Saturday, October 07, 2006

Great White shark sighting interrupts surfing competition

A Great White shark cruising close inshore interrupted the first day's proceedings at the Surf Series contest for novice surfers at Muizenberg Corner in Cape Town on Saturday, forcing the organisers to halt the event temporarily until the shark moved off.

With four Under-16 girls competitors in the surf along with approximately 40 recreational surfers enjoying the sunny, offshore conditions at around 13:30, the Shark Spotters, who overlook the popular surf break and had been monitoring the activities of the shark in the crystal clear water for nearly five minutes, raised the alarm when it started to approach the surfers and everyone immediately exited the surf.

The contest was resumed 15 minutes later after the Shark Spotters raised the 'all clear' flag as the shark moved offshore again and dozens of recreational surfers also streamed back into the surf.
Great White shark sightings are a common occurrence around the Cape Peninsula during the Spring and early Summer months from September to February - too common according to many ocean users in the area who are calling for the city authorities to do something about a problem that they say has escalated dramatically in the past four or five years.

A total of 138 sightings last summer.

"We were fortunate that today's incident took place at Muizenberg which is one of only three venues out of the dozens of popular surf spots on the Peninsula that are staffed by Shark Spotters," said veteran watersport promoter Paul Botha, adding "If it had taken place at Melkbosstrand or Kommetjie, the venues for the next two Surf Series events, we would have no warning at all until the shark was amongst the surfers."

"On the one hand today's incident is an endorsement of how effective the Shark Spotting programme can be where there is a mountain next to the beach to give the spotters the elevation they need to see through the water," commented Botha, "But on the other hand it demonstrates just how common these inshore Great White shark incidents are becoming with nearby Fish Hoek bay, which also has Shark Spotters, recording as many as 138 sightings last summer."

The city's recently released Draft Shark Safety Strategy promotes the Shark Spotting program as the core of its proposed measures to deal with shark situation and is in the process of expanding the program to other beaches on the Peninsula.


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