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March 16, 2009

Spot the shark and be safe

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What is shark spotting? Do people actually go out on boats to see if they can spot a shark?

In Cape Town, shark spotting is not the same as diving in a shark cage or taking a boating trip to meet one of the great predators of the deep. It is a safety programme run mostly on the False Bay coastline, on the south peninsula.

It started out informally at the Muizenberg surfers’ corner, where car guards and everyday surfers were asked to watch out for sharks from the beach. A more formal version of shark spotting was set up by a local surfer in October 2004. He used his own funds and more money was raised when his friends and other surfers clubbed together. Then Patrick (Rasta), the original car guard, and Monwabisi Sikiya, a lifeguard, came on board. One worked on the beach and the other on the mountainside on Boyes Drive. A flagpole signalling system and a shark alarm, which can be triggered by a remote control, were installed.

The City of Cape Town, which provided infrastructure and funding, and two non-governmental organisations also became involved in the programme. AfriOceans Conservation Alliance provided shark warning and information sign boards for Cape Town’s beaches and the WWF, through the Table Mountain Fund, provided funding to employ a full-time shark spotting programme co-ordinator.

Some of the objectives of the shark spotting programme are to provide:

• An efficient shark warning and safety system at appropriate beaches.
• Emergency treatment in the event of a shark attack.
• Public education and accurate and fair publicity.
• Skills development and training for shark spotters.
• Employment opportunities for previously disadvantaged youth.
• Data to researchers.

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Concerned locals have raised money for the shark spotting initiative

The shark spotting programme is effective, but cannot be considered 100% foolproof, so people use the sea at their own risk.

Emergency number: +27 21 449 3500

Safety tips to reduce the chance of being bitten by a shark:

• Do not swim, surf or surfski when birds, dolphins or seals are feeding nearby.
• Do not swim in deep water beyond the breakers.
• Do not swim if you are bleeding.
• Do not swim near river mouths.
• Do not swim, surf or surfski where trek-netting, fishing or spear fishing is taking place.
• Do not dive for lobster using a bait bag.
• Do not swim, surf or surfski at night.
• If a shark has recently been sighted in an area where no mountain spotters are present, consider using another beach for the day.
• For first-time visitors to beach areas, ask the local law enforcement officials, life guards or locals about the area.
• Obey beach officials if told to leave the water.
• For those people kayaking or surfskiing far out to sea, consider paddling in groups and staying close together (in a diamond shape).
• Pay attention to signage on beaches.

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