Fish Hoek shark attack: What happened

Gregg Oelofse
29 September 2011

Report by the City of Cape Town on Great White's attack on Michael Cohen


As a result of the incident at Fish Hoek beach yesterday, 28 September. The City of Cape Town has compiled a report of the incident which is below for information:


At approximately 12.30 on Wednesday 28 September 2011, a 43 year old male, Mr. Michael Cohen was bitten and severely injured by a Great White Shark near Clovelly Corner, Fish Hoek beach while swimming. The victim sustained severe injuries which included the loss of his right leg and severe damage to his left foot.

The purpose of the review is to establish:

  • The facts and ensure that the correct information is provided to authorities as well as the public
  • Assess whether any reasonable actions could have been done to prevent the attack
  • Identify areas / aspects that need to be improved to reduce the chance of further attacks
  • Provide a detailed account of the events for the record

Shark Bite Details

The following account of the events leading up to the attack, the attack itself as well as the emergency response has been compiled based on interviews conducted on 28 September with all parties involved.

Although the accounts from various witnesses vary to some degree, as expected following a traumatic event, the following may be considered as an accurate description of the events leading up to as well as the shark bite and emergency response thereafter.

The Shark Spotters first sighted two Great White Sharks at 9.15. The alarm was sounded and the beach closed and the white flag raised. Once the sharks had moved back out the bay the Red Warning Flag was raised as per standard safety protocol.

At approximately 10.50 Shark Spotters re-sighted two Great White Sharks for the second time within Fish Hoek Bay. As per protocol the shark siren was again sounded, the beach cleared of swimmers and the shark flag raised. In both cases, sms notification of the sighting was distributed via the Disaster Risk Management (DRM) notification system.

At around 12.25 the mountain Shark Spotter saw a swimmer enter the water near the Clovelly Corner area. The spotter tried to sound the alarm, but due to a Eskom related city-wide electricity failure the alarm did not sound. The spotter notified his colleague on the beach as well as Monwabisi Sikweyiya, the Shark Spotting operations manager by radio. The beach spotter began to run toward Clovelly corner to warn the swimmer while Monwabisi drove to Clovelly corner.

Just after 12.25, according to eye witness Kyle James, a large shark casually and slowly approached the swimmer. At this point the swimmer was swimming parallel to the beach in a southerly direction just off the brown water emanating from the Silvermine River mouth. The shark approached the man from behind who was unaware of the sharks' presence. The shark lunged for the swimmer, shook him once, then let go and moved off 5 to 10 metres away.

Two beach goers, Mr. Douglas Drysdale, 61, from Glencairn Heights, and Mr Hugh Till, 66, from Fish Hoek entered the water and assisted Mr Cohen to shore. Before entering the water they called emergency services. At this time, Monwabisi Sikweyiya arrived on the scene and immediately began first aid measures. Monwabisi removed his own belt and applied it as a tourniquet, elevated the victim's leg and removed his shorts, which he used to stem the blood loss.

Monwabisi immediately called Mr Ian Kloppers of the NSRI and EMS services who initiated emergency response. A helicopter was dispatched while Monwabisi and the two rescuers stayed with and stabilised the victim. SMS notification of the attack was distributed to City officials and relevant authorities via the DRM notification system and City officials were alerted of the attack within 4 minutes of it occurring.

Once emergency services landed on the beach, the victim was stabilised further and medi-vacted by helicopter to Constantiaberg Hospital.

The manager of the Shark Spotting Programme was on site and coordinating a response within 5 minutes of the attack. City officials from Environmental Management, Sport Recreation and Amenities as well as from Law Enforcement were all on site within 20 minutes of the attack taking place. A scientist from the Shark Spotting Programme and Save Our Seas Shark Centre was on site within 20 minutes to record and collate information on the incident. Fish Hoek lifesaving club members were alerted to the attack within 10 minutes of the event taking place and launched their rescue rubber duck.

Actual Eye Witness Accounts


Ashley- Shark Spotter account

The man was swimming parallel to shore in front of the river outfall at the time of the incident, in shallow water no more than 50 meters from shore. There were two Great White Sharks in the vicinity, a smaller one about "2 - 3 meters" and a larger one "4 -5 meters". The larger shark was swimming towards the swimmer on the inside of the swimmer between the swimmer and the shore in very shallow water. The second, smaller shark was a fair distance away from the swimmer.

The shark swam past the swimmer into deeper water and made a large circle around him at a relaxed pace. The shark swam up behind the swimmer and then bit his legs. Contrary to preliminary reports of multiple bites, there was only one bite and then the shark released the man and swam away. At that stage Ashley stopped tracking the shark and concentrated on the swimmer and two rescuers who had entered the water. They pulled the man to shore where Monwabisi started administering first aid to the victim.

Kyle James - eyewitness walking by at the time of the incident

Kyle was walking from Kalk Bay to Clovelly when he saw a man swimming in Clovelly corner. He then saw a dark shadow about "3.5 - 4 meters" swimming slowly behind the swimmer. He recognised the dark shape as a shark. He describes the shark as swimming slowly up to the swimmer and when it was about 2 meters away it "jerked forward" biting the man on the legs. He described the shark raising slightly out of the water and giving one bite and then swimming slowly away again. He said the incident couldn't have lasted more than 15 seconds.

He describes the shark swimming slowly away and then pausing a few meters away from the victim. After the pause the shark kept on swimming slowly away. Kyle saw a seal (possibly two), close to the victim at the time of the incident and thought that the seal was "trying to help the man". However, seals are highly equipped physically and behaviourally to avoid sharks. This observed behaviour is more likely explained by the seal avoiding the shark and using the man as a refuge like they do with kelp and other floating objects

Environmental conditions

At the time of the attack, seas were calm, visibility was good and the wind was blowing in a gentle south-westerly direction. The shark was visible to the spotter at all times since the first sighting of the day at 10.50.

Status of Equipment at the time of the attack

The following was verified through this review:

  • The shark alarm was in working order and had been sounded at 10.50
  • There was a general electricity outage at the time of the attack
  • All radios were in working order
  • The shark flag was flying
  • All general beach shark signage was in place and functional

General Information

The victim was known to the Shark Spotters and had previously repeatedly ignored verbal warnings by the spotters to adhere to the shark warnings and beach closures.

The victim's car was parked in the main parking area at Fish hoek beach indicating that he had accessed the beach from the well signposted area where the shark warning flag was flying.

He had informed the car guards of where his car keys were hidden in the event that something happened to him.

Victim was wearing navy blue swimming shorts and black goggles, and had bangles on one arm and a watch on the other.

Victim was swimming between the shore and breakers (not behind breakers).

General awareness on Great White Shark seasonal migration inshore

As has become standard operation each year during August the City and its partners issues a media release reminding Capetonians of the expected seasonal increase in Great White Sharks closer to shore as they start to spend less time at the seal colony and more time inshore. The City and NSRI released the information on 29 August 2011. Following the release numerous radio, TV and print interviews were conducted to create awareness around the issue to better prepare sea water users.

History of shark attacks in Fish Hoek within last six years

Tyna Webb, fatal, November 2006

Lyle Maasdorp, no injury, surf-ski bitten, September 2008

Lloyd Skinner, fatal, January 2010

In the interest of public safety, it should be noted that in the case of Tyna Webb, Lloyd Skinner and Michael Cohen, shark warnings were in place prior to all of these events. Public adherence to shark warnings remains a constant challenge in preventing shark attacks.

Additional relevant information

Reports from staff indicate that members of the public continue to ignore shark warnings. Shark Spotters reported that on the morning of 28 September people in Fish Hoek were verbally abusive when asked to leave the water due to the shark sightings before the incident. The shark spotters report that there were members of the public who refused to leave the water at adjacent beaches after the incident when the beaches were officially closed. Adherence by the public to shark warnings remains a constant concern.

Shark sightings at Fish Hoek of the week leading up to 28 September 2011

24 September (Saturday): 3 shark sightings (10h26, 12h26, 14h47)

25 September (Sunday): 2 shark sightings (11h21, 12h18)

26 September (Monday): 1 shark sighting (09h29)

27 September (Tuesday): 1 shark sighting (15h36)

Shark behaviour before incident

Two sharks had been observed patrolling the inshore areas of Fish hoek since 09h15 on the morning of the incident. The water was clear and the sharks and their behaviour seen clearly. The shark spotter noted that the sharks were spending a lot of time in Clovelly corner near the river mouth and were swimming in "very shallow" water. The behaviour of the sharks was described as being relaxed. At some times they were close together and at other times far apart, but both spent a lot of time in the corner at Clovelly.

On previous days (Saturday, 24 September 2011 in particular) it was noted by the spotters and lifeguards that the sharks looked like they were feeding on something in the Clovelly area. Behaviour such as "thrashing" in shallow water were noted. Furthermore, on Saturday in particular, black-backed kelp gulls (> 30) were observed hovering over the sharks indicative of scavenging of prey remains. On both Saturday and Sunday the sharks also showed a lot of interest in floating pieces of kelp, often swam with their dorsal fins out of the water, and one shark was even described as spy-hopping. Their behaviour was generally described as slow patrolling.


1. Could the attack have been avoided within reasonable means?

It is the position of this review that all shark safety protocols had been followed:

  • shark spotters were on duty,
  • the beach had been closed and cleared at 10h50
  • the Great White Shark flag was flying, and
  •  the Shark Spotters did everything possible to get to the man once they realised he had entered the water.

Mr. Douglas Drysdale and Mr. Hugh Till, the two rescuers who pulled Mr. Cohen from the water helped save his life and should be commended for their bravery.

Further the actions and response by Monwabisi Sikweyiya following the attack which included:

  • Applying his belt as a tourniquet
  • Elevating the injured leg
  • Stemming the blood flow with his shirt
  • Contacting the NSRI for emergency medical response

should also be commended. Without this immediate, rational and professional response by Monwabisi Sikweyiya the victim more than likely would have bled to death on the beach.  

2. Overall Findings

  • All shark warning protocols were followed by the shark spotters as required and stipulated throughout 28 September
  • The immediate, rational and professional response by Monwabisi Sikweyiya to the attack directly resulted in the victim surviving the attack
  • The brave actions of the two beach goers Mr Drysdale and Mf Till who pulled the victim from the water must be noted and commended
  • All emergency response and notification procedures worked. Officials were notified within minutes of the attack, officials were on site within 20 minutes and victim was stabilised and medi-vacted by helicopter to hospital within 40 minutes of the attack.
  • The only gap in the shark safety programme that could be noted was the general Eskom related electricity failure which meant the alarm could not be sounded again when the victim entered the water.

3. Recommendations

  • The Shark Spotting Programme should be commended for its compliance to all standard shark safety protocols during the day of 28 September. Lessons learnt from previous incidents have been applied and training has been effective in improving responses to these incidents. Follow-up first-aid and emergency training that staff have received since the previous incident in January 2010 was well applied, particularly in the speedy response of Monwabisi Sikweyiya.
  •  The success, speed and effectiveness of the emergency response and notification system should be noted
  • The actions of Monwabisi Sikweyiya be noted and commended
  • The actions of Mr Drysdale and Mr Till be noted and commended
  • Back-up battery systems be provided to all shark alarms in the event of electricity outages
  • A designated swimming area at Fish Hoek beach be demarcated on a daily basis by the Lifesaving Club in consultation with the Shark Spotters. Lifesaving club and City Law Enforcement members to actively ensure that all bathers utilise this area. This information about a defined bathing area at Fish Hoek to be communicated via the media.

Further information on the Shark Spotters Programme can be found at http://sharkspotters.blogspot.com.

Statement issued by Gregg Oelofse, Head: Environmental Policy and Strategy, Environmental Resource Management Department, City of Cape Town, September 29 2011

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 responses to this article

wow, what a speedy professional analysis
Must be a DA run city

by Sad Days on September 29 2011, 15:45
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Public action
Do you think it could be possible to have an air horn or a few stationed at various locations on the beach with a 'break glass incase of emergency' type of set up so that, if a member of the community spots such an incident, they can sound an alarm. It . .more

by Westley on September 29 2011, 15:56
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Too many tourists fail to realise that Nature in Cape Town, in the form of the sea, the mountain (mists, falling & lighting fires), the wind and the baboons HAS to be respected. Such a pity this guy had to loose a leg as the penalty for not obeying the . .more

by Loudly South African on September 29 2011, 17:03
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Well done City of Cape Town and Shark Spotters
The actions of Mr Monwabisi Sikweyiya, Mr Drysdale and Mr Till were truly brave and exceptional. The City of Cape Town needs to formally commend these gentleman. Well done to the City of Cape Town and all those involved in saving the Mr Cohen's life.

by William Davis on September 29 2011, 17:27
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Shark Attacks in Fish Hoek.
As Fish Hoek is a wonderful swimming beach .. And loved by all ... Would it not be possible to install Shark Nets as in Natal ???

by Alison Liddell Muller on September 29 2011, 18:16
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The Shark Spotters are exceptional
As a regular surfer I only have the highest praise for all the shark spotters. They remain calm even when the public spew abuse at them. Thank you to the City of Cape Town for the continued success of the Shark Spotters initiative and for the . .more

by Bronwyn Moore on September 29 2011, 18:27
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Sharks have right of way
I was brought up in Clovelly and learnt to swim in the sea and we always had respect for what was there before us - the sharks and Wendy the Whale who used to calve at Clovelly. We never had flags and other safety features, and yes, there were a few . .more

by Malcolm Ness on September 29 2011, 19:17
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Don't tempt fate!
With all the warnings in place how can anyone but the victim be to blame. This was very unfortunate but could have been avoided. Well done to the authorities for their rapid response.

by Alcapone on September 29 2011, 19:35
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Shark Attack Heroes
Mr Monwabisi Sikweyiya, Mr Drysdale and Mr Till - you are all heroes!

by Gabri Rigotti on September 29 2011, 20:17
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Hey John. That's a bit harsh. He probably thought, quite reasonably, that sharks hardly ever take humans, and it is less risky, even after the shark spittings than a lot of other things. In hindsite, sure it was stupid, but a lot of much stupider acts go . .more

by Barry Cohen on September 29 2011, 21:05
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The Sea is for marine life not man
Firstly the sea is the sharks domain, we are in the sharks house. Humans are taking all of the fish from the sea and taking away the sharks natural food source. We also do shark dives in cages firstly baiting the water to draw the sharks in, no great . .more

by Jane Harries - Miller on September 29 2011, 21:47
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please make it stop already!
My hat! All this analysis over a shark attack. The guy went for a swim when he should not have. If I go for a job in the Kruger Park and get bitten by a lion people won't have much sympathy.
The really bad news is that for the next month the local . .more

by Realist on September 29 2011, 22:24
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Shark nets
As a teen I encountered a shark in fish hoek ,bay but on the other side from where this latest attack happened, I through a lucky punch to the nose of the shark and escaped with light scratches, why on earth there are still no nets still amazes me come on . .more

by Civilised Chris on September 29 2011, 22:24
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*"harmful" should be "harmless"

by Realist on September 29 2011, 22:26
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No sympathy
All this uproar about a shark attack. This is a grown man who chose to ignore warnings and signs put up for his protecttion - his stupidity has cost him his leg! The shark belongs where it is and man is the intruder. Nets are not needed - simply heeding . .more

by Cheryl on September 30 2011, 03:15
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Of course my comment was deleted
This is what happens when you state the blunt honest truth. Sure, shark attacks are very rare, but this moron did everything he could to maximize his chances of being attacked. Reminds me of that video of a guy who stuck his arm in an alligator's mouth. . .more

by John Armstrong on September 30 2011, 04:01
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The Victim should be thankful he was in Cape Town's Capable Hands
Can you imagine the situation if this incident had occured in Durban with our dysfunctional ANC led council. Agree with Sad Days completely, the ANC would no doubt have had to establish a Commission of Enquiry, fully staffed, and then produce a half baked . .more

by Democrat on September 30 2011, 08:11
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Ignorance and stupidity.
There is big difference between an ignorant and stupid person. One can teach and ignorant person and the person will learn, but a stupid person stays stupid. Well done to all involved in this persons rescue. Never forget that we are visitors to the marine . .more

by Shane Sunray on September 30 2011, 08:29
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1. An excellent report that once again highlights the practical complexities of real-time beach management. The thoroughness of the report is highly commendable.

2. Most certainly, the people involved in the rescue attempt should be highly . .more

by Johannes van Graan on September 30 2011, 08:51
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I think the least some of the greenies ( all white I notice) should do is offer themselves up to the sharks so that the shark's tummies are full and they leave the swimmers alone. I would suggest starting with the greenies who have double barrelled . .more

by witbooi on September 30 2011, 09:18
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If that had to be implemented, the "airt horn" would need to be replaced daily.
Years ago there used to be life saving devices at most beaches. Wasn't long before the "freebie finders" stole it all. Mute fool... must have been your buddies you dumb . .more

by robgun on September 30 2011, 10:32
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Let's respect sharks
I am very satisfied by the balanced way that E-TV and SABC news and the press have reported the shark attack - clearly the environmental lobby has managed to get a good message across to the media over the years about the beauty of these animals and the . .more

by Acid Mind on September 30 2011, 13:46
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Shark incident
I'm very impressed by the City's report and the speed at which it was produced. Well Done. My first or maybe second thought was how long will it be before we have a serious baboon attack. Who will be to blame and what will the greenies say? It's only a . .more

by RD Winfield on September 30 2011, 16:43
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Interesting words spoken
"We were all on high alert for a couple of weeks because sharks were in the bay. I warned him about it," he told the Cape Times newspaper.

"Then, another time, because of his negligence, I went to introduce myself and asked what's his name. I . .more

by Martin on September 30 2011, 18:57
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@RD Winfield
"...how long will it be before we have a serious baboon attack."
Baboons are (were?) naturally afraid of humans. However, it is due to the human stupidity of feeding baboons that the baboons have become aggressive towards humans as we have invaded . .more

by Jeff on September 30 2011, 20:18
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Into the lions den ...
What would we say to a man that waked into the bush veld knowing 2 lions were prowling in the area? That says it all really. The victim needs to have enormous gratitude to the heroes who saved his life, an apologize for the trauma he will have caused . .more

by Kirsty on September 30 2011, 21:27
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The Laws of Probaility.
He took a calculated risk. as he probably has countless times before.
So this time he was wrong.
Its the same risk we take every time we cross a road in a poor spot.
Drive on congested , poorly maintained roads.
Or enter a "risky" part . .more

by Eugene on October 01 2011, 06:39
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Excellent report
Well done on such a well balanced report. I think he received far better treatment than he deserved. What a complete idiot. He put other people at risk because of his arrogance. I have absolutely no sympathy for me but do feel sorry for those who care . .more

by Peter on October 01 2011, 12:46
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He should pay!
A man enters the water after repeated warnings of an apex PREDATOR swimming nearby. A white flag flies, the beach is closed, he swims, he loses his limbs. For that kind of selfish, ignorant, and unlawful behavior, victim should cover costs of all . .more

by Smithy on October 01 2011, 22:02
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Response - is location important?
The emergency response teams are people - not a party.

There's a very special spirit among those who love and use the sea; and I'd like to think there'd be similarly helpful people on most beaches. I hope this isn't wishful . .more

by Rob Manzoni on October 02 2011, 08:22
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A hand reared rhino was startled in a Kenyan wildlife park and killed a ranger..it was shot that same day in what must have been a heart renching decision, every day pets/dogs are put down for attacking humans, lions who are known to have tasted human . .more

by Surfer, Nature Lover on October 03 2011, 00:27
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GOD Samaritans
The uncensored story...Did GOD help at all?

Douglas Drysdale, 61, from
Glencairn Heights, and Hugh
Till, 66, were on
their way home from Pollsmoor
Prison, where they are voluntary Christian counsellors.
. .more

by Paul Apostolos on October 03 2011, 07:08
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Shark Nets
to those whom insist on shark nets

1. Great Whites are an endangered species
2. SA law prohibits the killing of any Great White

So by you insisting on nets in Cape waters you have no regards for wildlife and don't care about laws . .more

by Mark on October 03 2011, 11:15
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Get a vuvuzela!
Can't rely on eskom and batteries will no doubt be stolen.

by Jock on October 03 2011, 13:46
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Shark attacks v Loss in income
The above shark attack have reached all the corners of our planet - even most of the local chinese channels. There is no way that the stupidity/ignorance of three people over the past few years can compensate for the loss in revenue for the Cape . .more

by also Realist on October 03 2011, 18:44
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Sometimes I'm just stunned by peoples ignorance. I hope he thinks that swin was worth a leg.

by Hanna on October 05 2011, 15:47
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CT the only world class African city!
Well done Cape Town! This is what is expected of you and you pass with flying colours!!!

by Blacksmith on October 13 2011, 23:47
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The rescuers
The rescuers Douglas Drysdale and Hugh Till were driving home along the road above the beach when they noted the attack. These chaps are heroes for their unselfish Christian deed.

by Howard on November 12 2011, 07:34
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by JOHN on November 29 2012, 22:26
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