Shark Spotters flags

A primer on shark spotting

Wonderful and vital work is being done by the Shark Spotters team. Their aim is to reduce in-water interactions between sharks and humans. Shark Spotters is a registered nonprofit organisation that employs a team of spotters along the False Bay coast and at Noordhoek on the Atlantic coast of the Cape Peninsula. The program has been in action since 2004, and from somewhat ad-hoc beginnings is now supported by the WWF and City of Cape Town. They also work closely with the NSRI. You can spot the Muizenberg spotter on top of Boyes drive, and more team members at other high-up vantage points around the peninsula.

New signage

New signage was erected in late 2010, but not one of the people (friends and family) I’ve spoken to is quite clear on the meanings of the different warning flags. This is a matter of life and… well, a toothy bite to an extremity at best, or death at worst. So I thought it was important to put a little refresher up on the blog. Read, and learn!

Red dots indicate beaches where shark spotters are on duty
Red dots indicate beaches where shark spotters are on duty

There are four flags, each with a different meaning:

  • green means visibility for spotting is good, and no sharks can be seen
  • red means a shark has been seen recently but the spotters can’t see it any more
  • black means visibility for spotting is poor but no sharks can be seen
  • white with a black shark on the flag means a shark has been sighted and swimmers should get out of the water. A siren will be sounded.
Shark Spotters flags
Shark Spotters flags

The above information was taken from the Shark Spotters website, here. There’s more information about shark behaviour on the website at this link. The Shark Spotters blog is updated frequently with a list of sightings.

What does this mean for you?

You should be cautious if a red or a white flag is flying, and you plan to use the sea. A black flag is quite common in False Bay, especially in the middle of the day when it’s sunny, and when it’s  windy, so it’s hard to be prescriptive about what you should do then!

Relevance for divers

I don’t think that divers should be unnecessarily concerned about shark sightings, but I do think this should inform our activities in the water. It’s never a good idea to thrash around on the surface for any length of time, but particularly during high shark activity periods. If you’re doing a shore entry, swim all the way up the beach before surfacing. Avoid long surface swims – manage your air consumption carefully. If you’re boat diving, don’t mess around – get back into the boat quickly, and help the other divers to do so as well.

Tony has seen two great white sharks while diving since he’s been in Cape Town. Both times the shark checked him and his students out, and swam away. Both times he said that prior to sighting the shark there was an eerie, quiet feeling underwater and there were no fish or other marine life about. The first time he thought it might have been a coincidence, but when it happened again, we decided that it probably wasn’t coincidental. Trust your gut – if you feel uncomfortable, stay on the bottom, and make your way out of the water.

Most of all, though, remember that if you do see a shark while diving, it’s an incredible privilege. We are visiting the sharks’ domain, and they deserve our respect and awe.

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Lapsed mathematician, creator of order, formulator of hypotheses. Lover of the ocean, being outdoors, the bush, reading, photography, travelling (especially in Africa) and road trips.