded a shocking 5 deaths in just 10 months over a relatively small portion of the coastline.

Many consider bull shark to be the most dangerous shark species to humans as they favour shallow coastal waters, and the murky water conditions in which they like to hunt are often associated with highly populated areas. And yes they can even swim a long way up rivers.

It’s therefore much less clear as to why the Great White attacks are happening other than numbers close to the coast have supposedly increased dramatically. Following in South Africa steps, Australia declared the Great White as a vulnerable species in 1999 due to significant population decline, and some seem to think they’ve recovered well.

Due to the Great White’s protected status, Australia’s recent shark culling policy required a special exemption which many animal-rights activists claimed to be unlawful. In fact, in Australia the shark cull has been met with such fierce opposition that professional fishermen refused to collaborate with the government.

Although W.A.’s shark cull this year failed to catch a single Great White, the government is hoping it can extend the programme to three years.

 

 

 

SOUTH AFRICA

Let’s talk about another well-known sharky surf area. Set to return to the world tour in a week or so, J-Bay also made headlines recently when the line-up had to be cleared after a Great White was spotted cruising the line-up. Not the first time that’s happened of course. In 2003, Taj Burrow cut one of his heats short after seeing a really big white shark.

The practice of chumming, baiting sharks closer to shore for tourists, most likely hasn’t helped reduce South Africa’s number of shark attacks, the third highest country on the International Shark Attack File and counting 12 fatal attacks in the last 5 years.

However, it’s important to remember that different shark species favour different niche habitats. The huge seal colonies that live off of Cape Town are what really lure Great Whites to the region. Kosi Bay estuary, located at the north-eastern extremity of South Africa, is a well known hot spot for bull sharks, known to the locals as Zambezi.

On the East coast around Durban the beaches are protected by nets so there’s not too much to worry about there but up and down the rest of the coastline you’d do well to ask locals for info and take standard precautions such as avoiding known feeding times, surfing alone etc.

 

 

 

CALIFORNIA

California, especially the Northern California, has a quite bad reputation for shark attacks. This area is a paradise for the Great White: cold waters, many seals and other food.

Colloquially referred to as California’s ‘Red Triangle’, this danger zone extends from Bodega Bay, north of San Francisco down just south of Monterey Bay and then out beyond the Farrallon islands.

Responsible for 3 of the 4 fatal attacks to occur in California in the last 10 years, the one exception involved a Great White incident in San Diego in 2008, although females are known to breed in warmer waters off the coast of Baja California.

But when it comes down to total numbers of attacks (just 33 over the last 10 years), California pales in comparison to the east coast of America.

 

 

 

 

In conclusion, when you decide to take a trip in one of these areas, please bear in mind that you couldn’t be alone out there and put in practice all the good actions to avoid to meet the real locals of these seas.

 

 

Surfplanner

The best advisor to your surf trips

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