Kogel Bay shark attack: What happened

Belinda Walker - Gregg Oelofse
20 April 2012

City of Cape Town says fatal attack couldn't have been avoided within reasonable means

Report and Review of Events at Kogel Bay "Caves" After Great White Shark Attack

As a result of the incident at Kogel Bay beach yesterday, 19 April 2012. The City of Cape Town has compiled a report of the incident which is below for information:


At approximately 12:30 on Thursday, 19 April 2012, a 20 year old male, Mr David Lilienfeld was bitten by a Great White Shark at a popular surfing area known as "Caves" at Kogel Bay. The victim suffered the loss of his right leg and died in the water. Mr Lilienfeld was a member of the South African Bodyboarding Team.

The purpose of the review is to:

  • Establish the facts and ensure that the correct information is provided to authorities as well as the public;
  • Assess whether any reasonable actions could have been taken to prevent the attack;
  • Identify areas / aspects that need to be improved to reduce the chance of further attacks; and
  • Provide a detailed account of the event for the record.

Shark Attack Details

The following account of the events leading up to the attack, the attack itself, as well as the emergency response has been compiled based on interviews conducted on 19 April 2012 with all relevant parties and eye-witnesses.

Although the accounts from various witnesses vary to some degree, as is to be expected following a traumatic event, the following can be considered an accurate description of the events leading up to the fatal attack, as well as the emergency response thereafter.

"Caves'" is a popular surfing area on the Northern-most end of Kogel Bay. It is a small cove located under steep cliffs, closest to the Gordon's Bay side of the bay.

An eye witness, Mr Matt Marais, recorded that just prior to the attack he was surfing alone at the Caves. After he left the water two body-boarders paddled out to a distance of between 70 - 100m from the shore. Minutes after leaving the water he heard shouting and saw a body-boarder being attacked by a large shark. The eye witness recalled that a single shark attacked the body-boarder. Reports indicate that:

  • The two body-boarders (confirmed as brothers David and Gustav Lilienfeld) had been in the water for less than 10 minutes. They were facing the sea beyond the breakers.
  • The shark made three passes at Mr David Lilienfeld. Only on the third pass did the eye witness see blood surrounding the victim indicating that the first two passes did not cause injury to the victim. This is further confirmed by reports from the responding NSRI member who observed no additional injuries to the victim.
  • After the final strike, the shark moved away from the victim and did not approach the victim again.
  • Following the fatal strike the victim was motionless, indicating a severe attack that left the victim helpless and lead to his almost immediate death.
  • Eye witness accounts indicate that Mr Lilienfeld's brother (Gustav), who was body-boarding with him at the time of the attack, tried in vain to reach and assist his brother. The two were however separated by strong wave action.
  • As he was unable to reach his brother, Gustav Lilienfeld left the water.
  • The shark was seen swimming in the area for at least 40 minutes after the attack
  • The waves and the current washed the body of the victim towards the shoreline.
  • Mr David Lilienfield's body was pulled onto the rocks by bystanders.

Emergency Response

The first emergency calls were received at 12.40pm. At 13:00, the NSRI arrived on scene by road and air and reported that the victim's body was on the rocks at the base of the cliff. The NSRI took control of retrieving the body of the victim, as per standard protocol. The NSRI dispatched one of their vessels, as well as a helicopter, to assist. Due to the difficult location of the victim's body and the proximity of the cliffs, the medevac helicopter was unable to retrieve the body and returned to base. At this point both the skipper of the vessel, as well as the helicopter pilot, reported the presence of two white sharks in the area.

At 15.10 pm, the victim's body was recovered from the rocks by ground personnel and carried up to the road. The victim's father and brother were on scene throughout the recovery of the body.

City's Response

At 13.10pm the City's Disaster Risk Management Department sent a SMS notification to all relevant City staff confirming the fatal shark attack. The City's Environmental Resource Management Department (ERMD) immediately dispatched a team from the Shark Spotting Programme to the area to:

  • Assist with closing the beach
  • Undertake witness interviews and investigate the events before, during and after the attack.

Once the team had been notified and dispatched, ERMD then notified the Sport, Recreation and Amenities (SRA) Department at 13:18 and requested that SRA assist in closing the beach to swimming with the assistance of their District Staff. SRA immediately arranged for the closing of the beach, and also confirmed the closure.

A media release was issued informing the public. The Department of Environmental Affairs Oceans and Coasts Branch was also notified.

The White Shark Flag, indicating a closed beach due to shark activity, was raised at the main gate at Kogel Bay Resort, where visitors were advised of the beach closure at 14:45. A shark spotter was deployed to the "Cave" beach area and remained on site to actively inform the public. The shark spotter retuned to the "Cave" beach area on the morning of 20 April 2012 to continue ensuring beach closure.

Environmental Conditions

At the time of the attack, seas were calm with a 3-4 foot swell running, the water was "green and clear as described by the witness," water temperature was 19 degrees, the sky was cloudless and the wind was mild south-easterly breeze. The eye witness also reported that just before the attack, a pod of 30 dolphins had moved through the area, as well as the presence of a number of actively feeding birds. At the time of the attack only the two body-boarders were in the water.

General Information

The area in which the shark attack took place is well known for White Shark presence, especially at this time of the year. Sightings of White Sharks by surfers at "Caves" and Kogel Bay are regularly received by the City's Environmental Resource Management Department, as well as the Shark Spotters website. A breaching shark was reported two weeks ago and ERMD have also received reports of sardine activity. 

Further unconfirmed reports from construction workers who were in the area indicate that two White Sharks had been seen in the area an hour before the attack.

A non-fatal white shark attack occurred at the same area in July 1999 (prior to City actively keeping records).

In 2006, the City and the Shark Spotting Programme initiated a trial of shark spotting at "Caves". This was unsuccessful as the logistics of deploying shark spotters to an area without public transport access, or within reasonable cycling or walking distance of a major centre, resulted in the trial being suspended.

Shark Signage

The City has deployed Shark Smart information signs across its coastline in 2010. These signs have been installed at all nodal points. Site inspection on the 19 April 2012 confirmed that a Shark Smart sign is present and visible at Kogel Bay Resort. However, no sign is present at the access point to the Caves surfing area which is on the northern end of the bay.


1. Could the attack have been avoided within reasonable means?

In considering the above, the following should be noted: 

  • Kogel Bay is a relatively remote area with little infrastructure and no permanent presence of City staff or services. The amenity function and services are located at the southern end of the bay at the Kogel Bay Resort. 
  • White Sharks are known to frequently use this area, especially during the summer inshore period (late August to early May).
  • The presence of a pod of dolphins just prior to the attack as well as birds feeding beyond the shoreline is indicative of general feeding activity in the area and thereby indicates an increased likelihood of shark activity.
  • Just prior to the attack there were only two body-boarders in the water. It has been well documented that safety of individuals is increased by surfing/swimming/paddling in large groups

Considering all the above, it is the view of this report that the fatal shark attack could not have been avoided within reasonable means. Cape Town is a city of 3,5 million people residing along a coastline which forms the natural habitat for White Sharks. An unfortunate, tragic and regrettable result of this will be that, on occasion, shark attacks will occur.

Ocearch / Sharkmen Research and Documentary:

Although the City had no role in the issuing of the Ocearch / Sharkmen permit, and did not participate in the programme, it does, however, hold the view that all relevant scientific protocols, safety considerations and permit requirements were adequately considered by the authorities with the aid of expert input, prior to issuing the permit to operate in False Bay. In addition, the City was allowed on board as an external independent observer on Sunday, 15 April and reported the following:

  • "The exercise took place at Seal Island - very close to the northern end. I was on board from 15:00 to 19:30.
  • There was a fairly brisk westerly going south westerly blowing which later dropped off.
  • The chumming was much less than anticipated. A tuna head dangled off the stern and a mixture of crushed pilchards in water was intermittently ladled overboard. It could not have been more than 30l that was used in the time I was there.
  • The small boat hooked a +-3.9m female with a baited hook and brought it alongside and onto the cradle.
  • The sampling and measuring took 13 minutes in total.
  • The entire operation was skilfully and professionally done and it was obvious to me that all involved care for these animals."

The following critical point needs to be stated. During the attack the sharks dorsal fin broke the surface (as reported by the eye witness Mr Marais). If this shark had been one of the tagged sharks, the satellite transmitter would have given off a signal that would have been recorded on the system and located the shark at Kogel Bay. On assessing the data, no satellite records exist for that area. Two of the sharks tagged in False Bay have given off signals and were located in the Macassar/Strandfontein area shortly before the attack. The lack of satellite signal is clear information that the shark involved in the attack is not one of the sharks tagged by the Ocearch Research Programme.

Further, with regard to public speculation of the role of chum, the following should be noted. White sharks occur in False Bay in healthy numbers throughout the year. The small and limited chumming by Ocearch would not have attracted additional sharks to False Bay as the amount of chum used is insignificant in comparison to natural chum sources in the bay including the natural chum slick emanating from Seal Island, fishing activities in False Bay, by-products from Kalk Bay harbour as well as the small and immaterial chumming by permitted cage divers.

Furthermore, the Ocearch Programme operated in False Bay at Seal Island on Sunday and Monday. The wind direction has been strong south east throughout the week. Any residual chum from their activities would have dissipated within hours and, due to the wind direction, moved from the island in an opposite direction to that of Kogel Bay.

As a result, there is no evidence or reason to suggest that the tagging of four White Sharks over a period of 24 hours from Sunday 15 April to Monday 16 April, in False Bay, by the Ocearch Programme had any role to play in the tragic events that occurred at Caves.

Although the City has, and continues to have, no role in the Ocearch Programme, as well as not feeling that it is appropriate, or required, to defend or support the programme, it holds the view that it is essential that the correct and factual information be provided to the public. Public and media speculation linking the two unrelated activities is uninformed and misleading.

2. Overall Response

  • All emergency response and notification procedures worked well and officials were notified within minutes of the attack, emergency response was on site within 20 minutes and all standard operating protocols were followed
  • The beach was closed to bathers and the standard White Shark Flag was raised at the coastal amenity 
  • Shark spotters were deployed to the area and all available eye witnesses were interviewed and information drawn from these interviews was then collated

3. Recommendations for limiting future risk

  • The Shark Spotting Programme must be tasked with undertaking a detailed assessment of what would be required to install a full time shark spotting service at "Caves." This assessment must be done immediately and consider:
    • Budget implications for their operating budget
    • Mechanisms to solve the logistical issue of getting staff on site for daily shifts
    • Lack of general supporting infrastructure for their operations (electricity, facilities, cover and ablutions) 
  • Shark Spotting Programme are to report, by 30 April 2012, whether they are able to provide a shark spotting service at "Caves"
  • Shark Smart information signs must immediately be installed at all access points along the road to "Caves"

Statement issued by Alderman Belinda Walker, Mayoral Committee Member for Economic, Environmental and Spatial Planning, City of Cape Town, and Gregg Oelofse, Head: Environmental Policy and Strategy, Environmental Resource Management Department, City of Cape Town, April 20 2012

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 responses to this article

Shark Report
A well written informative report, produced in double-quick time. Take note, the rest of South Africa.

by Red on April 20 2012, 20:39
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Well written report
Wow the detail and speed of this report is outstanding. Tragic report to read though!

by Luis on April 20 2012, 21:00
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Impressive report...
Thank you!

by Jonas on April 20 2012, 23:51
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Can you imagine......
....if a shark attack occured in KZN - how long do think it would take for the ANC scumbags to be produce a reasonable report - let alone a report of this calibre? The slimeballs would probably opt for a Commission of Enquiry at a cost of many millions, . .more

by Democrat on April 21 2012, 09:55
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Latest Shark Attack In Cape Town.
Chumming is banned in the U.S.A. and right here in South Africa at Port Elizabeth. This leads me to believe that the City Of Cape Town and its "experts" are, either sitting on hard scientific data that proves this, and have not released it to the world, . .more

by Peter Thomas on April 21 2012, 10:49
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The chumming had ZERO to do with this shark attack.

The sharks are there regardless of chumming. What part of that can't you grasp?

It's the seal and fish that brings great white sharks to False Bay, not minute amounts of . .more

by John Cornell on April 21 2012, 11:49
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Do chum slicks float or sink, currents may have a bigger role than wind.
It's my hypothesis that chum slicks travel more by current than by wind, after all once it is in the water it becomes part of the water which moves independently of the wind.

Even though the amount of chum poured in to the water was . .more

by James on April 21 2012, 13:59
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Having followed the hews thread, however speedy the web reporting was doen, it struck me how many discrepancies were noticeable. It's a pity that reporters are often so scoop-greedy that they are willing to sacrifice the credibility that should lie at the . .more

by Cornelle on April 21 2012, 14:37
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"Minute" amounts of chum
Yeah John Connel: you call 5t (5 000kg) "minute"? I'm with Peter Thomas; try get a permit to chum for the most ferosious shark in the sea off Surfers Paradise in Oz or Malibu in the US. Good luck. I suggest to you that its NOT coincidence that the last . .more

by Horace on April 21 2012, 14:38
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David is gone.
Not this report nor any comments can bring David back or reverse Gustav's ordeal.
David died doing what he loved. He knew the risks involved and was a wonderful young man with a great sense of adventure. Nobody is to blame . Now let us mourn his . .more

by Me on April 21 2012, 14:48
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by STRANDIAN on April 21 2012, 16:41
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"We never had a shark problem"

There is no shark problem. Rather, there's a people problem. One hundred million sharks are killed by humans every year, against a maximum of ten people killed by sharks.

If you can't take the sharks, stay out of the . .more

by Lisbeth on April 21 2012, 18:46
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Shark Shield?
I wonder why don't people in SA use a Shark Shield while surfing, bodyboarding or heck, even swimming?

Heck, I bet a Freedom 7 attached to his ankle, and looped thru the end of his swim fin so that it protruded downward all the time would . .more

by Randy from Los Angeles, California on April 22 2012, 05:33
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shark vs baboon
The nature reserve of table mountain prohibits the feeding of baboons i assume it is because they associate food with humans, maby the sharks are now associate food and humans by chumming

by larry in holland on April 22 2012, 13:51
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Protection for the rich only....
A product called Shark Shield Surf exists. It gives a type of electric shock and will keep most breed of sharks away. Problem is that the SA government developed it through the Natal Shark Board. It is being used by the SA Navy and the US navy . .more

by Blacksmith on April 22 2012, 19:29
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Silly Remarks
Great report. Stupid remarks about chumming. Do the volumetric calculations, dickheads. Do you know how sharks hunt? It's a system similar to radar.
Lastly, Macassar is listed as one of the White Shark's breeding grounds. This has not happened in the . .more

by Geoff on April 22 2012, 22:41
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I've often seen Southern Right whales and their young in the backline and in the surf no more than 20 metres from surfers at that spot.

by Geoff on April 22 2012, 22:44
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Geoff the know all
Ah Geoff, so it's all about volume not about sensory awareness. I suppose that's what you tell your wife when you fart in bed. The volume compared to the air in the room is negligible> Maybe think before insulting?

by Horace on April 23 2012, 05:28
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shark attack
My sympathies to the victim's family.
Sharks live in water, right? If you get into the water there's a chance that there will be a shark not too far away. Accept that there is always a risk. Or stay out of the sea.

by jelry on April 23 2012, 07:40
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I think De Lille and Zille are covering up. The chumming indeed caused the problem. The victims must sue the city and the Americans.

by Mink on April 23 2012, 09:55
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When Sharks do and don't attack
I learned about sharks when I learned scuba diving and often dived with them when younger. This is what we were taught:

That sharks have a very developed sense of smell but poor vision. We were taught never to dive early morning or late . .more

by Lyndall Beddy on April 23 2012, 14:37
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