A few recent shark spottings at popular Cape Town bathing beaches may have many parents fretting about just how safe their surf-mad kids are from sharks.
While superstitions exist about the so-called “deadly” (but protected) Great White Shark, mostly based on parents remembering the eerie strains of cellos from the movie Jaws, the truth is, there is very little risk that your child will have a close encounter with one of these amazing predators.
Surfers, bodyboarders and sea-swimmers do encounter sharks from time to time, but mostly from a distance. That’s understandable, especially in the waters of False Bay in the Western Cape, as well as other coastal parts of the country. Shark-spotting teams and warning systems, particularly on popular beaches, help to keep the risk low.
If your child spends almost every free minute in the water, what does he need to know about safety when it comes to sharks?
Top shark safety tips:
- Common sense is the most obvious safeguard. If there are shark sirens being sounded, warning flags up, and sharks have been seen that same day in a particular spot, don’t go in the water!
- If he’s planning on surfing at a spot without a warning system, speak to local surfers and find out about the presence of sharks recently.
- Make sure he goes surfing with a friend or in a group, as sea conditions and the presence of dangerous currents or rocks under the surface could also create dangerous conditions.
- Make sure he knows how to react if he gets into trouble, including knowing the basics of first aid and water safety.
- Avoid the water at dawn, dusk, or night, when sharks tend to feed.
- Avoid areas where sharks generally locate themselves, such as murky waters and steep drop-offs.
- Avoid swimming alone, always stay near a group of people, and if possible, avoid being at the edge of the group.
- Refrain from excess splashing or movement.
- Prevent pets from entering the water.
- Avoid shiny jewellery, tan lines and bright clothing, all of which can attract sharks.
- Avoid entering water if bleeding from an open wound or if menstruating.
- Avoid areas where prey animals of sharks live, for instance seals.
- Avoid areas where the remains of fish have been discarded into the water, such as near fishermen cleaning their catch.
- Sharks attack at 2-3 feet of water, so remember to stay closer than that in shark-infested waters. (Via Shark Attack).
Shark attacks are rare. According to USA Today, there have been roughly 6 fatalities per year worldwide between 2005 and 2014. Between 1990 and 2009, Cape Town had 99 shark attacks, 16 of which resulted in fatalities, according to SA Shark Attacks.
The sea, however, even to the most experienced surfer, swimmer or even fisherman remains unpredictable, and should always be treated with respect.
Sharks likely to be seen along the coast of South Africa include whale sharks, Zambezi or blue sharks, mako, tiger, great white, ragged-toothed, hammerhead, silvertip and blacktip sharks, among others. Approximately 98 different species enjoy the waters around the SA coastline.
If your child follows these simple guidelines, chances are, they’ll avoid a close encounter with one of the ocean’s most remarkable predators.
Do you think your child is safe from shark attacks? Have your family spotted a shark in the waters? Send your stories (and photos if you have) to firstname.lastname@example.org and we may publish them.