Science

In New Caledonia, shark psychosis sets in

The fatal shark attack suffered by a fifty-something in Noumea in New Caledonia on April 24, coming after that of a swimmer in February and two suspicious disappearances, rekindles the fear of sharks in this French archipelago, and revives the debate on the management of this risk.

Left last Saturday on his equipped rowing board from a beach in Nouméa, capital of this South Pacific territory, to the Nouville peninsula, further north, Jean-Christophe V., a 53-year-old veterinarian, was found by a boater, lifeless on his board with a major wound in his leg.

“The forensic scientist noted the complete section of the femoral artery”, then specified the public prosecutor, evoking, in support of expertises, the bite of a tiger shark of 4 meters.

The accident occurred two months after the death of Eric C., attacked by a shark while swimming near his boat at Îlot Maitre, a very touristy site 20 minutes from Nouméa.

The drama, previously unimaginable in this place, took place in the middle of the afternoon under the frightened gaze of many swimmers and water sports enthusiasts.

Justice has also opened two inquiries for worrying disappearance after in the same period and still in Noumea, a swimmer and a boater disappeared under conditions which do not rule out the hypothesis of a shark attack.

“For the start of 2021, we have become the most dangerous country in the world in terms of shark risk,” said Emmanuel Couture, project manager at the Environment Department of the Southern Province.

An information panel concerning the presence of sharks, on the beach of Baie-des-Citrons, in Nouméa, on April 29, 2021 (AFP – Theo Rouby)

Three non-fatal attacks, including an extremely rare one on a bottle diver, had also taken place in November and December 2020.

– Permanent danger –

Not a week goes by without an alert being triggered on the city’s beaches or in the interior after reports from sea users or surveillance authorities.

“I recently saw two bulldog sharks and a tiger shark less than ten meters from the shore,” testifies a fan of the Baie des Citrons beach, where firefighters regularly raise the red flag and put out their flags. marked with a shark jaw.

A little further on at Anse Vata, Mathieu, manager of a sailing school, deceives boredom by playing with his dog, for lack of clients.

“The conditions for sailing are ideal today but there is nobody, it’s normal people are afraid”, he blurted, calling for “a regulation of the shark population in the coastal zone”.

President of the Nouméa Glisse association, Stéphane Bouquillard, for his part, took the radical decision to “suspend all regattas until further notice”, after the last fatal accident.

Bathers at Baie-des-Citrons, in Nouméa, April 29, 2021 (AFP - Theo Rouby)

Bathers at Baie-des-Citrons, in Nouméa, April 29, 2021 (AFP – Theo Rouby)

“We are no longer in a situation of risk but of permanent danger. It is not bearable and it becomes essential to take coordinated measures”, she advocates.

In March, the southern province carried out the targeted culling of 24 tiger and bulldog sharks and is considering an “automatic authorization to capture 72 hours within a one kilometer perimeter” in the event of an attack.

Last year, the community also banned any discharge of meat waste within 500 meters of an island or the shore and signs warning swimmers were installed.

However, environmental associations denounce these withdrawals from protected species, which they consider “ineffective, giving a false sense of security and without a scientific basis”.

“The level of study of these marine animals in New Caledonia is very limited today, we lack expertise, information and are unable to make informed and measured decisions”, protests Eva Dumas, president of Sea Shepherd .

The organization for the defense of the oceans has just launched an appeal to the scientific community to develop a program of studies, in particular to understand the environmental and human factors that favor the presence of sharks.

The captures also arouse the disapproval of traditional Kanak chiefdoms, while the shark is one of the totemic animals of Melanesian culture.

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