Monwabisi Sikweyiya is the field co-ordinator of the Shark-Spotter’s and speaks about their work with pride for what is being achieved and an obvious sense of enjoyment for his work. Working at the beach is not always easy or pleasant – some days the visibility is bad and some days are very quiet. The best days, though hectic and stressful, are the ones when they see sharks. On those days, they really get to show the public the value of their service, by warning beach users, clearing the surf when necessary and making the decisions that the coast is clear again. They have had up to 8 shark sightings on a busy day – although this does not necessarily mean that 8 different sharks as sometimes the same sharks swim up and down along the coast.
Monwabisi blames the hype created by the media for the attitude and reaction of many people to the shark incidents in 2004 to 2006. In those days people were really panicked and in response to the shark-in-the-area-siren, you could clear the beach and even the parking area in 10 minutes.
“How do you feel about sharks I ask?” “They pay my wage”, he ridicules my question. Even while we are talking, people stop at the Shark Spotters `Bathing Box’ and ask him and Vivien, who is on duty at the time, about the sharks and how to see them. I realize that the Shark Spotters have become shark ambassadors and are a local tourist attraction in their own right. It is definitely more than just a job for Monwabisi. He explains that since working for sharks and going out on the research boat, searching the backline from vantage points above the sea and co-ordinating the team in the field, his attitude to nature has changed. “Now I like and respect animals,” he says, “we need them”.
“I will tell you about the day”, he said “that a Great White Shark changed my perceptions!!! It was in 2005, and I was shark spotting from Boyes Dr. A large shark appeared about 600m off-shore swimming determinedly toward the backline where a group of surfers were waiting for waves. I pressed the remote for the siren on the beach. That siren is very loud, man. You can hear it all the way up Boyes Dr. But on that day I could not hear it – and the shark was swimming closer. So I radioed the dude on watch at Surfer’s Corner.” “Eskom power failure,” the dude replied ”the sirens not working”. “While the team on the beach raised the shark flag and frantically tried to warn the surfers, I watched that shark coming straight for one surfer. Nobody else had seen it. I felt so powerless. When the shark was about 10 meters from the surfer it submerged. I still remember how I just had to keep talking to the dude on the beach and I said “Oh No! the shark has submerged!! Now it’s going to happen. After 20 seconds that lasted forever, the shark reappeared on the other side of the surfer and swam out of sight…”.
“Looking across False Bay and then back to the surfers and the shark, I understood two things that day – we are not part of the sharks food chain – if we were we would be chowed like crazy. And if we were shark food, the sharks in the world would be extinct by now….”
Monwabisi would like to see the pro-active approach in which sharks are not harmed and which is the essence of their work as shark spotters being spread to other parts of the world.
The Shark Spotting programme is a registered NPO managed by Kommetjie Environmental Awareness Group. Full time shark spotters operate at Fish Hoek, Muizenberg, St James and the Hoek in Noordhoek all year round from 8am to 6pm. Other beaches are covered during weekends and public holidays in summer season. Tel 021 783 3433 . The new SHARKLINE number is 0781744244. Email firstname.lastname@example.org WEBSITE: www.sharkspotters.org.za
Take note of and understand the Shark Flags managed by the Shark Spotters.
A green flag with shark outline means: Shark spotter on duty and visibility is good.
A black flag with shark outline means: Shark spotter on duty but visibility is poor. Difficult to determine if there are sharks in the area.
A red flag with a white shark means: A shark has been spotted in the area within the last two hours. Swimmers are advised to be cautious.
A white flag with a black shark and / or Siren activated means: A shark is currently in the area. Swimmers are advised to stay out of the water until the flag is lowered and the siren has stopped sounding.
SHARK SAFTEY FOR THE SUMMER SEASON
PRESS RELEASE: Issued by: City of Cape Town. Tuesday, 17 August 2009
People are reminded that white sharks are present in our waters all year round and that they should be aware of the small possibility of encountering one of these animals at anytime and should always remain vigilant when using the ocean. However the City of Cape Town would once again like to remind all beach and ocean users that we are again approaching the time of year when we expect to see a seasonal increase in the presence of white sharks in the in-shore area. This seasonal change is not unique to False Bay or recent in its occurrence: similar behaviour is recorded in Gansbaai, Mossel Bay and even California.
Shark sightings recorded by the shark spotters has consistently shown a seasonal peak in shark sightings during the period from August – March, peaking in mid-summer. The City is therefore appealing to all beach and ocean users to be aware of the expected increase in shark presence in-shore.
In total shark spotters have documented 530 shark sightings at beaches around Cape Town since the programme started. Each shark sighting is recorded and entered into a dedicated scientific database. Information collected includes the location and time of the sighting and duration and swimming pattern of the shark. Alison Kock from the Save Our Seas Shark Centre and the research director for the Shark Spotters said, “This information is important because it can be used to identify trends in shark presence and behaviour at popular beaches which can offer new information that can be used to increase safety for water users through minimizing interactions between sharks and people”.