Sharks live all along South Africa’s coastline. And while freaking out about them is a bit like freaking out about lions in the Kruger National Park, it’s worth remembering that they are likely to form part of your holiday.
Earlier this week, beaches in Plettenberg were closed with the NSRI warning of ‘increased shark activity’ on the coastline.
South Africa relies heavily on shark spotters along the country’s coastlines. Lifeguards play a big role, too, and if you are on the beach, you should look out for the flags that are raised.
The flags have the same meaning across the country – and indicate both whether a shark has been spotted and what swimming conditions are like. The NSRI has put together this handy little infographic to help you understand what to look out for on the beach.
What do beach flags in South Africa mean?
A few beaches have exclusive shark spotters present.
Four of these beaches operate year round, 365 days a year (Muizenberg, St James/Kalk Bay, Fish Hoek & Caves, Kogel Bay), while the other four only operate during the spring summer season (Glencairn, Clovelly, Monwabisi and the Hoek, Noordhoek).
These beaches have been strategically selected as those having the highest spatial overlap between people and sharks, i.e. popular bathing/surfing beaches with high numbers of shark sightings.
Sea Rescue also distributes kits to help coastal areas deal with an emergency.
“When dealing with shark bites the patient needs to be taken out of the water and the bleeding needs to be stopped as quickly as possible,” says NSRI CEO Dr Cleeve Robertson. “We are focusing on compression devices. Stopping bleeding saves lives. The most important things that we can do to help a person who has been bitten by a shark is to remove them from the water, stop the bleeding, stabilise them and then get them to hospital.”
The shark bite kits can also be used for other serious injuries such as propeller wounds.
Remember, though, shark attacks are rare. Your chances of being attacked by a shark are just one in 11.5 million, according to the University of Florida’s International Shark Attack File. You are far more likely to be killed by a hippo – they kill 500 people in Africa every year.