What is Shark Spotters?
We are a pioneering shark safety and research organisation that seeks to find a balance between recreational water user safety and white shark conservation in Cape Town. We recognise the importance of sharks for healthy ecosystem but also that Cape Town residents have a right to the recreational use of the marine environment.
How do you spot for sharks?
At each beach that we monitor there is a “mountain spotter”, these are shark spotters which are situated at an elevated position above the beach they are monitoring. The mountain spotters are equipped with polarised sunglasses (which help cut through the glare of sunlight on the sea surface) and binoculars.
What happens when a shark is spotted?
Upon spotting a white shark, the mountain spotter will set off a siren at the beach, warning the water users to exit the water. At the same time, the flag will be changed to the white flag with a black shark on it, indicating that there is currently a shark in the area.
Does the siren sound for all species of shark?
The siren is only sounded if a great white shark is spotted close to water users. Although there are 16 different species of shark that come into False Bay, the great white shark is the only one which poses a serious threat to people. The other two shark species (tiger and bull/Zambezi shark) which pose a serious threat to people do not live in the waters around Cape Town.
How do I know when it is safe to go back in the water?
Once the white shark has left the area, the beach spotter will change the flag from white to red. The red flag indicates high shark activity, in this case that a shark was recently in the area. Although you may enter the water when the red flag is flying, we suggest waiting an hour or so until the green or black flag is flown again – the reason being that the shark may come back again. If in doubt, speak to the shark spotter on duty.
How often do you spot a shark per day?
Every day is different! Not only are there seasonal changes in the number of sharks we spot (more sightings in summer compared to winter), but each year is different too. The most sightings we have had in one day was nine on the 12 Oct 2011, and for the month of October 2011 there were a total of 51 white shark sightings, however was very above average. In general Muizenberg beach has the highest number of shark sightings per year out of all the beaches we monitor, with an average of 83 white shark sightings per year.
What time of day are you most likely to see a shark?
We have seen sharks throughout the day at each beach that we monitor, but on average you are most likely to encounter a white shark close to shore around the middle of the day.
How close to shore do you see the great white sharks?
More than 70% of white shark sightings are behind the backline (where the waves start to break). However white sharks are capable of swimming in very shallow water and do occasionally come very close to shore, within 10 metres of the beach.
What are some of the reasons sharks come closer to shore?
During the summer months we get warmer water closer to shore in False Bay which attracts schools of baitfish such as sardines. Other larger species (e.g. dolphins, skipjack tuna and yellowtail) are attracted by the schooling baitfish. With so much food present in False Bay, the white sharks patrol up and down the coastline in search of these prey species.
How many beaches do you monitor?
We monitor eight different beaches in and around False Bay. Four of the beaches (Muizenberg, Fish Hoek, Caves and St James) are monitored 365 days a year and the other four beaches (Clovelly, Glencairn, The Hoek and Monwabisi) are only monitored during the summer months (September to April) on weekends, public holidays and school holidays.
Why is the shark flag white?
Perhaps this subject was best addressed by Gregg Oelofse in the Cape Times (http://goo.gl/S2dNTo).
The white flag (with black shark) is the international lifesaving standard to indicate a shark in the water, and when the flag system was designed at the beginning of the program, we were restricted to using this as the shark flag. All lifesaving clubs in South Africa, and many around the world use this flag, so visitors coming to our beaches, whether they be local or international, will easily be able to identify this flag as meaning a shark is in the water. The other flags were then determined based around the existing white shark flag. At every Shark Spotter beach there is clear signage, both at the entrances and underneath the flagpoles, and we urge the public to familiarise themselves with this signage which clearly explains the flag system and the operating hours of the Shark Spotters.
Do you spot sharks throughout the year?
Most of our sightings occur during the summer months. The white sharks in False Bay exhibit strong seasonality in their behaviour. During the winter months they can be found in high numbers around Seal Island in the middle of False Bay – home to around 70 000 Cape Fur Seals. The baby seals leave the island for the first time during the winter months and the great white sharks capitalize on their vulnerability.
At the end of the winter season the seals learn to avoid the sharks’ predatory attacks. This, in combination with warmer water (which attracts fish such as yellowtail) signals the sharks to move inshore in search of fish and smaller shark species. Therefore the sharks patrol up and down the coast during the summer months in search of these prey species, and this is when most of our sightings occur.
Do you spot in other areas other than Cape Town?
No. At present all our efforts are focused on certain beaches in and around False Bay.
Are there other species of shark in False Bay?
Yes, there are 16 different species of shark in False Bay, as well as 11 different species of skate and ray.
How often do you put out the exclusion net?
The exclusion net in Fish Hoek is only deployed during the summer months (October until May). During these months we try and deploy the net on a daily basis, however this is not always possible mainly due to environmental factors (strong winds and/or big swell). You can follow our Facebook and Twitter accounts where we post daily updates on the status of the exclusion net as well as the latest shark sightings for each beach as they happen.
Why do you take out the exclusion net at night?
There are a couple of reasons for taking out the net every night:
- By retrieving the net every evening we reduce the risk of entanglement of marine life such as dolphins and whales during the night;
- The net is not capable of withstanding strong winds and big swells. If the net was left over night and the weather changed for the worse, the net would likely break.
How do I know if the exclusion net is in or not?
You can follow our Facebook and Twitter accounts for daily updates on the status of the exclusion net.
Does the exclusion net hurt sharks and other animals?
No. The exclusion net is different to other sharks nets and is designed specifically to not catch or kill any marine life. You can read about the differences between exclusion nets and shark nets here:http://sharkspotters.org.za/shark-nets-vs-exculsion-nets
When was the last shark bite incident?
The last shark bite in Cape Town was in August 2014 just off Sunrise beach near Muizenberg.
How often are there shark attacks in Cape Town?
The first shark attacks in Cape Town were recorded at Seaforth and Simonstown in 1900 and 1901. Since 1960 however, only 28 attacks have occurred on the Cape Peninsula. That is roughly one attack every two years. Of these 25 attacks on the peninsula, a high percentage have been on spearfishers and surfers/bodyboarders. Seven of these last 25 attacks have proved to be fatal.