Making money from being a shark spotter

When entering the ocean, you must always keep in mind that you are entering other animals’ habitat. Sharks pose one of the larger risks to swimmers and surfers alike. Moneybags journalist Jessica Anne Wood looks at the profession of shark spotting, what it involves and the money they earn.

According to the Shark Spotters website, the Shark Spotting programme is the only one of its kind in the world. “It attempts to balance the needs of both people and white shark conservation by pro-actively reducing the interaction and conflict between recreational water users and sharks. Cape Town has, over the last few years, experienced an increase in the number of great white sharks sighted in the in-shore zone. In response to these events and the increased fear by water users, particularly in False Bay, two community driven programmes were started out of a need to improve the safety of recreational water users. The amalgamation of these two initiatives resulted in the Shark Spotters programme.”

Becoming a shark spotter

Sarah Waries, project manager at Shark Spotters, explains that spotters are sourced from the local communities in the areas in which the organisation operates. “We normally have a new intake of spotters in August/September each year, in preparation for the summer season. When we are looking for spotters we will advertise in the local newspapers (People’s Post / False Bay Echo).”

The good news is don’t need any special qualification to become a spotter. Waries highlights that you must have excellent eye sight and excellent communication skills. Having a passion for the environment is a benefit too, with experience working in a field connected to the ocean and advantage. There is no upper age limit, but spotters must be over 18 years old and physically fit.

“Once they join the programme the spotters undergo an intense training programme. Experienced spotters and local fishermen teach the new recruits how to spot a shark, how to identify and differentiate between the many species of marine animals we have in the area, and how weather and water conditions affect spotting ability. Spotters also join research field trips to see the sharks “up close” at Seal Island, and are taught basic marine biology, so they have a better understanding of the environment they work within,” says Waries.

She adds: “All spotters are trained in first aid so that they are able to respond should a shark bite incident or other medical emergency takes place on the beach. They also receive continual on the job training and learn skills through experience on a daily basis.”

The work

Shark spotting is not a full time job and some can work part time too. “Some beaches operate 365 days a year from 8am to 6pm, so the spotters working on those beaches work fulltime. Other beaches only operate during the summer season on weekends, public holidays and school holidays, so those spotters work part time.”

Spotters work five hour shifts, from 8am to 1pm and 1pm to 6pm. Salaries start at about R5, 500 per month, with Waries highlighting there is a low staff turnover. More than half of the shark spotters have been with the programme for five years or more. “Some have been with the programme since it started in 2004.”

The operating hours are available on the Shark Spotter website, but they are as follows:

Permanent beaches (365 days a year):

  • Muizenberg: 8am – 6pm
  • St James/Kalk Bay: 8am – 6pm
  • Fish Hoek: 8am – 6pm (7am – 6.45pm in summer)
  • Caves, Kogel Bay: 8am – 5pm (8am – 6pm in summer)

Seasonal beaches (September – May)

  • The Hoek, Noordhoek: 8am – 6pm

Seasonal beaches (Oct – April: Weekends, Public Holidays and School Holidays)

  • Clovelly: 10.30am – 5pm
  • Glencairn: 8am – 6pm
  • Monwabisi: 8am – 6pm

More about the programme

According to the website, the Shark Spotters programme is the only one of its kind in the world. “It attempts to balance the needs of both people and white shark conservation by pro-actively reducing the interaction and conflict between recreational water users and sharks.”

Hundreds of shark sightings have been recorded since the programme started, however, Shark Spotters emphasises that it is not 100% effective due to a number of factors, including human error, the weather and sea conditions. “Entering the ocean is done so at the individuals’ own risk.”

The programme makes use of four different coloured flags to indicate to beach goers when a shark has been sighted, and the viewing conditions. These are:

shark-spotting-flag-system

A Shark Spotters app has been developed and allows for real time information regarding shark sightings, as well as the lunar phase and water temperature. The app is available for Android and iOS. For more information, click here.

 

For more information on Shark Spotters, click here.