James Archibald / Cape Town, July 24 () - Following champion surfer Mick Fanning's close encounter with a shark at the weekend, the buzz on social networks has shifted from shack, awe and humour to more serious debate over shark perceptions.
Twitter users were quick to pick up on the event, with the dramatic footage sparking off several new memes while Fanning's sponsors Red Bull were quick to capitalise on the hype and labelled Fanning as a “shark fighter”.
However, as the excitement faded, researchers and academics have weighed in on the side of the sharks, arguing that the species is unfairly demonised and shark attacks are in fact incredibly rare.
Christopher Neff, a political scientist who researches media coverage of sharks and shark policy, told Vox that this was not in fact an actual attack.
"The reality is that a shark, in great proximity to a person, didn't bite the person, didn't bite their board, swam away and we have gone full tilt on 'shark attack.' That's not what sharks do when they're trying to bite people. You don't see all that splashing" Neff said.
According to the International Shark Attack file, a database maintained by the Florida Museum of Natural History, there were a total of 214 confirmed unprovoked shark attacks in South Africa from 1905 to 2014 , with 54 of them fatal – an average of less than 1 death every two years. By way of comparison, there were 14,993 road deaths in the country in 2011.
Kouga executive mayor Daphne Kettledas told the Mail & Guardian that the municipality wsa looking at using shark spottters, as has been pioneered in Cape Town's Muizenburg beach, although the geography of the beach was not ideal, lacking a high enough vantage point.
Another option being considered was to use drones to monitor the ocean and relay images back to the shore.
Speaking to 702 Talk Radio, Kwazulu Natal Sharks Board Head of Research Planning & Development Jeremy Cliff said there was an average of 6 attacks per year. “In the last couple of years we have not seen anything unusual in terms of shark attack trends.”
Cliff added that the board was seeking an alternative to shark nets that does not catch and kill the animals, but rather just keeps them away from humans and that electric repellent was the most promising and further tests and research into the deployment of electric cables was under way as an alternative way to deter sharks from swimming beaches.