Saturday, February 28, 2009

Shark spotter: Great White sharks are not monsters!

Shark spotter Patrick Davids is glad to see the back of the busloads of visitors who flocked to his powder-white beach over the New Year, distracting him with surfing spills, near drownings and illicit booze.
In contrast to the human hordes, the great white sharks under his watch behaved impeccably, says Davids. He regards the mighty predators as familiar friends with names like Speedy, Nosy, Rosy and Charlize.

"These sharks aren't monsters like most people think," declares Davids, standing near the small blue and red beach hut that serves as command center for his shark-spotting team.

On a mountain drive above Muizenberg, another spotter with vision-sharpening polarized glasses and binoculars remains in constant contact with Davids. They use a green flag to give the all-clear and a white flag with black shark and a siren to sound the alert to clear the waters.

The project started five years ago and now employs around 15 people from the poorest backgrounds with funding from the city and conservation groups. Sports shops have donated equipment.

Surfers like student Anthony Selley depend on the system. Three years ago he watched as a fin circled his friend on an unmonitored beach and then swam away. It temporarily put him off surfing, but he says he trusts the spotters.

In the past five years, the spotters spread at several key beaches around Cape Town have recorded more than 470 sightings of great whites, the only variety of shark to swim in the chilly local sea. The system isn't foolproof - the water is often too murky or choppy to see properly - but there hasn't been a single fatal shark attack since it started.


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