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.

The diver was part of a team of interns who have been diving with Blue Wilderness for almost a month. “The interns are well-versed with the nature of these animals, these guys are competent divers and are passionate about sharks – that’s why they travelled around the globe to join us during the sardine run. They have been making a valuable contribution to furthering our understanding of these sharks at the Aliwal Shoal MPA” said Mark Addison.