The Shark Spotting Programme is the only program of its kind in the world. It attempts to balance the needs of both people and white shark conservation by pro-actively reducing the interaction and conflict between recreational water users and sharks. Cape Town has, over the last few years, experienced an increase in the number of great white sharks sighted in the in-shore zone. In response to these events and the increased fear by water users, particularly in False Bay, two community driven programmes were started out of a need to improve the safety of recreational water users.
The amalgamation of these two initiatives resulted in the Shark Spotters programme.
Important Notice: Shark Spotters has proven to be an effective warning system in Cape Town with hundreds of shark sightings recorded. However, Shark Spotters is not 100% effective due to human error, weather and sea conditions. Entering the ocean is done so at the individuals own risk.
White sharks (Carcharodon carcharias) are globally threatened, but are protected in South Africa due to their biological vulnerability to sustain fishing pressures and the large value of their jaws, teeth and fins.
Although relatively rare, shark bites that result in human injury or death potentially threaten protective measures through the reluctance of the public to support white shark conservation, the possible implementation of culling programmes and illegal hunting. Furthermore, shark bites can negatively impact on local business and tourism. In Cape Town, South Africa white sharks are responsible for the majority of bites on recreational water users and the number of bites has increased over recent years following a global phenomenon.
Founded in 2004 by Cape Town surfer Greg Bertish, with Rasta Davids, Monwabisi Sikiya, and Surf Shack owners Dave and Fiona Chudleighwas, and then adopted by Cape Town, Shark Spotters is a unique programme aimed at finding a middle ground between white shark conservation and the concerns of the public. This initiative employs 15 – 20 shark spotters at nine of Cape Town’s popular beaches. The shark spotters scan coastal waters for sharks from an elevated platform during daylight hours, seven days a week. Strict protocols are in place to effectively warn water users of the presence of sharks and assist them out of the water if necessary, thereby reducing the risk of a shark bite and consequently the associated negative impacts. Daily data is recorded on sea conditions, number of sharks detected and the number of water users. During the period 2005 to 2008, 476 shark sightings were recorded with the highest number in the southern hemisphere’s summer months.
Limitations of the programme include the ability to detect sharks in poor water visibility, human error, operating hours and its ability to aid recreational water users not in the immediate vicinity, like kayakers and divers. Despite these limitations the programme has proven to be an efficient shark warning and safety system at appropriate beaches.
Additional advantages of the programme are job creation and skills development for disadvantaged groups, environmental education and awareness to the public and collection of data to contribute to the knowledge base of white shark coastal occurrence.