HOW IT WORKS
Shark Spotters is a proactive, early warning shark safety service provided at strategic beaches around Cape Town, primarily in False Bay, where there is a high spatial overlap between people and sharks. It uses continuous visual surveillance by trained observers (spotters) to detect sharks and prevent negative interactions between sharks and recreational water users.
At each spotting location, one spotter is placed at an elevated position (usually a mountain) with polarised sunglasses and binoculars, and scans the ocean continuously, looking for sharks and other marine activity. This spotter is in radio contact with another spotter on the beach. When a shark is seen the mountain spotter informs the beach spotter who sets off a siren and raises the white flag, signalling to water users to leave the water and only return when the appropriate all clear signal is given. Shark Spotters uses a system of four informative flags on every beach to communicate the current shark status and spotting conditions to the public. The spotters reduce the risk of shark attack by monitoring shark activity and preventing the spatial overlap of sharks and water users at popular beaches.
Polarised sunglasses are used to cut out the glare from the sun reflecting on the surface of the ocean. Binoculars are used to zoom in on animals spotted from the mountain.
WHAT ARE WE LOOKING FOR?
In Cape Town, the only shark that poses a potential threat to water users is the great white shark (Carcharodon carcharias), so this is the shark that the spotters focus on detecting.
White sharks generally swim near the sea surface, but we rarely see their dorsal fin or other parts of their body above the water. The spotters scan the ocean looking for dark shadows moving through the area and identify them as sharks based on their size, shape and the movement patterns of the animal. Sharks are not easy to spot, unlike whales and dolphins, so the spotters go through extensive training to learn how to detect sharks in different weather conditions, and differentiate between them and other marine animal species that do not pose a threat to water users.
FACTORS AFFECTING SPOTTING ABILITY
Although effective, the shark spotting system can never guarantee a person’s safety 100%. The ability of spotters to detect sharks can be affected by a variety of factors including:
- Distance of water users from the spotting site
- Glare from sunlight reflecting on the water surface
- Water clarity
- Shadows from clouds or mountains
- Wind/rain/mist and other weather conditions
- Human error
Shark Spotters is an advisory service and is not responsible for a person’s safety. Use of the ocean is strictly at your own risk.
Water users are reminded to check the Shark Spotters signage on the beach for the current spotting conditions and ask the spotters if there are any factors affecting their ability to spot or that are conducive to increased shark activity in the area.