April 20, 2012 — -- One day after South Africa suspended a permit for a U.S.-based production company filming shark research near Cape Town, commenters continued to blame the documentary team for Thursday's great white attack that killed a revered body boarder -- even as the city seemed to exonerate the researchers.
Hundreds of South Africans posted angry messages Thursday and today on the "Shark Men" Facebook page, saying that the practice of "chumming" -- baiting the water to attract sharks -- had led to the death of 20-year-old champion body boarder David Lilienfeld.
"This chumming is ridiculous. ... There hasn't been a single shark sighting where David was attacked since 1999. How can you say this was not a result of them chumming our waters," posted Bianca Schwerin.
According to local news reports, Lilienfeld, a member of the South African Bodyboarding Team, was paddling with his brother Gustav in Kogel Bay at a popular surfing spot called the "Caves" near Cape Town when a shark nearly 13-feet- to 16-feet-long bit off his right leg. Lilienfeld died in the water and his body eventually floated to shore.
The "Shark Men" program, which has shown on the National Geographic channel, features expert anglers working with scientists to catch sharks and tag them for research. The production company had permits for chumming and filming.
On the show's Facebook page, Chris Fischer, the production company's founder and show host, denied that the project had led to the attack.
'Shark Men' Host Speaks Out
In a post, he said: "We departed False Bay over three days ago after working there from Sunday afternoon the 15th to Monday afternoon the 16th. During our 24 hrs of work (Sun afternoon to Monday afternoon) there we chummed 24 kg of pilchards (sardines). Less than the daily allotment for each of three cage diving boats working daily. ... We are terribly sorry again for the loss of this family and at this time our thoughts and prayers are with them."
But commenters on the page disagreed.
"Murderers. You were warned of this and ignored the local knowledge. And you call yourselves conservationists? Since when do you feed wild animals?" wrote Dion Beneke.
"Chumming must stop and the exploitation of our wildlife in Africa must stop this is all about greed and money," said Monica Rogers.
The show's research permit was pulled Thursday by the South Africa Environmental Affairs Department. In a statement, the agency's spokesman Zolile Nqayi said that the permit had been suspended, not revoked, and that a meeting with "Shark Men" and Ocearch, the foundation behind the shark research, had been scheduled for next week.
"In light of the panic in the public, the department withdrew the permit firstly because of the shark attack and the possibility that another could occur," Nquayi said.
Gregg Oelofse, head of Cape Town's environmental agency, however, said the permit should not have been denied.
"I don't think it was the right decision because I don't think there's any evidence that the two events were related," he told ABC News. "I think by withdrawing the permit, it just increased the perception in the public realm that there was some correlation between the two."
Cape Town also released a statement, saying that great whites were known to frequent Kogel Bay during this period and that the presence of dolphins and birds feeding indicated "an increased likelihood of shark activity."
"There is no evidence or reason to suggest that the tagging of four white sharks over a period of 24 hours .... by the Ocearch Programme had any role to play in the tragic events that occurred at Caves," according to the statement.
The National Geographic Channel also commented: "National Geographic Channel shares our sincere condolences to the family of the surfer killed today off the coast of South Africa. While it is true we do have a series currently airing on the channel called 'Shark Men' with Chris Fischer, we have not renewed the series for another season, have no plans to renew, and are not filming new episodes at this time. Therefore, the filming we understand was taking place in South Africa related to this incident was NOT for National Geographic Channel, for future episodes of 'Shark Men' or any other National Geographic production. We think the filming might be for another network, but as we are not involved do not have details."