Man Sentenced for Abusing Great White Shark

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Animal abuse cases usually involve common pets, like dogs and cats, but a South African man was sentenced this week for abusing a great white shark.

Leon Bekker of George in the Western Cape pleaded guilty to his contravention of various sections of the Marine Living Resources Act No 18 of 1988. He was charged with “fishing for, collecting, attempting to kill, disturbing, harassing, chumming or attracting using bait or other means, keeping controlling or being in possession of a white shark (Carcharodon carcharias) or part thereof, without a permit.”

He was sentenced to a fine of 120,000 South African rands ($13,200) or a year in jail.

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According to the organization Oceans Society, last year in Mossel Bay, Bekker hooked a great white shark in front of onlookers. He and two others then dragged the shark onto the rocks, using both a large hook and also by placing their hands into its gills. The shark lay on the rocks while photographs were taken of Bekker with his catch. (You have to wonder if he was inspired by Go Daddy CEO Bob Parsons, who infamously shot an elephant and had photographs quickly snapped to capture the moment.)

Bekker gave evidence in court that he had fought for an hour to get the shark out of the ocean. Once he had done so, he left it lying on the rocks for 16 minutes. While the shark was on the rocks, local marine biologist and shark conservationist Ryan Johnson received a call from worried onlookers asking him to come to the scene. When Johnson arrived, he realized that the shark was close to death and he advised Bekker that he was breaking the law and that he (Johnson) would return the animal to the water immediately.

Johnson believes the shark probably died shortly thereafter. It was too injured and had been out of the water for too long.

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Johnson explained to the magistrate that there are approximately 3,500 white sharks left in the world and that taking even one of these animals out of the equation was a disaster for their conservation.

Great white sharks have been protected in South African waters since 1991. It’s hoped that this latest case will prevent others from abusing or killing the sharks.

At present, the state of California is considering adding great white sharks to the California Endangered Species list. Population counts of the toothy predators are challenging to do, but a study two years ago only came up with an estimated population of 220.

Many shark species worldwide are in bad shape due to human activities, pollution, climate change and other factors. Most species are slow to reproduce, such that natural replenishment of losses cannot often outpace the deaths.

(Image: Oceans Society)