I live near of one of the deadliest animals in the world. That's right, I'm talking about what surfers call "the men in grey suits" lurking beneath the surface - the Great White Shark. I recently discovered a series of free lectures, hosted by the Save our Seas Shark Centre in Kalk Bay and signed up to hear about one of the coolest and most random jobs I've ever heard of: the Shark Spotters.
So, what is the Shark Spotter program? It’s a non-profit organization funded by the City of Cape Town and the Save our Seas Foundation and a unique approach to managing the risk of shark attacks on 7 public beaches in Cape Town. Spotters are trained and based at high elevations during the day, looking for sharks coming close to the shoreline where people are in the water. Using a system of flags on the beach and a loud siren to warn everyone to get out of the water when a shark is near minimizes the risk of attack. It sounds fairly simple but is actually hard work. Murky water and poor visibility mean underwater shadows might actually just be a passing dolphin or seal.
So far, 1,268 sharks have been spotted and only 2 attacks have occurred on Shark Spotter beaches since the program began in 2004. It has been a worthwhile investment that costs Cape Town significantly less than shark nets, like the ones in Durban, which also catch (and kill) sharks, sea turtles, dolphins, etc. Sharks are an integral part of the False Bay marine ecosystem and because of this program, 8 years of data on their behavior in this area has been compiled.
It's encouraging to see Cape Town using a method that fosters education and awareness to help everyone enjoy the water safely. I've seen and heard the Shark Spotter warnings more than once since moving to Muizenberg, and I know when I surf, it's at my own risk. I guess you could say, every week is like Shark Week.