- The Shark Spotters programme warns people when sharks are in the water and stops them from getting bitten.
- Cape Town has the largest concentration of white sharks on the doorstep of a major city anywhere, but these creatures are vital for the ocean ecosystem.
- Shark activity peaks during the day, and during spring and summer — when people want to be in the water.
A man with a pair of binoculars is keeping Cape Town’s swimmers safe.
With polarised glasses to cut down the glare off the ocean, he scans the water for sharks. From 8AM until 6PM every day of the year, one of 30 trained shark spotters sits on the mountain above Muizenberg beach in Cape Town, ready to sound the alarm.
“Sharks Spotters is a sustainable shark safety programme,” says Sarah Waries, CEO of the programme. “We’re trying to reduce the risk of shark bites by trying to stop people and sharks sharing the same space.”
As soon as a spotter sees a shark, they raise the alarm, and a siren tells people that they need to get out of the water.
These eagle-eyed spotters are the City of Cape Town’s strategy to stop people getting attacked by sharks. “We operate in Cape Town where we have the second largest aggregation of great white sharks in the world, and it is the largest on the doorstep of a major city,” says Waries.
Although great whites have gotten a bad rap because of the likes of JAWS, these apex predators are vital for ocean health, says Waries. They keep species numbers in balance, and they play a role in the distribution of animals who usually go out of their way to avoid an encounter with a great white — unlike humans.
Shark Spotters also performs research to study how many sharks there are, track their movements and understand their behaviour — and predict when there are going to be high numbers near Cape Town’s beaches.
There are always sharks in the area, Waries says, and their research shows that they are more active during the day.
In winter, most sharks are off hunting seals off Seal Island, but as soon as the water gets warmer, they head to Cape Town — when swimmers also want to hit the water.