Shark spot­ters not tak­ing any chances

But swim­mers of­ten ig­nore warn­ing flags and don’t check when last sight­ings were made

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - NEWS - HELEN BAM­FORD

THERE are plenty of great white sharks cruis­ing around False Bay, prompt­ing both ex­perts and the City of Cape Town to warn swim­mers and surfers to be vig­i­lant.

Shark attacks are ex­tremely rare and the preda­tors are be­lieved to be hunt­ing fish which are abun­dant in False Bay now.

But with the hol­i­days ap­proach­ing, 30 shark spot­ters are gear­ing up for the busy sea­son and will be work­ing from 7am un­til 7pm.

Ali­son Kock, prin­ci­pal sci­en­tist of the Save Our Seas Shark Cen­tre and Shark Spot­ting Pro­gramme, said the high num­ber of re­cent sight­ings oc­curred when there were schools of yel­low­tail and steen­bras in the bay.

The spot­ters had ob­served the sharks close to the fish.

There were a cou­ple of oc­ca­sions when the sharks were a few hun­dred me­tres from swim­mers but the siren went off, warn­ing peo­ple to get out the wa­ter.

Kock said some swim­mers still re­fused to leave the wa­ter or went out deep when the red flag was raised.

This flag is flown af­ter a shark has been spot­ted and the beach cleared, or when con­di­tions are con­ducive to high shark ac­tiv­ity.

Kock said lots of peo­ple ig­nored flags and didn’t check when the last sight­ings oc­curred.

“We can’t tell peo­ple what to do – all we can do is pro­vide in­for­ma­tion so they can make smart de­ci­sions.”

On Mon­day five sharks were spot­ted at Fish Hoek and six at Muizen­berg, and spot­ters are re­port­ing sight­ings on most days.

The most re­cent at­tack was at Fish Hoek in Jan­uary when Lloyd Skin­ner was killed while swim­ming off Jag­ger’s Walk.

Kock said at the time that the shark had prob­a­bly been hunt­ing a large school of fish nearby.

“But the more I learn about sharks the more I re­alise they are not in­ter­ested in us as food,” she said this week.

She said that in the 50 years since 1960 just 25 attacks have oc­curred around the Cape Penin­sula, and only four of them were fa­tal.

Kock warned that shark spot­ters could not see ev­ery shark be­cause of is­sues like cloud cover and poor sea vis­i­bil­ity ob­scured views.

“But these guys are do­ing a fan­tas­tic job of­ten un­der dif­fi­cult con­di­tions.”

They worked closely with the trek-net­ters, life­guards, law en­force­ment and the Na­tional Sea Res­cue In­sti­tute.

Kock said the high num­ber of sharks in the bay was nor­mal for this time of year.

“Peo­ple must un­der­stand that nowhere else in the world are they get­ting daily up­dates and so much in­for­ma­tion about what the sharks are do­ing.”

You can go on to the web­site ( www. s harkspot­ters. or g . z a) which is up­dated af­ter ev­ery sight­ing and can sub­scribe to an SMS alert for a “once off ” update of re­cent shark sight- ings or a weekly update and safety tips.

Kock said there had also been an un­con­firmed sight­ing of a shark off Clifton Sec­ond Beach this week.

“Some­one took a pic­ture with their phone and a po­lice­man con­firmed it was a shark but we’re not sure what type.”

She said there had also been un­con­fir med sight­ings off Llan­dudno and Dunes at No­ord­hoek.

helen.bam­ford@inl.co.za

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