Published: 21 February 2013
Earlier this January, shark cage diving operators in Gansbaai notified the Dyer Island Conservation Trust of a juvenile (<3m) female white shark entangled in fishing line.
The line was wrapped tightly around the head through the gills and was trailing 0.5m of line behind the shark which still had bait and hooks attached. The situation was severe and if the line remained, the shark faced a certain death. Even though white sharks are a protected species in South Africa, they are still targeted by shore-based fishermen (i.e. Leon Bekker case) and 30 great white sharks are killed every year in the KZN Shark’s Board nets.
Wilfred Chivell, owner of Marine Dynamics and founder of the Trust, immediately contacted the Department of Oceans & Coasts and within 48 hours, Oceans and Coasts had deployed a team of researchers, deck hands, and Two Oceans Aqua-rium collections fishermen to Gansbaai. Chivell was very grateful for the government’s support. “Often, government departments are so overwhelmed with other issues that they can rarely assist with individual cases like this, so I was pleased to see the quick reaction of the Department of Oceans & Coasts and Two Oceans Aquarium to send out an extremely skilled crew to help this shark.”
Yet, the entangled shark evaded the multi-day search and bad weather forced the crew to land. Since most white sharks only spend a few weeks at a time in Gansbaai, fears began to grow that the shark would leave the bay before the team had a chance to disentangle the shark, and for days the shark went missing. It was clear that if the shark did re-appear, that then would be the last chance to set the shark free.
On 5th February 2013, the shark was spotted at the Marine Dynamics shark tours boat, Slashfin. Shark handler, Khwezi Balena, was pleased to see the shark, “The shark was very active, and we knew this was our last chance.” The crew had prepared a simple line and hook, using a barbless circle hook as circle hooks are safer for sharks and removing the barb means the hook will easily come free.
Within a few minutes the entangled shark was hooked and skilfully guided to the side of Slashfin by Pieter du Toit, a Springbok angler and the crew immediately went to work with a reverse cutter, a tool used during whale disentanglements. With two quick cuts, all the line was removed and the shark was set free. The shark swam away easily, and understandably, hasn’t been seen in the area since. “With any luck, this will be the last time this shark is hooked, and we look forward to seeing her again!”