With the J-Bay Open fast approaching, an increase in the number of shark sightings in Jeffreys Bay has raised concerns. The most recent incident, which saw the lineup cleared in a matter of minutes after a great white was spotted, encouraged Eastern Cape journalist and frothing surfer, David MacGregor, to ask a few questions.
J-Bay Sharks Keep Surfers On Their Toes – by: David MacGregor
Next month will see the world’s best surfers shredding the world’s best right point.
Several close encounters at world renowned Jeffreys Bay in recent weeks may have rattled surfers, but it is not stopping them from riding the famous walls of Supertubes. Although experts told the Dispatch that surfers have more chance of winning the Lotto than getting bitten by a shark, it means little when a four metre great white pops up next to you in the lineup at Supertubes.
Cape Town surfer, Terrence ‘Murph’ Murphy – who has spent the past week surfing “cooking J-Bay” – said that even though a four metre-plus great white cruised slowly past him last Sunday afternoon, it did not keep him and his mates out the water for long.
“It was a serious fish,” explained Murph of the encounter. “It looked like a small tank as it slowly glided past with its dorsal fin out the water. It was not aggressive, it just cruised slowly through the line-up.” Although it “did not spin-out” the 42 year-old surfer, he did call out to warn others in the water and about 50 scrambled for the safety of the rocks.
The lineup cleared swiftly after a 4 metre great white cruised through the Supertubes lineup.
Murphy, who has clocked up thousands of hours in the water since he took up the sport 24 years ago, says it was the second time in his life that he has actually encountered a shark in the surf. By the next day he was back in the water at Supertubes. “It has not affected me much, its the ones you don’t see that are the problem.”
The incident made headlines in overseas surf mags.
World big wave surfing champ, Grant ‘Twiggy’ Baker, who was surfing at the time with a shark device to repel attacks, said the latest incident had quickly thinned out the packed lineup.
“This was a heavy experience. A 5 metre-long White swam right through the lineup between the surfers and once everyone turned to scratch for the beach it went after the nearest surfer,” he posted on Facebook. “Luckily a set came and washed everyone in or else it could have bitten someone for sure!” Twiggy also mentioned that a spear diver got “buzzed by this hungry great white” the day before.
When Supers is barrelling like this, a shark scare doesn’t keep the lineup empty for long. Twiggy in the slot.
Local shark expert, Dr Matt Dicken, who has been researching great white shark movements in Algoa Bay for four years using transponders, said it was rare for the feared apex predator to spend time close to shore in the winter months. He said although there had been an increase in great white activity in Jeffreys Bay in recent years, he doubted the four metre-plus shark was a resident at the popular surf spot, as they regularly travel up and down the coast. According to Dicken, attempts to set up similar transponders in the surf crazy town had not been well received by officials.
“It would be nice to tag it if it is seen regularly,” he explained. “The tags will not prevent attacks, but they will give us more data to record great white movements and make more informed decisions.”
Dicken also explained that although great white sharks have been regularly spotted in the line-up, they were not a major problem. “The chances of being attacked are remote.” he said. “You’ve got more chance of winning the Lotto than getting bitten.”
Organiser of the upcoming J-Bay Winterfest, Koffie Jacobs, yesterday said that a jetski and trained medics would be at Supertubes when the touring professionals arrive next month. “It is not a concern, there are always sharks in the water,” said Koffie. “Everybody is absolutely keen to surf.”