A number of people are seeing sharks breaching near beaches in False Bay and are a little concerned. These are commonly bronze whalers chasing bait fish like sardines. Bronze whaler (Carcharhinus brachyurus) adults are about 2 meters in size, but can reach up to 3 meters. Bronze whalers are also called copper sharks due to their brown or bronze colouration on top. Their bellies are white. They are seasonally abundant in False Bay over our summer months when the water is warmer. They feed on a variety of bony fish, smaller sharks and squids. A typical hunting style involves barreling through a school of fish from below or from the side, with mouth agape to swallow as many fish as possible, the momentum of which sometimes results in them breaching out of the water.
These sharks pose little direct risk to people as bites from this species are very rare and usually related to activities like spearfishing, not swimming or surfing. Bites on swimmers or surfers when they do occur, usually happen when the sharks are chasing their natural prey and mistakenly bite people in the way, so people should avoid being in the same area. Furthermore, their presence and behaviour indicates a lot of fish activity and thus the general safety rule applies which is to be extra vigilant and cautious, as this is indicative of favourable conditions for white sharks too. Bronze whalers are prey for white sharks which also means an increased likelihood of white sharks in the area.
Shark Spotters will fly the red flag to caution water users that conditions prevail for increased white shark presence under circumstances like these. If the activity is unusual or higher than what we normally see we may decide to close the beach as a cautionary approach. Therefore, make sure to check signage, keep an eye on flags and chat to spotters or lifeguards on the beach for updated information.