The efficiency of this net was, for the majority of us, based on its dissuasive aspect and its capacity to hold a closed area between “us” and “them”.
According to scientists, the shark “doesn’t like human flesh” and “mistake himself when attacking humans”. It would portray us as a turtle or a seal, and then let go when understanding that it has been mistaken.
We are forced to recognize that it is not so, as forensics and this last accident as shown. Laurent was on his board when the shark grabbed his right arm and severed it below the shoulder. He tried to defend himself and lost his left thumb. Then he got back on his board to try reach the beach but the not sated animal came back for a second run and got hold of Laurent’s right leg, which was torn, to the point he had to be amputated above the knee.
We should determine what circumstances allowed the shark to get through the net. Step aside the idea of a “dumb shark just passing through that got thrown over by the big waves this day” even if it is the most widespread.
It is very unlikely that an animal that randomly came in the zone, non-aware of the presence of the net, decided to jump in the hole that he suddenly saw. A recent study show that the shark is well aware of its surroundings, developing a mental map of his environment, like the local diver who knows the zone like the back of its hand after multiples dives.
Let’s also point out the fact that this very day, the 27th of august 2017, the swell was approaching 3m (10 feet) Causing a very strong current after each set of waves. The strength of this phenomenon (illustrated in the central axe of the illustration below) causes the net to bend momentarily towards the bottom of the sea. This event is still really brief and wasn’t really worrying the locals. The bull shark (mainly incriminated in the recent attacks) is known to swim very low, always close to the seabed.
Whether it got through a hole, or above the net while it was flinching, the most probable thing (and the most terrifying also) is that the shark knew the place perfectly. It even may have witnessed the building process of the net and, with time, might have got used to it. After being scared by this unusual structure that causes all sorts of vibration (especially when the waves are big and the place is crowded by surfers and swimmers) it probably understood that it wasn’t threatening him and got curious towards this enclosure.
Members of our community (well aware of bull shark behaviour due to the recent happenings in Réunion) know that sharks in general (and especially bull sharks) tends to be suspicious towards artificial structures such as ropes, submerge metallic constructions and buoys that forms the nets that are employed on Réunion Island’s beaches. We henceforth know that nothing seems to stop these kinds of sharks (bulls and tigers) and that they do not seem to be intimidated whatsoever once they understand that their security isn’t threatened. Nothing can assure us that they can’t memorized the place (in a positive way) once one of them as been able to feed here.
Until now (let alone a couple of old enclosures experimentations) the only nets that work effectively are fishing net. Disposed like panels between the bottom and the surface and a couple of miles from the shore.
People facing such risk in Réunion Island know that this kind of net is very efficient. That is why we were persuaded that the risk was pretty much non-existent with such a wall between the line-up and the sharks.
But we also knew that they (the fishing nets) had one characteristic: they capture and kill hundreds of sharks each year. During the routine morning check of the nets, the captured animals are usually dead, releasing all sorts of signals to their congeners during several hours after their death.
Fishing nets have largely been criticized by ecologists and are still the object of activists’ campaigns in order to get them removed in South Africa and Australia along with repeated sabotages.
Due to this context, we went on to experiment: a closed net but non lethal, a ZONEX (Experimentation Zone) as it went to be called. This tragedy is a reminder that we are still the guinea pigs of a wide experiment here in Reunion Island. Trying to see if an unthinkable cohabitation between 300 plus kilograms predators in their natural habitat and powerless users of the sea is possible.
This experiment started with the scandalous tagging campaign of more than 80 sharks with a median height of 3m. This scientific program took place right in front of the beach area between 2011 and 2013, at our very own risks, with dramatic consequences that we all know. It eventually led to the “permanent provisional” closing of the ocean.
With this analysis, we have many reasons to believe that the odds of an attack were very low that infamous day in Boucan Canot. The experimental net, even with its weakness and a hole in it, seemed like an acceptable risk for those who are familiar with the sea, the sharks and the prevention of attacks. Everybody thought it was “just a hole”. It was just larger than usual. No one would have been out there paddling if the net were largely damaged.
With such a minimal breach, and a decreased risk over the past year, it was hard to imagine such a tragedy happening in this enclosure. This is probably why the policemen didn’t try to get anyone out of the water that day, unlike the previous days when the red flag was up. If anyone knew that the risk was that high, the authorities wouldn’t have let anyone out in the water after 5pm.
The event of a shark breaching through the net cannot be considered lightly anymore.
If we use the same ecological methods that were employed for the wolf crisis (similar to the event in reunion island but with wolfs attacking cattle in the Alpes mountains in France) we are heading nowhere, most certainly.
What if the shark started to behave like his terrestrial cousin? Like a fox in front of a chicken coop? Specialists in wolf protection says that they tried everything to repel the wolf, it still come in the sheepfold to attack. This is called the “habituation” theory, according to naturalists and Scientifics.
Bull sharks might have learn to read and write here…
Jean François NATIVEL, author of the book: “Requins à la Réunion: Une tragédie moderne"