Cape Town - Bathers at Clifton’s 4th Beach got a rare sighting of a whale shark this week when it visited the shoreline.
While Muizenberg and Clovelly beaches were cleared as a cautionary measure, beachgoers at Clifton’s 4th Beach got up close and personal with the whale shark on Thursday.
In other news, a big shark was spotted at Clifton Beach today— Sammy (@_SammySA) January 4, 2024
Too close for comfort honestly 👀 pic.twitter.com/BnlMJZGhIB
Videos of the rare sighting have gone viral on social media as bathers are seen trying to help guide the shark back into the sea.
Darryl Colenbrander, head of the City of Cape Town’s Coastal Policy and Strategy department, says the whale shark was spotted at approximately 10.30am on Thursday.
“It was a juvenile whale shark which poses no danger to humans as it feeds predominantly on planktonic organisms.”
He said the reasons why the animal came so close to the shoreline were unknown but explains this was considered a rare event as their habitat range is generally limited to the warmer waters of the tropics and sub-tropics.
He said while a whale shark poses no risk to bathers, there is a risk of potential injury from the whale’s movements.
“For example the risk of being injured by powerful movements by the animal, or being entrapped by the animal in the near-shore environment.
“For their own safety, members of the public must keep a safe distance from these animals and all other marine animals.
“There is also national legislation that prohibits any member of the public from approaching within 300m of marine animals such as whale sharks. This legislation is primarily geared towards reducing stress caused to these animals due to human interference.”
Colenbrander said there was no need to clear the beach, but City officials along with a crew from the Shark Spotters and lifesavers were on site to keep visual contact of the animal and to assist in guiding the animal back out to sea when it was close inshore.
“Law enforcement was placed on standby in the event the animal beached itself, which would have required a section of the beach be temporary cordoned off. But as stated this was not necessary.
“The NSRI assisted with a vessel and crew to keep visual contact with the animal and guide it back into the open ocean.”
On the same day, two beaches, Clovelly and Muizenberg, were evacuated following sightings.
Shark Spotters confirmed on their social media platforms that seven bronze whaler sharks were spotted at Clovelly Beach just after 3pm, while another shark sighting was confirmed at Muizenberg beach just after 2pm.
Water users were evacuated as a precaution. Earlier in the day, the shark exclusion barrier had been deployed at Fish Hoek.
Shark Spotters spokesperson, Alison Kock, said: “(On Thursday) at Clifton Beach, a small whale shark, reportedly around three metres, was spotted in shallow waters.
“The NSRI and Shark Spotters co-operated to guide the shark into deeper waters until it vanished, staying on standby.
“Whale sharks, typically found in warm tropical waters, are filter feeders. Such occurrences in the Cape are unusual, happening a few times a year. Interestingly, the first scientific documentation of a whale shark dates back to 1828 when one was harpooned in Table Bay.
Remarkably, these creatures are the largest fish in the ocean reaching up to 18 metres long. They are harmless and feed on plankton and small fish.”