Risky Business: South African Abalone Poachers Face Death by Great White Shark

He knew there were sharks in the water, but Sivuyile Xelela needed to work. Earlier that week, his wife had moved to join him, traveling from their home village in South Africa’s province of Eastern Cape to the tiny coastal township of Eluxolweni, outside Cape Town.

They’d gotten married three months earlier, and she was pregnant. It was up to 34-year-old Xelela to provide for his growing family.

An economic migrant, Xelela had left his home village eight years before to look for work, and he’d found it in an astonishingly dangerous occupation: abalone poaching. When conditions were suitable, Xelela would swim more than three kilometers offshore to harvest the large shellfish, which sell for up to US $30 per kilogram on South Africa’s black market, from the reefs off Dyer Island—a great white shark hotspot.

Eluxolweni residents say that over the past 15 years sharks have killed at least four abalone poachers from the community. Local policeman Danie Rautenbach’s 2013 testimony in a poaching trial suggests the number of shark victims is at least double that.

Photo: Peter Whyte/ CSIRO/Wikimedia Commons (CC BY 3.0)

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