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Shark kills South African spear fisherman

6/6/2005

JOHANNESBURG, South Africa — A South African spear fisherman has been killed by a shark after a struggle in which he and his partner attempted to fight it off with their spear guns, marine officials said on Monday.

Henri Murray, 22, was the second spear fisherman to be killed by a shark in South African waters in the past 19 months.

Media reported on Monday that Murray had attempted to fend the shark off with his spear gun, fighting it off twice before it snatched him in its jaws. His fishing partner also tried to ward the creature off.

"His partner shot the shark with a spear," said Meriel Bartlett, a spokeswoman with the National Sea Rescue Institute.

The incident occurred near Cape Town on Saturday. The shark was presumed to be a great white, the ocean's most feared predator, which is common in the region's waters.

Off South Africa it is illegal to spear fish in scuba gear so divers must hold their breaths for long periods at a time.

The blood and guts that seep from a speared fish attract sharks, which have a keen sense of smell.

A spear fisherman was killed by what was believed to be a huge tiger shark off South Africa in November 2003.

"Spear fishing can be dangerous. You learn not to keep your shot fish near you by sticking it on a long line," said Vic Cockcroft of South Africa's Center for Dolphin Studies.

South African waters have been the scene of a number of shark attacks recently, including one involving a surfer who survived a savaging late last month.

In March a British tourist had a narrow escape when a 5-meter (16.5-foot) great white tore into a diving cage about 100 km (60 miles) southeast of Cape Town. The attack was caught on video.

And an elderly woman was killed by a great white in November while she was having her daily swim near Cape Town.

"The incidents of shark presence seem to be much higher around the coasts (than they used to be) ... There is evidence that our waters are warming up because of climate change, but whether this is making them more productive or not we don't know," Cockcroft said.

The Florida-based International Shark Attack File says 61 shark attacks were reported in the world last year, slightly up on the 2003 total of 57. Seven of last year's attacks were fatal.