Ensuring 20/20 vision for the Shark Spotters of Cape Town's shores

2018-05-07 16:30
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South Africa’s beautiful beaches, from east to west, serve as the ideal venue for family outings, meeting places with loved ones and for an escape in nature.

With local and international visitors taking advantage of the country’s inviting beaches and relatively warm weather throughout the year, beachgoers are constantly sharing the oceans with a number of sea animals. This highlights the importance of knowing how to be responsible beachgoers, not only for your own safety, but also for the well-being of ocean animals.

SEE: Shark Cage Diving: through the lens of a South African

Shark Spotters, a Cape Town-based, non-profit safety and research organisation and pioneers in shark safety, has a dedicated team “to reduce the spatial overlap between people and sharks in Cape Town for the last 14 years”.

Sarah Waries CEO of Shark Spotters explains that “There is a high potential for conflict between people and sharks as we are sharing the same space regularly”.

“During the autumn/winter months they are found on Seal Island in False Bay where they feed on young seal pups who are predator naïve. When spring/summer arrives, the seal pups grow up and become harder to catch. The sharks tend to change their diet during this time and follow large migratory gamefish such as yellowtail inshore, close to the beaches, encouraged by the increase in water temperature,” she says.

Protecting predators

According to Shark Spotters, False Bay “has the second largest aggregation of white sharks in the world, and the largest on the doorstep of a major city”.

SEE: PICS: Another endangered great white found dead off SA coast (Warning: Graphic)

Waries says that it is important to remember that the apex predators play a vital role in our ecosystem by “regulating populations in the lower trophic levels of the food chain”.

“They are also a key ocean health indicator and improve ocean diversity by feeding on sick or weak organisms,” she says, adding that however, protecting dangerous predators comes with challenges.

Sharks are key players in our food chain. (Photo: Supplied)

“Conserving large, predatory sharks, which are sometimes in conflict with people, is a major conservation challenge because fear can stop people from supporting their conservation.

“In order to maintain the balance between great white shark conservation and public safety it is imperative that we have a strong scientific foundation on white shark ecology, coupled with non-lethal mitigation methods and supported by a comprehensive education and awareness strategy,” she adds.

Shark spotting

Shark Spotters has recorded over 2163 shark sightings since 2004. The team has been on the lookout for sharks for over 200 000 hours and says that the average visitor spends approximately 17 minutes in eyeshot.

Help the Shark Spotters get 35 new binoculars. (Photo: Supplied)

Shark Spotters says that Muizenberg is the most popular shark spotting destination, with 983 recorded sightings.

“To put these figures into context, an average of 35 people are present per sighting and 83% of the sharks are described to be in the medium to large range,” says the organisation.

Ensuring public safety

Shark Spotters is a team of 45 people: 10 net crew, 5 management and 30 trained spotters.

Shark Spotters. (Photo: Supplied)

The spotters, who are trained observers, are strategically located at positions above high-risk shark beaches to provide early warnings to water users, alerting them of the presence of great white sharks.

“To ensure public safety, Shark Spotters rely heavily on binoculars to correctly identify the species and the potential threat it poses,” says the team funded by The City of Cape Town and Save Our Seas Foundation who account for 90% of its operational costs.

Now the Spotters need 35 new binoculars and set up a campaign for receive donations. The campaign has been running since 12 April 2018, with a target of R60 000. So far it has managed to raise R34 261.97.

Waries says that unlike whales and dolphins, sharks are not easy to spot.

“We rarely see their dorsal fin or other body parts above water, which is why we need increased visibility. The current binoculars we have are dated and most are in a state of disrepair, we hope the public will support our BackaBuddy campaign to empower us to keep our waters safe,” she says.

Support the campaign by clicking here.