14 October, 2013 14 October, 2013

J-Bay Shark Attack – the Full Story

This article, written by Kerry Wright, first appeared on her website Millers Local, and gives a detailed account of the attack, plus some interesting insight.


A late morning Friday swim ended in tragedy when Jeffreys Bay local Burgert van der Westhuizen was fatally bitten by a large Great White. The attack occurred in the lower Point area, in the small bay where you’d normally kick out after a decent wave.

Initially eyewitnesses had thought there were two sharks involved in the incident. As the shark was so big (~5m) the distance between it’s tail and dorsal fins had created the impression of two sharks.

A local surfer, Terry Olivier, was paddling back from the Kabeljous on his kayak and when people waved & screamed to him from the rocks. He went nearer shore and was told that there’d just been an attack and could he go out and investigate. He found the victim lying face down in the water. He tried to retrieve the body but the shark would not let go despite him trying to push it away with his paddle. At this stage Olivier realised that the victim was deceased and that the aggravated shark posed a possible threat to him. Olivier said that the shark was bigger than his kayak – which is 5m long.

He turned and paddled back to shore quickly. Eye witnesses report the shark followed Olivier’s kayak as he paddled in. The NSRI were quickly on the scene and circled the body with a jetski to keep the shark away so that they could retrieve the remains.

This is the first fatal shark attack in the PE/JBay/St Francis area.

Burgert was a keen long distance swimmer and had been on his regular swim route along the backline from Supers down to the beach after Albatross. Conditions were clean with good visibility.

Local surfer Garth Robinson said that there has been a whale calving in the bay for a week which has been very close to the beach. It has been followed by 2 seals waiting for the afterbirth. This may have drawn the shark into the area.


I spoke with local shark expert Dr Matt Dicken about the incident. Dr Dicken said that whites hunt visually as well as by smell, so it is not unusual for them to attack in clean conditions – as this assists them in locating their prey.

He also pointed out that studies on white shark behaviour in both Algoa Bay and Cape Town have shown that seasonally, more white sharks were recorded inshore during September/October than any other months. Helicopter and shore angling surveys of the beaches also seem to support the observation that they’re more common close inshore during spring and summer.

The recent stats released for the 9 month recording period for the 3 listening stations off Kings Beach, Humewood slipway & Something Good shows 9 great whites were detected in the between May 2012 and January 2013. Most of the sharks were detected in September (6 of the 9).

Shark attack statistics for South Africa show that most of the recorded incidents actually occurred during the November/December/January period. Since 1913 there have been 532 recorded human/shark encounters, 96 of these being fatal (18%).

There have been four fatal shark attacks in the last three years. Two at Port St Johns, with Liya Sibila and Lungisoni Msungubana losing their lives, David Lillienfeld was killed at Caves in Koeel Bay last year, and Tim van Heerden was fatally attacked at Lookout at Plett in 2011.

Friday’s fatal attack is an absolute tragedy, and heartfelt condolences to Burgert’s family and friend’s.

Let’s remember that although shark attacks do happen, thankfully they are rare. The minute our feet leave the sand we are entering a marine world of which we are not the apex. We accept the inherent risks every time we paddle or swim out.

Shark attacks in SA to date - circles with black borders denote fatal attacks.Click the image to view larger.

Shark attacks in SA to date – circles with black borders denote fatal attacks. Click the image to view larger.

Interview with Terry Olivier – Kayaker at the scene


  1. sebbe
    14 October, 2013 at 12:28 pm · Reply

    Good article on this tragic accident. My condoleances to the family and friends.
    ZigZag, where does the map on shark attacks come from? Could you make it in a higher resolution, quality is really poor when clicking on it.
    Thanks in advance

    • Millerslocal
      14 October, 2013 at 3:01 pm · Reply

      Click the link to the blog post http://www.millerslocal.co.za/2/post/2013/10/fatal-shark-attack-at-jbay.html and near the bottom of the post you are able to download a pdf file that has the high res shark attack map in it.

    • Zigzag
      14 October, 2013 at 5:59 pm · Reply

      Hi Sebbe,
      Apologies for the poor quality of the larger image – We had it linking to the incorrect version, but it’s all fixed now and should be readable.

      The map comes from an article the author had published in the Bomb Surf Issue 13.

  2. burtwayne
    22 October, 2013 at 12:17 am · Reply

    Mr Burgert van der Westhuizen will be missed by his legion of friends, family, and fans, the latter of which I shall always be one. God Bless you Sir.

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