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Richard Peirce

I am writing this in February and must confess to certain feelings of guilt. I have just spoken to my daughter in the U.K. who had returned from walking her dog in the snow and it was -1°. Yesterday I was in False Bay (South Africa) diving with sevengill sharks near Simonstown and the skies were an unmarred blue, and the air temperature was 27°. Today I am cursing at having to be indoors writing this piece, and struggling with my new book about elephants called ‘Giant Steps'. After Giant Steps it will be back to sharks with a book (unimaginatively) called ‘The Long Swim', about Nicole the great white shark which in 2005 swam 12,400 miles from False Bay in South Africa to Western Australia and back.

Wintering (or summering) in South Africa, and the summering again in Cornwall has given me a year round shark availability situation, and eliminated winter. Long may it last even if it does occasionally mean sitting indoors struggling not to do a runner for my diving kit or safari gear.

The court ruling found that White Shark Projects and Tuckett were liable and in due course the court will decide the level of damages to be paid. I believe there are important pieces of information/tips for British divers.

1. Despite all the humans in the water with chum and great whites, the world's most feared shark didn't even attempt a nip!

2. When doing any shark diving anywhere in the world don't only assess your operator in terms of competence, also make sure they have full liability insurance. You can't get damages out of someone with no money and no insurer!

When I first made enquiries about diving with great whites in 1998 I believe there were only 5 or 6 operators in Gansbaii (Dyer Island), and the licence system was not fully in place. Today there are eight cage diving operators in Gansbaii, three in False Bay, and one in Mossel Bay. The Gansbaii operator numbers will soon increase when two new licence holders become operational. Hennie Bosman will be the first of the new licence holders to put cage divers into the waters when he launches his operation later this month. The second available licence hasn't been taken up yet, but given the ever increasing appeal of great white shark cage diving, I am sure it will be soon.

Captive wild animals spend their lives behind bars in pens being peered at by humans. I don't know if great whites understand irony, but it amuses me to think that they might, as they swim past caged divers behind bars.

An interesting thing seemed to be happening in the U.K. tabloid press during the last year when for a while it looked as if the media were growing up. Last March a great white tagged by Ocearch in the Western Atlantic seemed to be heading for Britain. For once there was an absence of the usual scaremongering tabloid sensationalism and the prospect of a great white visit was treated with balanced interest, even excitement.

Last summer two or three of the red tops treated stories of the dumping of shark carcasses on U.K. beaches with anger and published strong conservation messages. The Daily Mail came out with a strong conservation based piece when it discussed how the public were being misled by fish and chip shops selling shark meat but portraying it as something else e.g. rock salmon. What was happening? Was I going to have to re-think my approach to the tabloid press and regard them as responsible allies? I didn't have too long to think about this before sanity, or more accurately, normality returned. Late in the summer a Cornish skipper put a clip on YouTube of an unidentified shark cruising past his boat. The Shark Trust and others were busy examining the footage, frame by frame, to come up with a 100% sure identification when the tabloids turned the mystery shark into, yes you've guessed it, a great white. The next day the Trust had positive I.D.s from three experts confirming it as a young basking shark! Hey ho, so close, for a while it looked as if the press had grown up, leopards and spots eh?

Go to any game park in Africa and the rules are that you must stay in your car due to the presence of dangerous animals. If a human gets munched by a lion because he/she has been stupid enough to get out of their vehicle, then it is generally regarded as having been the human's fault. Spare a thought for the poor old shark and the stereotype these species are stuck with. Humans using beaches which are known to have sharks present is an exact parallel to the game park situation except that, although the humans have knowingly "got out of their cars", it's always the sharks fault! In human law defamation of character and libel have often been grounds for massive pay outs in the courts. Humans should be grateful that sharks don't have access to a legal system!

I have banged on for years that the only way to stop sharks being over harvested by the fin trade is to stop or control demand. China consumes over 90% of the world's shark fin production which doesn't mean the Chinese are bad guys, it just means that current economics have hugely expanded the market, and we have one target to aim at to do something about it. For years WildAid and others have been working in China to reduce demand, and in the last couple of years there is increasing evidence showing that their efforts are paying off and demand is falling. From the sharks of the world, "thank you and well done WildAid".

Go well, stay safe, and enjoy your sharks.

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