Shark alert colours are global standard
and Lauren Isaacs
THE city council has received several e-mails suggesting changes to the colours of shark-warning flags, but has said the flags will stay as they are.
In the aftermath of the shark attack last week, some have called for a simple green, orange and red system of flags.
However, Gregg Oelofse, head of the city’s environmental policy and management department, said yesterday this would conflict with the international standard.
“I’ve had about 30 e-mails suggesting every colour from blue to yellow to striped. The international life-saving standard to indicate a shark is in the water is a white flag with a black shark on it. It is not our choice, and there might have been better choices, but is an international standard.
“Some people say it would be better if we flew a red flag, but the life-saving clubs say this will create confusion.
“The white flag is used all over the world,” Oelofse said.
In a snap survey of 10 people on Fish Hoek beach yesterday, four knew what the shark flags meant, and six did not.
Oelofse said all beaches were well signposted and it was easy for beachgoers to acquaint themselves with the flags.
“A lot of people do know what they mean, and if we start changing the flag colours now, it will lead to a lot of confusion. Green is for go and speaks for itself. The black flag means the spotters can’t see well, that visibility is poor. The red indicates a high risk, either because a shark has been spotted recently, or because there is a likelihood of a lot of shark activity. And when the spotters do see a shark, we put up a white flag, which is what they do all over the world.
“Internationally, they don’t have the other three coloured flags as we do, because other countries don’t have shark spotters,” Oelofse said.
All 10 people interviewed knew that the siren meant a shark had been seen and everyone should leave the water. However, some said the siren was not audible on the Clovelly side of the beach.
All those interviewed said it was good that the flags carried an image of a shark. All said they would prefer a system of only two flags, showing whether one could or could not swim. Most knew that Fish Hoek was a high-risk area.
Mike Steptoe, a Briton who lives both in Fish Hoek and London, said when his friends from the UK telephoned him, many of them asked if there had been any shark attacks at Fish Hoek recently.
“People all around the world know that Fish Hoek is great white territory,” said Steptoe, who believed the current system of shark warning flags worked well.
Alistair Horton, formerly captain of the New Balance Fish Hoek Life Saving Surf Club, suggested that an extra 50c could be added on to the R8 parking fee at Fish Hoek and the money used to print flyers, with explanations of the flags, to be handed to the public.
Oelofse said yesterday no beaches were closed, but the shark spotters were on high alert because of the increased shark activity on several False Bay beaches. Red flags were flying at Muizenberg, Kalk Bay, St James, Glencairn and Fish Hoek, indicating either that sharks had been seen recently, or that there was an increased risk that sharks would be in these areas.
“It is really not unusual for sharks to be present at this time of the year, as we have said. It is completely normal, and the spotters are on top of it as best they can be,” he said.
l Michael Cohen, who lost a leg when he was attacked by a great white at Clovelly on Wednesday, is still in the intensive care unit at Constantiaberg hospital, where his condition is stable. On Friday, he underwent a second operation on his foot, which had been almost severed by the shark.
See www.sharkspotters. org.za for more information.