Fatal shore: every attack kills

Another death...paramedics attempt to save the latest Second beach shark victim last Sunday.
Another death...paramedics attempt to save the latest Second beach shark victim last Sunday.

At first glance, there is nothing unusual about the beach on South Africa's Indian Ocean coast.

Fringed by banana trees, its sand pocked-marked by passing cattle, its azure waters have just the right amount of waves to entice surfers but not enough to intimidate swimmers.

But for now, all visitors have been barred from entering the water at Second beach in Port St Johns.

Last Sunday Lungisani Msungubana, 25, died while swimming with a group of friends in shallow water - the sixth victim in little more than five years of the sharks that have made this popular seaside spot the most dangerous beach in the world for such attacks.

In South Africa one in five attacks by sharks ends in death but every known attack at Second beach has proved fatal. Zambezi sharks, or bull sharks, are called the ''pitbulls of the ocean'' for their ferocity and have been blamed for most incidents.

Until recently all the victims had been surfers and lifeguards who swam out to sea but Msungubana was just waist-deep in the water when he was taken.

Experts from the nearby KwaZulu-Natal Sharks Board have been brought in to try to put a stop to the problem and the town authorities have closed the beach to swimmers until the team can find some answers.

But Geremy Cliff, who was leading the study, was not optimistic.

''We are also looking for clues as to what might have changed in terms of human behaviour and environmental factors but I don't know that we are ever going to be able to successfully explain what is happening,'' he said. ''Often it's just a case of keeping your fingers crossed and hoping the problem goes away.''

Every guesthouse owner, surfer and restaurant manager in town has a different theory for what caused the attacks. One is that local sangomas, or witch doctors, who sacrifice animals on the beach and throw their entrails into the sea, are drawing in the sharks.

Some believe pollution from the Umzimvubu River, which meets the sea at Port St Johns, is attracting the predators. Others think the rotting carcass of a whale shark that was buried beneath the beach 10 years ago could be to blame for the sharks' aggression.

Rod Hastier, of Port St Johns, who worked with the sharks board for 16 years, said Zambezi sharks were notoriously pugnacious. But he said the way sharks were attacking in Port St Johns was different. Beachgoers have reported swimming with Zambezis at the beach as little as six years ago without problems.

''Sharks will normally take a bite then spit you out,'' he said. ''Here, people are actually being eaten. In one case, they just found a foot. It's very unusual.''

Mr Hastier said the only solution was for the local authorities to permanently close the beach to swimmers and instead promote the area as a spark-spotting site.

''From a marketing point of view, they just need to leave swimming out of it and promote what else we have to offer instead.''

Telegraph, London