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About the Cape Town Shark Spotters

Alan Lindner from A Whale Of A Heritage Route and Go Fish Hoek Valley, who pulled the whole thing together, introduced the gathered locals - many still wearing damp costumes after their early morning dip - to Sarah (left) from the Kommetjie Environmental Awareness Group (KEAG) which is currently heading up the Shark Spotters programme.

Sarah explained that KEAG took over the role during 2008 and now manages the False Bay programme; they are responsible for making sure that the team members are on duty and alert at all times, have the equipment they need and that the programme runs smoothly.

She in turn handed over to Monwabisi Sikiya (Monwa - right), the Fish Hoek team's supervisor. He gave us some background information as to how the Shark Spotters in Muizenberg and Fish Hoek grew out of the need for greater safety in the water after two people were attacked at both of these popular beaches - a young surfer lost a leg at Muizies, while an older lady, Tyna Webb, died when she was attacked during her daily swim at Fish Hoek. Monwa comes from a life-saving background and he was part of the Spotter's programme from the beginning - October 2004.

He explained how the Spotters take turns to work shifts - one on the mountain side and one on the beach - every day from 07h00 - 18h45 in summer, (and from 08h00 in winter) swapping half way through the day so that they do not become too tired.

Sharp eyes, polarised sunglasses and powerful binoculars assist the watchers on the mountain in constantly scanning the bay for any signs of sharks. In addition they have walkie talkie radios with which to keep in contact with the Spotter on beach duty who will be able to get the life savers to sound the alarm and clear the water when a shark is identified in the area.

The Spotters and life savers work closely together in keeping the waters safe, and decide together how soon after a sighting the public can be allowed back into the water.

Shark Spotters often sit together with someone from the local trek fishing community scoping the waters for shoals of fish such as yellowtale.

The Shark Spotter's flag system was explained:

A black flag means there is not great visibility - although many sharks are in fact spotted in such conditions.

A green flag means there is excellent visibility and no sharks have been seen.

A white flag with a black shark means a shark has been sighted and that everyone should immediately leave the water and not return while the flag is up.

A red flag means that a shark has been recently seen and may return - enter the water at your own risk and be vigilant.

For a full list of shark sightings in the area go here.

After Monwa and Sarah had fielded a host of questions from the floor, Verona Smith (left) - an educator from the Save our Seas Foundation in Kalk Bay - gave a fascinating talk on the work of Save our Seas with regards to shark protection and the re-education of the public on these fascinating creatures which are so often seen as fearsome killers.

While causing some disturbance among the listeners when she said that we all will have at some time in our lives unknowingly shared bathing water with sharks, she also reminded us that very few fatalities are caused globally by shark 'attacks' and that we have a greater chance of being killed by a faulty toaster than dying at the sharp end of a shark's bite.

However, a shark's curiosity can be a nasty experience - Verona gave some advice for safety in the water:

  • Do not swim while bleeding from a wound - sharks can scent blood within 500m.
  • Do not swim deeper than you can stand
  • Stay in the breakers
  • Look out for seals, fish and sea birds which could all indicate a likelihood of sharks in the area

This was a fascinating and fun discussion - I certainly won't be staying out of the water any time soon and I don't think any of the unofficial Fish Hoek Early Morning Swimmers Club (below) will be either!

Useful numbers:

Shark Spotters - 076 859 3633

Save our Seas - Lesley: 0833310376

Alan Lindner / A Whale of a Heritage Route - 079 391 2105 - whale spotting and general information line

Kommetjie Environmental Awareness Group - 021 783 3433

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