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Meet the Shark Spotters in Cape Town

Cape Town used to have a bit of a shark problem. Although there were relatively few shark attacks, especially when compared to the number of bathers actually in the water at any one time, the knowledge that there were regularly great whites lurking somewhere just past the backline was enough to keep many people out of the water. That is, until the Shark Spotters set up camp at strategic locations above the city’s most popular beaches.

From their aerial vantage point on the mountain, teams of eagle-eyed spotters keep an eye on popular surfing and bathing beaches along Cape Town’s False Bay coastline. When they spot a shark – data suggests activity peaks between 9AM and 4PM, when more people are in the water – they monitor it closely.

If the shark looks to be passing by safely, as most do, they’ll let it be. If there’s any suggestion that it’s heading towards bathers and surfers, the Shark Spotters will raise the alarm and a militaristic-like operation gets underway to alert people to the potential danger.

Shark spotter in Muizenberg © Counseling / Pixabay

On the beach far below a siren sounds, and a member on the ground will raise a flag indicating the degree of impending danger. Green means all good, red means there’s a high shark alert, black means conditions are poor (so they may not be able to spot sharks clearly), and white with a black shark means a shark has been spotted and swimmers must leave the water immediately.

Though there’s little evidence to suggest that great whites deliberately attack humans, having these eyes in the sky has certainly helped people avoid any unnecessary accidents, and made it a little easier for surfers to sit comfortably on the backline with their legs dangling in the cool Cape Town waters.