According to Sarah Waries, CEO of Shark Spotters, a non-profit safety and research organization based in Cape Town, False Bay has the second largest aggregation of white sharks in the world, and the largest on the doorstep of a major city. Pioneers in shark safety, the dedicated team has proven instrumental in reducing the spatial overlap between people and sharks in Cape Town for the last 14 years.
“There is a high potential for conflict between people and sharks as we are sharing the same space regularly. During the autumn/winter months they are found Seal Island in False Bay where they feed on young seal pups who are predator naïve. When spring/summer arrives, the seal pups grow up and become harder to catch. The sharks tend to change their diet during this time and follow large migratory gamefish such as yellowtail inshore, close to the beaches, encouraged by the increase in water temperature” – says Sarah
It is important to remember that as apex predators, sharks play a vital role in our ecosystem, regulating populations in the lower trophic levels of the food chain. They are also a key ocean health indicator and improve ocean diversity by feeding on sick or weak organisms, but protecting dangerous predators has it’s challenges says Sarah.
“Conserving large, predatory sharks, which are sometimes in conflict with people, is a major conservation challenge because fear can stop people from supporting their conservation. In order to maintain the balance between great white shark conservation and public safety it is imperative that we have a strong scientific foundation on white shark ecology, coupled with non-lethal mitigation methods and supported by a comprehensive education and awareness strategy.” – says Sarah
Since 2004, Shark Spotters has recorded over 2163 shark sightings on our shores and with the average visitor spending approximately 17 minutes in eyeshot, the team have been on the lookout for sharks for over 200 000 hours. Muizenberg appears to be the most popular destination with 983 recorded sightings. To put these figures into context, an average of 35 people are present per sighting and 83% of the sharks are described to be in the medium to large range.
Currently the Shark Spotters team consists 45 dedicated employees: 10 net crew, 5 management and 30 trained spotters from disadvantaged communities. Trained observers (spotters), strategically located at elevated positions above high-risk shark beaches, provide an early warning system for water users, alerting them to the presence of great white sharks.
To ensure public safety, Shark Spotters rely heavily on binoculars to correctly identify the species and the potential threat it poses.
Shark Spotters is primarily funded by The City of Cape Town and Save Our Seas Foundation who account for 90% of the organization’s operational costs. Needing to source additional funds to purchase 35 new binoculars, the team set up a campaign on donations based crowdfunding platform, BackaBuddy to appeal to the public for support.
“Sharks are not easy to spot, unlike whales and dolphins, we rarely see their dorsal fin or other body parts above water, which is why we need increased visibility. The current binoculars we have are dated and most are in a state of disrepair, we hope the public will support our BackaBuddy campaign to empower us to keep our waters safe” –says Sarah
The campaign went live on the 12th of April 2018 and has thus far raised R 34 261.97
Towards the target of R60 000 with contributions from more than 24 donors.