Shark detection project launched

2019-02-19 06:01
Shark Spotters at work.

Shark Spotters at work.

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A new automated shark detection project was launched at the Save Our Sea Foundation Shark Education Centre in Kalk Bay on Monday 11 February.

The Shark Spotters, the Institute for Communities, Wildlife in Africa at the University of Cape Town, and PatternLab SaRL, a Swiss research and development company specialising in data science and computer-aided vision, launched a project aimed at developing a low-cost computer-aided vision-automatic shark detection algorithm to be used on fixed cameras above Cape Town’s beaches.

Those that are involved in the project hope that the algorithm will improve the way they detect sharks and lead to swift action. The research project will run for a total of 18 months after which it is anticipated an effective automated shark spotting system will have been developed for use in Cape Town and beyond.

The Shark Spotters programme, funded by the City of Cape Town and the Save Our Seas Foundation, has significantly improved water user safety at its operating beaches in Cape Town, recording over 2500 shark sightings since its inception in 2004. The development of the automated shark spotting system will build upon this strong foundation and help to overcome some of the limitations the programme currently experiences, including the need for natural elevation (mountains) and the potential for human fatigue and error.

This research project is funded under the Eurostars programme, an international scheme that supports innovative projects led by research and development. In South Africa, the funding for Shark Spotters and UCT is administered via the Department of Science and Technology (DST), while PatternLab’s involvement is financed by Innosuisse, the Swiss counterpart of DST. The Automated Shark Spotting project is the first project funded by the DST under the Eurostars programme

Sarah Waries, CEO of Shark Spotters, said that after 15 years of using trained observers (spotters) to successfully reduce the risk of shark bites in Cape Town, the Shark Spotters programme is launching a new research project aimed at creating an automated shark spotting system that will enhance their pioneering sustainable shark safety service. “We have been going for months already with this new project. The aim now is to incorporate technology in what we do to improve our services and ensure that everyone is safe. We are excited and really looking forward to it and we have no doubt that it will be a good addition to what the Shark Spotters have already done over the years,” she said.

Fieldwork for the project has begun on Fish Hoek Beach and involves the collection of footage of sharks for analysis and the development of the cutting-edge detection algorithm software. While footage of live sharks is collected where possible, a decoy shark is also being used due to the sporadic and unreliable nature of shark sightings. “Environmental and experimental variables are recorded during the data collection in order to assess their impact on the ability of the software to detect sharks, and to compare results to the effectiveness of the current human-based spotting system in place. The automated system will not replace the spotters employed in Cape Town, but rather assist them with more reliable and accurate shark detection,” said Waries.

Mayco member for spatial planning and environment Marian Nieuwoudt said in a statement that Shark Spotters has been at the forefront of sustainable shark bite mitigation measures worldwide since it started in 2004. “We are excited by the new possibilities that this automated shark spotting research project presents and hope it will result in a system that enhances shark safety at beaches across the city,”

Waries said this new system won’t replace the Shark Spotters. “Instead with this new project we will be able to reach more areas than we are reaching now. There are other areas without mountains so we are unable to work there, but now we will be able to. We still need the Shark Spotters as they will asses whether people should be moved from the beach or stay there. This this new project will just help us do our work better,” she said.

V For more information see: www.sharkspotters.org.za.

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