A tiger shark's lucky rescue from a net has been captured on camera by a kayaker in the waters off South Africa's eastern coast. The large animal had been attracted by the decomposing carcass of a humpback whale when it became entangled in a shark net. 

The footage shows a team from the local Sharks Board working to cut the tiger shark free while curious paddlers watch from the sidelines. Thanks to one kayaker who quickly plunges his GoPro beneath the surface just as the shark is released, we can just make out the tail fin beginning to move when the animal swims away.

As for the humpback whale, reports say the eight-metre-long animal was an adolescent and became entangled in the nets only after it died. Officials later towed the carcass far out to sea to ensure it wouldn't lure any other scavenging sharks (several can be seen cruising beneath the whale in the video) close to nearby beaches.

While the tiger shark looks to have made a lucky escape, the incident does spotlight an issue that's been sparking controversy among local conservationists, wildlife officials and the public for some time: the use of shark nets.

The miles of netting that line the coast of South Africa's KwaZulu-Natal province have been in place for decades, purportedly to keep local swimmers safe from sharks. While officials claim the nets are doing their job and preventing potentially deadly encounters, conservationists are growing increasingly concerned about their impact on the ocean ecosystem.

"Shark nets are perceived to be barriers for sharks to not enter swimming beaches, which is completely wrong. Shark nets are [more like] fishing nets to fish out the number of sharks in the region," says freediver and ocean conservationist Hanli Prinsloo.

And the nets are indiscriminate: aside from the hundreds of sharks that get caught in them each year, a huge number of non-target animals, including dolphins, turtles and stingrays, also die after becoming entangled. 

Around the globe, including elsewhere in South Africa, a range of other, more shark-friendly, strategies have been working to keep bathers safe – from spotter planes that patrol the waters from above, to catch-and-release tactics that relocate potentially dangerous sharks away from swimming beaches.

"When the shark nets were put in, it was during a time when we still had whaling in South Africa, so the prevalence of sharks coming inshore was very high because [they were attracted] by actual whale carcasses being pulled up the beaches. We don't do that anymore, so it's time to think differently [about the nets]," urges Prinsloo.  


Top header image: Barry Skinstad