Cape Town - Shark spotters
closed Muizenberg beach in Cape Town on Sunday after a shark was spotted just beyond the shore break of the popular beach.
Beach goer Arnold Brice, took a video of the shark that sounded the alarm, and while it's not very clear you can see the breaching of the shark in the distance. Other beach goers watched in disbelief as there appeared to be more than one shark in the water. Brice described it as a "feeding frenzy" as the sharks fought over what was presumed to be a seal.
What's even more unbelievable is that as Brice is narrating the ferocious meal attack, two surfers thought it the perfect opportunity to catch some waves. Watch the video posted to Brice's Facebook account below.
What precautions are in place?
The prevalence of sharks, especially on the False Bay side of the peninsula, has seen Cape Town's pioneering shark safety programme, Shark Spotters, play a massive role in alerting bathers to shark activity and assisting in emergencies.
Positioned at strategic points along the Cape Peninsula, primarily the False Bay coastline, two shark spotters per beach scan the waters for any threat throughout the day. One spotter is placed at an elevated position with polarized sunglasses and binoculars and is in constant radio contact with another spotter on the beach. If a shark is spotted by either, the beach spotter immediately sounds an alarm and raises a white flag with a black shark on.
Now, the raising of flags is central to their system and having a good understanding of what each means could do a lot for bathers' peace of mind. We take a look at the four flags they use and stipulate what each means:
- Green Flag means spotting conditions are good and it's pretty safe to take to the waters.
- Black flag means poor spotting conditions and you enter the water at your own risk.
- White flag is the one to watch out for and will be accompanied by the sounding of the shark siren.
- Red flag serves as a warning that a shark has been seen recently, that there is higher than usual shark activity or that there are known conditions for high shark activity.
- White flag with a solid black shark on will be raised only when a shark has been seen in the vicinity of water users and is assessed to pose a potential threat. In other words... uhm... STAY CLEAR OF THE WATER!!!
But there's still a risk
While the system really has done a lot for increased safety in the water, it does have one weak spot, as a News24 report recently pointed out: human error. A factor which also adds pressure to the actual Shark Spotters' already stressful jobs.
In order to minimise that margin of error, the Sharks Board has spent three years developing a new, environmentally friendly method of keeping sharks at bay, in the form of underwater electric fences.
Instead of using magnets or physical barriers (such as shark nets that have proven to be hazardous to all marine life), the new system uses an active low-power pulsed electronic field in sea water.
Since October last year one of these electric fences was installed at Glencairn beach, close to Muizenberg to serve as a trial of the new technology. Up until the end of March this year, the fence will be activated on certain days during daylight hours for testing purposes.
By the end of March, the Sharks Board is expected to have collected enough data to establish what the full impact of the underwater electric fence would be.
How safe is it?
An electric fence under water? Sounds kind of dangerous, doesn't it?
Well apparently it's not! Neither to sharks nor to humans. According to the KZN Sharks Board, direct human contact with one of the fence's vertical electrodes would cause little more than a stinging sensation. However, it is currently strongly advised that bathers steer clear of the fence, at least 5 metres away, so as to avoid unintentional contact and obstruction of the experiment.
Sharks, on the other hand, are highly sensitive to electromagnetic fields and able to move away from the fence easily at the first signs of discomfort.So, no more shark attacks?
The Sharks Board has made it very clear, however, that at this stage the experimental fence in no way protects bathers at Glencairn beach from shark attacks, as it has not been deployed in such a way to exclude the predators from the beach.
"It's only covering a very small area so far, so it's not impacting beach safety whatsoever. Thus, our Shark Spotters are still on duty as per usual," Sarah Waries, project manager, at Shark Spotters explained.
So, in the meantime, until more conclusive data has been gathered about the underwater fences by the end of March, brush up on your Shark Spotter flag knowledge.