Focus on Spotters program

A shark exclusion net was deployed at Fish Hoek beach at peak times.
A shark exclusion net was deployed at Fish Hoek beach at peak times.

‘During the Shark International Conference held in Durban in June we had informal discussions with both the (WA) scientist and the Government official about the issue, including the Shark Spotters program, and the recent exclusion net project we trialled,’ Cape Town-based Shark Spotters research manager Alison Kock said.

Cape Town Council-backed Shark Spotters’ observers on headlands above eight beaches had 168 great white sightings in 12 months until June 30, and use public education on beaches and offshore research about the animals’ behaviour in their work.

Dr Kock said Shark Spotters had offered to assist a WA pilot project, but there was no discussion where it could be used, after critics of WA’s shark cull suggested observers for the South- West.

However, Shark Spotters’ trial of shark barriers showed strong winds, large swells and high maintenance costs made the devices inappropriate on exposed coasts, except a $45,000 exclusion net at peak times in a sheltered corner of Fish Hoek beach until March.

A Department of Premier and Cabinet spokesman said a similar Shark Spotters program had been considered in the review of the trial of shark drum lines until April, but Cape Town’s beaches had mountains and hills not found in WA.

‘The construction of 20m-tall watchtowers in remote (WA) locations, as has been suggested by some groups, was posed to employees of the Shark Spotters program and they considered this to be an ineffective option,’ the spokesman said.

Other issues were observers only at a small number of beaches looking for surface sharks, and at about $280,000 (R2.8million) each year, highly trained staff had to ‘confidently identify’ sharks close to swimmers who had to react to warnings.

WA’s drum line trial caught 172 tiger sharks that anti-cull activists claim last attacked in 1925, while the Government says 1957.

Asked why culling should continue when the trial indicated tigers were constantly offshore but attacks were infrequent, Fisheries Minister Ken Baston said the species was recognised as one responsible for attacks worldwide.