The influence of environmental variables on the presence of white sharks, Carcharodon carcharias at two popular Cape Town bathing beaches: a generalized additive mixed model

PLoS One. 2013 Jul 16;8(7):e68554. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0068554. Print 2013.


Shark attacks on humans are high profile events which can significantly influence policies related to the coastal zone. A shark warning system in South Africa, Shark Spotters, recorded 378 white shark (Carcharodon carcharias) sightings at two popular beaches, Fish Hoek and Muizenberg, during 3690 six-hour long spotting shifts, during the months September to May 2006 to 2011. The probabilities of shark sightings were related to environmental variables using Binomial Generalized Additive Mixed Models (GAMMs). Sea surface temperature was significant, with the probability of shark sightings increasing rapidly as SST exceeded 14 °C and approached a maximum at 18 °C, whereafter it remains high. An 8 times (Muizenberg) and 5 times (Fish Hoek) greater likelihood of sighting a shark was predicted at 18 °C than at 14 °C. Lunar phase was also significant with a prediction of 1.5 times (Muizenberg) and 4 times (Fish Hoek) greater likelihood of a shark sighting at new moon than at full moon. At Fish Hoek, the probability of sighting a shark was 1.6 times higher during the afternoon shift compared to the morning shift, but no diel effect was found at Muizenberg. A significant increase in the number of shark sightings was identified over the last three years, highlighting the need for ongoing research into shark attack mitigation. These patterns will be incorporated into shark awareness and bather safety campaigns in Cape Town.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Bathing Beaches
  • Behavior, Animal
  • Models, Theoretical*
  • Sharks*
  • South Africa

Grants and funding

Thank you to the City of Cape Town and the Save Our Seas Foundation for funding the Shark Spotters programme which allowed for the collection of shark sighting records used in this study. The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.