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The Most Dangerous Beach in the World for Shark Attacks

I am absolutely obsessed with all things shark. From the dwarf lanternshark to the massive great white, I've got you covered.

Port St Johns, South Africa—the scene of of eight fatal shark attacks.

Port St Johns, South Africa—the scene of of eight fatal shark attacks.

What is the most dangerous beach in the whole world for shark attacks? The deadliest beach in the world is Second Beach at Port St Johns in South Africa, according to my research.

In 2014, the sharks in the waters off Port St Johns claimed yet another life—a 72-year-old Austrian man. He was visiting the beach with a volunteer organization that monitors water conditions. This brings the death toll at Second Beach to eight fatal shark attacks in five years, reinforcing its reputation as the most dangerous beach in the world.

Fatal Shark Attacks Are Rare

Shark attacks, while being pretty rare events all over the world, are seldom fatal. Given that every single one of the attacks at Second Beach have been fatal is deeply worrying. What's strange is that sharks don't even like the taste of humans. They generally only take a sample bite to see how we taste and then let us go.

The extent of our injuries from one bite depends on the size and type of shark, as well as where on our bodies they bite us and the availability of emergency medical assistance. So, what's really going on? Let's have a closer look at what is happening at Second Beach at Port St Johns on South Africa's Eastern Cape province.

Second Beach Shark Attack Death in 2012

Second Beach is popular with swimmers and surfers alike. It is shallow for a good distance out—perhaps 200 metres—before the shelf sinks and the waters get deeper. On January 15th, 2012, 25-year-old Lungisani Msungubana was killed by a bull shark. He had been swimming in waist-deep water with a group of friends about 50 metres offshore.

Lungisani Msungubana's Fatal Attack

At the time, about 100 people were in the water. Witnesses saw the foot-high black fin glide through the murky waters before the shark rose out of the water, its mouth opened wide to take a bite. The bull or Zambesi shark, as they are known as in South Africa, attacked Mr Msungubana with determination.

After knocking him over, it tried to devour him despite him trying to fight it off. All the while, Mr Msungubana was shouting for people to get out of the water and to get themselves to safety. After about 5 minutes, the shark gave up the fight and left the area.

With great trepidation, lifeguards bravely entered the water to pull the badly injured Mr Msungubana to safety, but he was pronounced dead because of severe blood loss despite emergency help being administered by a doctor who was on the beach at the time. He suffered massive bites to his torso, arms and legs, and his femoral artery had ruptured, resulting in his death.

Second Beach Shark Attack Death in 2011

Exactly one year before on January 15th, 2011, 16-year-old Zama Ndamase was practising surfing with his 15-year-old brother, Avuyile. They had been picked to compete for their provincial surfing team and had been doing really well in local competitions.

Zama Ndamase's Fatal Attack

The two were not far from shore and waiting for the next wave when Zama was suddenly dragged underwater by a shark and the sea turned red. His brother headed for the shore screaming for help.

Eventually, Zama managed to get back onto his surfboard and started paddling towards the shore. Lifeguards met him halfway and carried him back, but he was dead by the time he reached the shore because of blood loss.

A bull shark.

A bull shark.

Earlier Shark Attacks at Second Beach in 2009 and 2010

Port St Johns is a popular tourist hotspot, with many people travelling from inland districts to swim in the sea without having the benefits of experience to tell when it is safe to swim and when it isn't. In 2010, three people were eaten alive by sharks at Second Beach, and yet another person was fatally wounded in 2009. Over a two-year period between 2008 and 2010, an additional 20 people drowned at Second Beach due to its strong currents.

How Lack of Funding Puts Beachgoers in Danger

Lifeguards are employed to look after beachgoers, but when there is not enough municipal money to pay for emergency services, problems arise. Quite often, lifeguards are not on duty at Second Beach, and when they are, they are not provided with life-saving equipment like boats or jet skis to rescue people in trouble who are some distance from the shore. Adding to this, lifeguards frequently hesitate to enter waters where a shark attack is taking place (not unnaturally), considering they have to swim out to the area unprotected.

Is Port St Johns Municipality Truly Short of Money?

Municipal figures claim that the town is short of money, yet Port St Johns is a rich person's playground. People with money have holiday homes there. The rugged southeastern coastline is dotted with beautiful white, sandy beaches between rocky outcrops, and the warm azure waters of the Indian Ocean gently lap shorelines that offer safe, shallow bathing for hundreds of metres outwards. Near the rocky outcrops, huge waves roll, offering a surfer's paradise.

Why Are Sharks Attacking Here?

The odd thing about the spate of fatal shark attacks at Port St Johns is that there were none for more than 20 years. People were swimming with bull (Zambesi) sharks at Second Beach and no attacks took place. Suddenly, the attacks have increased in number and no one knows why.

Human Activities

Some have blamed the local witch doctors who carry out live animal sacrifices on the beach and discard the entrails into the sea (it's the 21st century, folks!). Others have blamed effluent from homes which is piped into the sea. Some people point to cage-diving in other coastal areas of South Africa, believing that this activity is desensitizing sharks to humans and causing sharks to equate humans with food due to the huge amount of 'chum' tipped overboard by operators to attract them.

Natural Factors

Off to one side, the giant Umzimvubu River winds its way down through Port St Johns to the Indian Ocean. Long-known as a breeding ground for the Zambesi shark and teaming with fish, the river sometimes carries silt from its mouth directly into the normally clear waters off Second Beach.

No one should swim in murky water, especially water that may carry effluent, fish and Zambesi sharks, which are frequently known as the "pit bulls of the ocean" due to their perseverance and viciousness when attacking.

Shark nets kill sea life.

Shark nets kill sea life.

Shark Experts Focus Their Research on the Region

Experts from South Africa's KwaZulu-Natal Sharks Board (KZNSB) have been drafted in to study the region. They are now catching and tagging sharks with tags which emit an acoustic signal every few minutes. These signals are then picked up by underwater receivers and the data is sent back to the base, allowing oceanographers to track the movement of these sharks.

The research is being directed towards tiger and bull sharks, as those two species have both been involved in the strange events unfolding at Second Beach. Meanwhile, the municipality has discussed installing expensive shark nets around the beach, but this option is not without its pitfalls, too. Installing shark nets will kill many species in addition to the protected sharks.

Secondly, the geography of the coastline would make shark nets difficult to install and maintain, owing to the long, shallow distance from the shore one has to go before reaching waters deeper than waist-deep. Surfers in the deeper water would be offered no protection from the shark nets if they were installed. Unfortunately, no long-term solution has been confirmed.



Tony on May 04, 2018:

It could be because the mouth of the river, to the left of the beach closes and when it opens again at lot of bull sharks that should have been pups are now young to full adults. We know Bulls to be probably the most aggressive species out there. Doesn't surprise me with the highest testosterone in any male animal ever.. add to that the chummings and rituals being performed and I think you have a lot of excited very large adult bull sharks. Mix them with a human and this is what I think causes the fatal attacks.

Emily on July 24, 2017:

How come they're all men? Is there any speculation to that?

lynpeel on January 01, 2016: this probably changes your perceptions just a little?

sharkfacts (author) from UK on January 22, 2013:

Umit, I already had your friend's sad death in - its at the top of the page in blue (to the right). Thanks for the links anyway.

Umit Ucar on January 22, 2013:

Was there a possibility of Liya Sibili (20) face up to Marcella (11 ft 10 in. – 1154 lbs) on Christmas day 2012?

Marcella was travelling South West of Port Saint John’son Dec 24 2012.

6.16pm through North East of Port Saint John’son Dec 262012 6.51am. What do you think? Regards, Mr. Umit Ucar

FATAL – 25 December 2012 – Second Beach, Port St Johns, Eastern Cape, South Africa – swimmer attacke

Liya Sibili, 20, was killed by a shark while swimming at Second Beach, Port St

sharkfacts (author) from UK on December 26, 2012:

Absolutely Warren, and it is time it was stopped. Too many people have died here for this form of chumming to be allowed to continue., and to hell with tradition!

Those must have been horrific experiences for you, finding those dead bodies. Were they drownings, or shark attacks?

warren moore on December 25, 2012:

As a teenager growing up in port st johns for four years, i would surf these waters alone at most times and was always at ease with the calmness that surrounded me. i have on two occasions been met with two dead body's washed up on shore and one floating not too far off. this would normally happen around the new year. if you have never been to port st johns over this period one probably should. this might give new meaning to the so called witch doctor traditions. i have witnessed on a number of occasions the killing of chickens and goats, where bloody remains were offered to the ocean. this has been going on for some time now. this is in fact some form of chumming and would explain why we have a huge impact of sharks at second beach bay. the longer we allow this to happen, more loved ones will lose someone special to them.

sharkfacts (author) from UK on July 11, 2012:

You will love the story of the young man who was splashing about in the water, imitating characters from the movie Jaws. He'd seen the film the night before and was making fun of it. As he waved his arms in the water, a great white sneaked silently up behind him and bit him firmly round the middle, causing his whole body to rise up out of the water much to the shock of his friends. Despite serious injuries he survived, but nowadays keeps a low profile and refuses to give interviews. Pity.

Milli Thornton on July 11, 2012:

Second Beach at Port St. Johns is a beautiful-looking beach (great photos!) and I can see why people can't resist swimming there. For myself, as soon as I saw the sign warning about sharks I would not be going in the water. I never got over the movie Jaws.

The witch doctor anecdote was creepy. Great research. I really enjoyed this Hub (even though I was worried I wouldn't be able to read all of it because of my fear of sharks).

sharkfacts (author) from UK on June 25, 2012:

I will need to have a look at the incident you reference. It certainly sounds odd. Maybe a rogue shark?

KidFacts on June 25, 2012:

Certain types of sharks have been acting quite strangly in the past two years. For example, there was a shark attack at Myrtle Beach South Carolina. They believe the shark that was attacking was a nurse shark or a lemon shark. Which is quite odd considering the fact that those two types of sharks very rarely attack unless they are threatened and the man attacked was just body boarding. There needs to be more research

sharkfacts (author) from UK on April 26, 2012:

I looked at the shark attack file, and before 2007 there was only one reported shark attack at Port St John's, and that was in 1953, and was not fatal. Something has changed, and it is not just something that is attracting the sharks to the shoreline, but something that is making them go in for the kill, and not just take a bite and leave. Hunger, perhaps? If their main diet is hard to find, perhaps through overfishing, they will be hungry enough to kill and eat a human, although it is true to say they did not eat anyone at Port St john's, just savaged them to death. I do not blame you for not swimming there anymore, it is too dangerous until people learn what is causing the attacks. Shame. Beautiful beach!

onkess on April 26, 2012:

it does not make any sense to me why these attacks are now taking place in just 6 years. im a Port st johns beach goer since childhood and they were no shark attack reported only drowning.but why now and im no longer swimming there for my safety because i swim far from shore.

sharkfacts (author) from UK on February 16, 2012:

Totally agree with you. Add to that the protection many waters offer to sharks, and their numbers are now increasing despite many of them being endangered species. Plus there is the little problem of man overfishing the seas. This means less natural food for sharks. But it is odd how in Second Beach bull sharks and humans used to co-exist, and now they don't.

CMHypno from Other Side of the Sun on February 15, 2012:

Maybe there are just too many sharks in the area now and too little food? Shark attacks could become a bigger problem as the human population continues to grow and therefore more and more people are in the water where there are sharks around. I believe strongly that cage diving with sharks should be banned and dumping animal remains on beaches is going to attract these predators/scavengers into shallow waters.