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Shark snatched from death’s jaws

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By John Yeld

Cape Town - Good news stories about shark conservation are about as rare as finding a vegetarian great white – but thanks to a major co-operative effort, there is at least one such story that has emerged from Gansbaai.

Last month, shark cage diving operators reported seeing a juvenile female Great White Shark entangled in fishing line.

The line had become wrapped around the shark’s head and through its gills, and another half a metre, with hooks and bait attached to it, was trailing behind it, they told the Dyer Island Conservation Trust, which runs conservation and research programmes in the region.

The shark would have faced certain death if the line remained in place, trust founder Wilfred Chivell said.

He pointed out that although Great White Sharks were a protected species in South Africa, they were illegally targeted by shore-based fishermen. Each year, about 30 of the species die in the shark nets off the KwaZulu-Natal coast.

Chivell immediately alerted the Oceans & Coasts branch of the national Department of Environmental Affairs, and within 48 hours the branch dispatched a team – of researchers, deckhands and collections fishermen who support the Two Oceans Aquarium – to Gansbaai to look for the shark.

The rescue team searched for several days, but were unable to find it.

Because most great whites spend only a few weeks at a time in the waters around Gansbaai, fears mounted that the shark would leave before the team could locate it to try to free it, Chivell said.

Then, earlier this month, the shark was spotted from Chivell’s commercial shark tours boat, Slashfin. The crew had prepared a line that included a barbless circle hook that is easily removed once a shark is caught.

They deployed the line and fortunately the entangled shark took the bait. It was then skilfully guided to the side of the boat by Pieter du Toit, a national angler.

The crew used a reverse cutter – a tool developed for whale disentanglements – and it took just two quick cuts to remove all the line and free the shark, Chivell said.

He was grateful for the quick response and support, he added.

“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 and the aquarium in sending out an extremely skilled crew to help this shark.” - Cape Argus

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