What you wear & shark bites

Lesley Rochat Photography - What to Wear & Shark Bites

On Monday a young diver was bitten by a Dusky shark off the south coast of Durban, no doubt exactly where I was diving and took these photos of blacktip sharks two weeks ago. Though I received the press release below, I am still in the dark regarding the exact details of what happened and many questions remain such as whether there was potentially more than just the two-tone contrasting fins he wore that attracted the shark to him in particular.

But the point about wearing items that can attract a shark’s attention definitely deserves more attention: in my years of diving with sharks, and in particular what I have learnt from Walter Bernardis of African Watersports who is very firm in his belief about this, if you are going to dive with sharks then NEVER EVER wear contrasting items i.e. wear plain black fins, plain black everything, that includes white/bright logos and prints on wetsuits (I carry a permanent black marker to colour these out), which in a flash might look like a silver fish to a shark, and have a covering made for your housing if it’s shiny silver (like mine), and have no dangling items near your body. Last year on the sardine run I had a rather frightening experience when my dangling dive computer attached to my first stage via a hose and then onto my BCD by a thick string was snatched up by a shark who got caught on the string, frantically pulling at me, very close to me, until it managed to break it and swim off. Walter had warmed me and after that experience I now make sure that I am as colour neutral and compact as possible in the water while diving with sharks, in particular when they are excited by baiting or natural events like the sardine run.

Lesley Rochat Photography - Shark Bites

I highly recommend Walter as the choice for shark diving in Aliwal Shoal and the sardine run – he leads the way in this dress code, alerting his clients beforehand of what to wear to avoid looking like a tasty fish, with a can of spray paint handy for those who think it’s cods wallop, to spray on those spanking new two-tone fins just bought, and I have seen him use it!

As for colours attracting sharks, and the research done, including my own experience, sharks cannot see colour, what attracts them is contrast, hence the plain yellow wetsuit I wore in the Bahamas, from Coral Wetsuits, being of no interest to them, putting to rest the belief that sharks are attracted to yellow – I received no more interest from sharks in that plain yellow wetsuit than my plain black one.

If we want to play with top predators, we need to think like them, in particular in the way we dress.

Watch my space!

Press Release issued by Rob Evans

The KZN South Coast diving community was devastated this morning (28 June) with the bite by a large Dusky shark on an Advanced SCUBA diver who was on a dive within the Aliwal Shoal Marine Protected Area (MPA). Although the injuries sustained by the diver were not fatal, the incident was nevertheless quite serious with the diver being evacuated by air. The diver is now in a stable condition following surgery at Albert Luthuli Hospital in Durban. Netcare911 Spokesperson Chris Botha commended the Blue Wilderness team for their exemplary handling of the situation, commenting that “this young man owes his life to the well trained Blue Wilderness staff who managed to stop the blood flow so quickly.” Ryan and Clare Daly (Blue Wilderness), Peter Bauer (rescue diver) and Alistair Louw (local skipper) were all on hand to assist with the medical care that saved the diver’s life, and all kept a cool head in a very stressful situation.

Speaking about the incident, Mark Addison of Blue Wilderness said that “after over 23 years in the diving industry, and 15 years in the shark diving industry, this has been the first time we have had an encounter such as this at Aliwal Shoal. Taking all that we have observed and learnt over the last two decades, there is no way that one could have known that that this individual animal would break all of the rules. However, the young diver is our main concern right now and our thoughts go out to him and his family during this difficult time.  Anyone who comes into our environment is considered to be a member of our family and we are very close to the diver and deeply saddened by today’s events.” The bite occurred when a large Dusky shark bit at the diver’s fins in what is most likely a case of mistaken identity. The SCUBA diver was wearing split fins with black and grey stripes, and to the shark this may have looked like a small shoal of fish.

According to Addison, “having swum with sharks on thousands of occasions, I can testify that isolated freak accidents such as this rarely occur. Although there are more large Dusky sharks around than usual at the moment due to the presence of sardines, there is no reason for them to have any more interest in us than they normally do, and this was really unfortunate”.  These large Dusky sharks generally live offshore, but come closer to shore during this time of the year as they follow the massive shoals of sardines that are making their way up the Eastern Cape and KwaZulu Natal coastlines. Dusky sharks are listed on the World Conservation Union (IUCN) Red List as “near threatened” and are one of the most vulnerable of the shark species to exploitation because it reproduces so slowly and at such a late age.

  1. Lesley RochatLesley Rochat06-30-2011

    Rumor is going around that there was more to the incident reported in this blog than just the diver's (who remains nameless) two-tone fins. I am sharing the comments left on my Facebook so that others might take something from peoples experiences, but I hope in time the diver of this incident will provide full details of what happened so we might all learn from it.

    Hamish Harper VERY interesting! I DO know that snorkelling with Oceanics in just our swimming costumes just before dusk was a terribly poorly thought out idea…. Oh well….. We live and learn! ;o)
    19 hours ago · LikeUnlike
    *
    Seb Le Plongeur I have already seen on three occasions yellow fins bitten by Oceanic Whitetips in the Red Sea. And my equipment is now plain black !
    19 hours ago · LikeUnlike · 2 peopleLoading…
    *
    Kevin Graham Split fins with WHITE STRIPES oooooh guess what I got 4 sardines attached to my foot
    18 hours ago · LikeUnlike
    *
    Hamish Harper
    I echo the sentiment of the yellow fins… as a guide in the Red Sea, one of my yellow fins got snatched off my feet and so did my lime green ones! I now own black and black Mares quatros! I'm also off to Beqa lagoon with Dave Diley in jus…t under 2 weeks (Fiji) and our kit list is blackest black with black trim and black bits! The old Mares Volos were black and silver and also proved very tempting to the oceanics! For the record, the tigers at Tiran and Ras Mo didnt give a sh*t and bullied and tormented every diver of every colour, size and accessory in equal measure! ;o)See more
    18 hours ago · LikeUnlike · 1 personLoading…
    *
    Seb Le Plongeur Lucky Hamish, u're gonna see some real big stuff in Beqa ! Enjoy !
    17 hours ago · LikeUnlike
    *
    Eli Martinez
    It is not just yellow that attracts sharks. Blue fins will attract sharks, and of course white always does. But sharks, like duskies and oceanics will dive straight down on a pair of blue fins, split or regular – it does not matter. Never s…een them bump logos, but shiny and tiny, (like buckles, computers, etc) will alway attract them. Lessons learned the hard way for that diver, and prayers to the universe for him…but it happens when your out in the ocean interacting with wild animals – thankfully its not very common.See more
    17 hours ago · LikeUnlike
    *
    Lesley Rochat
    Perhaps it depends on the species re the reaction and to what – my plain yellow wetsuit never got anymore attention in the Bahamas with the lemons, tigers or reefs than my plain dark one – but did notice the fins I wore on a few dives whic…h were yellow and black did get some attention, even when sitting on the sand – contrast again perhaps – see the link on my blog to the research done on this. It also depends in my experience on the dive type, and place – the sardine run is a feeding frenzy and definitely a dive to be very cautious of all bits and pieces, including logos, though I did not feel this same pressure to detail necessary while in the Bahamas.See more
    17 hours ago · LikeUnlike
    *
    Tony Wyatt Eeeekkkk… My fav dive suit is blue and so are my fins!!!! Never been approached by sharks yet… I did glimpse a white tip before he swam off! 😛
    16 hours ago · LikeUnlike
    *
    Kimberly Ray There was a test done awhile back where the divers wore a black n white striped dive suit ( like a sea snake) and the sharks kept their distance. Bring that back.
    14 hours ago · LikeUnlike
    *
    Josh Weller
    It really sounds like the problem tends to be with the fin rather than the suit colour. i think its a combination of contrast and movement whilst the foot pivots. anything kicked about in front of a hungry inquisitive shark is likely to b…e inspected by these majestic creatures. At the end of the day no matter what we speculate and discuss we are in their environment at our own risks. Wild animals will always be wild! Having dived with Lesley Rochat in the bahamas there certainly did not seem to be any more interest in her yellow wetsuit than to any other diver in black or grey. However on a couple of occasions i saw Tigers sneak up on divers and gum their fins.See more
    14 hours ago · UnlikeLike · 2 peopleYou and Megan Clair Laird like this.
    *
    Sebastiano Guido If the water is cloudy also hands without gloves may be mistaken for fish.
    12 hours ago · LikeUnlike
    *
    David Diley
    Kimberly, the suit you mention was first worn by Valerie Taylor and was intended to be used in an experiment based on the ascertation that the sharjs in the Coral Sea didn't eat the banded sea snakes. They then discovered they did actually …eat the banded sea snakes so stopped the experiment 😀

    Contrasting colours can encourage sharks to be more curious but an "attack" or bite, whichever phrase you prefer, is merely the end result and last link in a chain of events and stimuli. It's not a mistaken identity thing, I wholly believe that is pretty much a myth, it's more to do with what else was this diver doing that alerted the sharks to single him out or was it just bad luck?See more
    9 hours ago · LikeUnlike
    *
    David Diley
    Oh and you also have to bear in mind, interest in colours is generally species specific and also related to location, if your fins are the same colour as the primary prey item in their preferred location, it's reasonable to suggest that per…haps they would react accordingly. It's worth remembering that in a predatory attack, sight is the last sense used in the decision to bite and also the first to be nullified when that decision is made.See more
    9 hours ago · LikeUnlike
    *

Leave a Reply