On my last trip to Cape Town, South Africa, I was driving along Boyes Drive in Muizenburg and I saw a small hut with a shark symbol on the side. I had heard about the Shark Spotters before, but never seen them in action. I stopped and met Agnes the Shark Spotter, who kindly let me take some photos and told me a little bit about this unique, successful and world-renowned program.
2015/08/21: Report on Shark Spotters (Cape Town)
The Shark Spotters is a registered non-profit organization and the only program of its kind in the world. They work to fulfill 2 objectives at the same time: shark conservation and helping people enjoy the ocean safely, without killing or harming sharks in any way.
Sharks, especially great white sharks, are globally threatened because of factors like over-fishing and the perceived monetary value of their jaws, teeth and fins. Shark attacks harm local tourism and also enforce the fearful image attached to these creatures, which makes the public all the more hesitant to support white shark protection.
Elsewhere, government programs aim to protect swimmers through culling or by encouraging hunting. In Cape Town the aim is to use non-lethal methods to keep beach-goers safe and give them peace of mind.
In 2004, after a number of shark attacks in the Cape Town area, a local surfer came up with the idea to reduce human interaction with sharks. The idea grew into a program which is now a non-profit organization receiving worldwide acclaim.
The “spotters” are 15-20 people from the local community, employed to protect 8 of Cape Town’s popular beaches. They scan the ocean from lookout points during the daytime, 7 days a week. They communicate with each other by radio.
There is a flag system with sirens to tell people on the beach if there are sharks, which is explained in the following graphic (used with permission of Shark Spotters):
There are always lifeguards on duty, ready to help people out of the water should a shark appear in the vicinity. Shark Spotters also use Twitter to post warnings and reports, and record detailed data every day to help understand more about shark behavior.
- The accuracy of the program depends on human eyes, so there is a margin for error
- The flags and sirens cannot be recognized by scuba divers or people in kayaks far out from the beach
- Sharks cannot be viewed at night or under conditions of poor visibility such as glare, cloud cover, swell and wind chop
Although the program has been very effective so far, it is still not 100% accurate so please enter the ocean at your own risk!
- Sharks are not harmed in any way
- Environmental education and awareness are provided to the public
- Research from data collected contributes to shark conservation
- The program helps give jobs to underprivileged people in the local community and develop their skills for the future
Thank you to Agnes for speaking to me and letting me take her picture. On that day there was good visibility and no sharks were spotted! Also thank you to Project Manager Sarah Waries for allowing me to use information from the Shark Spotters website.
The website has a lot of interesting information about the program and also about sharks themselves, so please take a look: http://sharkspotters.org.za/
A bonus for all you shark-lovers out there: This display in Cape Town International Airport caught my eye and I thought I’d share it with you. I’m glad to see that the City of Cape Town is promoting great white sharks to tourists!