Safety, Conservation, Education, Research
Shark Spotters is a pioneering shark safety programme that has attracted international and local attention because of the novel way it seeks to find a solution to potential conflicts between sharks and people. Adopted by the City of Cape Town in 2005 in response to a spate of shark bite incidents and increased shark sightings, Shark Spotting is now the primary shark safety programme used in Cape Town.
Shark Spotters improves beach safety through both shark warnings and emergency assistance in the event of a shark incident. It contributes to research on shark ecology and behaviour, raises public awareness about shark-related issues, and provides employment opportunities and skills development for Shark Spotters.
Shark spotters are positioned at strategic points along the Cape Peninsula, primarily along the False Bay Coastline. A highly trained spotter is placed on the mountain with polarised glasses and binoculars and is in radio contact with another spotter on the beach. When a shark is sighted the siren is sounded and water users are asked to leave the water. A protocol using four informational flags communicates the spotting conditions and presence/absence of sharks to the public.
“We believe that if we can reduce the already small risk of a shark bite then we can make a meaningful contribution to white shark conservation, contribute to the community’s well-being and set a precedent in how people ad sharks can co-exist.”
(October – April: weekends, public holidays and schools holidays)
Permanent Beaches (365 days a year)
St James/Kalk Bay: 8am-6pm
Fish Hoek: 8am-6pm (7am-6.45pm in Summer)
The Hoek, Noordhoek: 9am-5pm
Globally, human-wildlife conflict is a growing obstacle to achieving conservation goals (Gore et al. 2008, Madden 2008, Nyhus et al. 2003). Although relatively rare, shark bites that result in human injury or death threaten existing shark protective measures through negatively influencing public perception regarding sharks and shark conservation, through the possible introduction of culling programs by authorities and illegal hunting. Furthermore, shark bites can negatively impact business and tourism, particularly at the very local level of affected coastal towns and beaches, while also impacting negatively on the broad perceived amenity value of the coast by the public. These economic impacts and negative public perceptions may compel authorities to take action with the aim of alleviating the perceived conflict. In the past these actions have focused on getting rid of the ‘so-called’ problem animals. However, it’s increasingly being recognised that a sustainable future requires that we look for solutions to human-wildlife conflicts that provide a balance between human needs and that of our natural assets.
The Shark Spotting program fulfils this directive as it attempts to balance the needs of both recreational water users and those of white shark conservation and preservation. It incorporates safety, research, response and awareness. The Shark Spotting program has proven to be an effective program for proactively reducing the risk of shark encounters by alerting water users to their presence and getting them out of the water as a precautionary action. In addition to being a warning system, and fostering awareness on shark related issues, the information collected by Shark Spotters can provide valuable information on white shark presence and behaviour close to shore. Shark Spotters is a local initiative, but it undoubtedly plays a significant role in white shark conservation on a larger scale. Many areas have a similar problem e.g. Australia and the US and while Shark Spotters may not be appropriate for all these areas, it sets a precedent and shows that there are alternative methods to dealing with shark attack issues without resorting to killing them.
Learn more about the Great White Shark