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Following the recent shark attack, we spoke to Sarah Waries from Cape Town’s acclaimed Shark Spotters programme – which works closely with the NSRI – to find out more about these misunderstood creatures, and what to do if you spot one.

When are shark spotters the busiest?

Shark spotters operate all year round, although summer months are busier because there are more people in the water. The Shark Spotters programme operates on four beaches year-round in the Western Cape (Fishhoek, Muizenberg Kalk Bay, Kogel Bay), and sometimes six (Monwabisi, Cloveli).

It depends on the region, but usually we see sharks closer to shore in spring and summer. In winter they feed on seal pups, because seal pups are what we call ‘predator naïve’ – they don’t know how to avoid the sharks so they make for easy pickings. But as they grow up, they get harder to catch, and that’s usually the time when large schools of migratory game fish (yellowtail, tuna) come closer to shore. Further up the coast, the sardine run in winter brings them closer to shore.

What should someone do if they see a shark?

Remain calm, exit the water as quickly as possible, and notify the local lifesavers or shark spotters. If there are no on-duty lifesavers or shark spotters, notify the NSRI.

What is the most important beach flag to know when it comes to shark sightings?

A white flag with a black shark on it – this flag is used on all South African beaches to show that there’s a shark in the water. Usually, though, you’ll hear a siren, indicating you should get out of the water.
The other flags to be aware of if you live in the Western Cape are the red, green and black flags:
- White Flag (with a solid black shark) = shark in vicinity of water users (siren sounded) or after serious incident when beach is closed.
- Red Flag (with solid white shark) = 1 hours after a sighting or if a shark is spotted but not near water users or if there is an increased risk of shark activity.
- Black Flag (with shark outline) = poor spotting conditions in area where majority of water users are. No shark seen.
- Green Flag (with shark outline) = good spotting conditions in area where majority of water users are. No shark seen.

What are some of the most common shark myths?

That sharks are out to eat people – this is really not true. Humans are not part of their menu or normal diet. Any shark bites that do happen are very rarely predatory. If sharks were really out to eat people, we’d have a lot more incidents!
While the number of shark bites have been increasing globally, the number of shark fatalities has been decreasing because of the use of shark bite kits and better medical response. So having shark bite kits on hand – especially in remote areas – is very important.

Where are the NSRI’s shark bite kits kept?

Shark bite kits are kept at strategic locations in or near Table Bay, Strandfontein, Wilderness, Jeffreys Bay and Kei Mouth. In the Plettenberg Bay area, kits are installed at Robberg Beach, Central Beach, Keurbooms, Lookout Beach and Nature’s Valley.

Kits are checked at regular intervals and restocked when necessary. Each kit contains trauma pads, multi-trauma pads, bandages, tourniquets, gloves, a CPR mouthpiece, and so on, which can be used by members of the public, as well as equipment for medical professionals. To access the kit, call the NSRI Emergency Operations Number (087 094 9774) for the combination lock code.

NSRI crew and/or emergency services will assist with additional medical equipment on arrival. Each NSRI rescue vehicle, NSRI first responders, paramedics, Fire and Rescue Services, all carry full medical bags, which include shark bite treatment equipment, when responding to all incidents.

All of our volunteers do an internal NSRI first aid course called Maritime Emergency Care – which is equivalent to a standard 3 first aid but tailored for situations that would be found in the maritime environment. If you would like to make a donation to assist with the training of our volunteers click here.

(Information supplied by NSRI spokesperson Craig Lambinon)
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