First, allow me to convey my sincere and deepest sympathies to the families of the French tourist, Nicolas Virolle, and the Briton, Ian Redmond, both who died as a direct result of two separate shark attacks while swimming off Anse Lazio Beach in Praslin, Seychelles on August 1st, and August 16th, 2011 respectively.
Yes that's two fatal shark attacks in two separate incidents in 15 days in more or less the exact same spot - And in such an incredibly beautiful serene place. The unfortunate incidents, as horrifying as it sounds, do not make Anse Lazio Beach and bay any less appealing though. It is one of the most pleasing sights to behold.
It still remains one of the two most beautiful beaches of Seychelles and its pristine beauty will carry on drawing visitors to the island of Praslin. I frankly cannot resist a visit to this amazing beach every single time I'm on Praslin Island, but perhaps I'll stay out of the sea - for a while, at least.
Much has been written about the two shark incidents. Some blame the shark(s) and others the authorities in Seychelles, especially for the second attack, since no warnings were displayed at the beach after the first attack. Some would rather just sweep it under the carpet.
Some would prefer to think it was the action of a "foreign" Great White, while it has now been confirmed by independent investigators (scientists from South Africa) that it was in fact the actions of tiger sharks (perhaps the very same individual).
This of course sounds more plausible since tiger sharks are common in Seychelles waters although such fatal encounters are very rare in the Seychelles. But these findings, and the two sudden incidents, may not be in alignment with the Tourist Board's agenda, the main objective of which is to attract, not to frighten away, the foreign tourists, many of whom still believe it's safe swimming with sharks, and whose euros or dollars is the backbone of the economy of Seychelles.
Nobody does. Nobody wants Seychelles to lose its share of visitors and this important revenue stream but it's better to bite the bullet and come out clean. Then follow up with timely effective strategic actions that would prevent a recurrence of the tragic events.
Effective action does not mean simply to be seen to be doing something and not seat-of-the-pants actions either - nor knee-jerk reactions. It must involve well-thought-out long-range plans. And Seychelles should seek help from its friends from all corners of the world to achieve that end while leaving no stone unturned.
This concerns all those who love Seychelles, its lovely beaches and its two UNESCO's World Heritage Sites as well as all who love the sea, water sports and sea creatures worldwide. But this question must absolutely be answered: Is it safe swimming with sharks? And the answer should be used as a guide in making strategic decisions and in the formulation of any new policies.
Anse Lazio Beach Praslin Island Seychelles
Scene of the two fatal shark attacks
FYI, there are many varieties of sharks in Seychelles, which include the large hammer heads, a couple of reef shark species, the dangerous bull shark, the ferocious tiger shark and also the gentle giant, the whale shark which may, or may not, be a real shark. So that in itself is not new.
Only the attacks are new and news worthy. The more deadly and fearsome Great White shark, which was featured in the block-buster movie, Jaws, is not usually found in the sea around Seychelles but that does not mean that one cannot pay us a "courtesy" call and leave its calling card.
But alas, in spite of some trying hard to find a scapegoat to pin the blame on, these attacks were caused by none other than the much smaller but equally dangerous and vicious common tiger shark of Seychelles.
Also know this: There has always been and there always will be sharks in Seychelles as long as the ocean exists. So this is the baseline to work from - there is no point covering up that fact or ignoring it either. What must be done is to minimize or avoid these deadly encounters.
As I write this, the "beast" may have already been caught with all that effort being directed at this lone unfortunate animal and the seas around Praslin Island having been targeted for a shark clean up. One will perhaps never know for sure but remember that sharks are caught every day for food all around Seychelles. So sooner or later it will be curtains for that fish which did not toe the line.
Shark fishing is usually done at night with live bait, just after sunset because that's when they're out hunting. There is not a single day that you will go to Victoria Market and not see shark for sale especially early morning. Shark meat is a delicacy in Seychelles, either fresh or dried-salted.
The beast, as some call it, is estimated to be about 3 metres (10 ft) long, so not a very big shark but still highly dangerous and deadly because of those razor-sharp teeth. They will most probably attack humans to defend their territory rather than for food. But whatever the reason, the end result is the same - a tragic waste of life.
Perhaps answers should also be sought to this question: Why...? And perhaps more studies should be done on the Seychelles sharks. By better understanding these carnivorous creatures, one would be better placed to prevent such incidents in future.
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You should also know that sharks would react ferociously and decisively if their young were threatened. Approaching the baby might be perceived by the shark as a threat to its offspring. Just being around a baby shark may put your life in mortal danger from the nurturing parent.
Is that what happened at Anse Lazio? And twice at that? Was the shark just minding its own business, babysitting in the peaceful bay? And suddenly the whole world is calling it a man-eater on the prowl that must be hunted down.
Perhaps the swimmers just got too close to its young - A case of being in the wrong place (the baby shark's playground) at the wrong time. That would better explain the two incidents and why in such close proximity and in so short a time span.
But there are also two sides to the same coin. So a delicate balance must be sought as more sharks are caught or fished out of the sea as the hunt goes on. Many visitors come to Seychelles especially to experience the "thrill", the adrenalin rush of diving and swimming with sharks and watching them feed up close.
Night diving especially has become very popular in Seychelles because of more shark encounters then. But has swimming with sharks ever been safe? I believe it's foolish. And many activist movements worldwide are dead set against shark hunting too and may be actively campaigning for an outright ban on shark hunting / fishing.
So as long as there are those people there'll always be such incidents, perhaps not in Seychelles but there will be similar occurrences in some other part of the world. More lives will be lost as long as there are the thrill seekers on the one hand and the activists on the other.
It is only through luck really that there have not been more tragic incidents in the past 50 years in Seychelles. After all, conditions are right. There are sharks and they are natural predators at the top of the food chain, while humans foolishly throw caution to the wind and swim among their prey. It's like playing Russian roulette. So...
The shark sees them as either prey too or competitors after their own food. Any creature - human, animal or beast that comes in their environment is fair game - either to be devoured or chased away. You can't blame the shark for this. They are protecting their feeding ground from intruders and feeding on their own choice of menu, of course - anything goes. It's in their nature - And the law of the jungle at work.
You enter the sea at your own peril especially when you venture to the reefs where the smaller fishes are more plentiful. This is the sharks' feeding ground - much like your own dinner table. Do you share it with the whole world? Some might even defend it or fight given the right circumstances. So does the shark. And they have the weapons.
Without wanting to sound too philosophical, the shark at sea is the equivalent of the lion in the jungle. And make no mistake: the sea is a jungle. Would anyone enter a lion-infested jungle without adequate protection? So why would you do it? Why would you behave differently in the shark's domain?
Snorkelling and scuba diving are essentially activities that take you to the sharks' hunting / feeding ground unprotected among their other prey. So is it any wonder then that humans may get added to the dinner menu too. The answer is to stop being foolish. It does not make it safe just because others do it too. These two activities are foolhardy.
Look at the picture above again - This is a powerful well-oiled killing machine. What's your defence against these razor-sharp fangs in those powerful jaws? And if it seems to have a smile on its face, wouldn't you have a permanent smile on your face too if you were equipped with a set like these? No worries ever about your next meal, and the table permanently laid, hey?
And as you read this, know that the shark is not the most dangerous species in the sea. There is also the much smaller but even more fearsome, dangerous and vicious barracuda in the sea around Seychelles. I'm not paranoid and certainly not afraid of the sea but I have a healthy respect for the shark, other sea creatures and for the sea itself.
I love the sea. I spend a lot of time there. I like windsurfing, sailing, kayaking and fishing. But I never snorkel or scuba dive. I've always been wary of those two activities. In the sea let others venture out swimming; stay close to the beach. Be cautious! Visit the reefs in a boat, perhaps a glass-bottomed boat, or at very low tide only. That's my advice to you. And furthermore remember this...
The sea is not a private swimming pool while snorkelling and scuba diving in its present form are dangerous, or at best risky and reckless activities that need to be revisited both in Seychelles and worldwide. Perhaps submersibles and semi-submersibles will gain popularity and then these pursuits of watching fishes up close would become less risky.
Until then, count me out. And now...
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Sharks in Seychelles
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