Drone tech keeps sharp eye on sharks

Shark Spotters noticed – and tracked – a Great White shark close to the Muizenberg shore last week, using drone technology.

The licensed drone operators were able to capture footage of the shark as it moved through the waters for up to 2km – far further than traditional methods.

Shark Spotters has been using the technology to keep water users safe this festive season, with two licensed drone pilots operating at Fish Hoek and Muizenberg beaches.

The appearance of the Great White shark was almost on cue – just a month after the City of Cape Town reminded beach-goers that the presence of great white sharks increase in in-shore areas when yellowtail arrive, and during higher water temperatures.

The sighting heightens the importance of the use of drones during the summer holidays.

“Every year we see a significant increase in shark sightings in spring and summer, which coincides with school holidays and the period when our beaches are busiest.

“During this time, sharks change their diet from their winter feeding pattern of hunting seals around Seal Island, and generally move inshore, where they search along the coastline for prey such as yellowtail, smaller sharks and rays,” explained Sarah Waries, CEO at Shark Spotters.

Drone operators Seferino (Seffie) Gelderblom and Ghaliep Mohammed completed their official drone training and received their Remote Pilot’s Licence, allowing them to fly drones at the beach.

The drones provide access way beyond the limited views afforded to the Shark Spotter by binoculars and high-lying vantage points.

Ms Waries said: “Since Shark Spotters began in 2004 we have recorded over 2 150 shark sightings at our eight operating beaches.

“We average approximately 170 shark sightings a year but see large annual variations. The drones have proved especially useful over the last 12 months in confirming the species when we have a shark sighting as they allow us to differentiate between white sharks and bronze whaler sharks.

“The drones do not replace our land-based spotters who do a great job, but rather enhance our spotting ability, giving us two extra sets of eyes that can basically take us exactly where we need to be over the water,” she said.

Mr Mohammed added: “I’m excited by what I am now doing for Shark Spotters, locals and tourists visiting our beaches.”

The drones are also being used to assist with other safety issues on the beach, including crime prevention and lifesaving activities.