South Africa is famous for its diversity, a Rainbow Nation of people from all over, a massive diversity of birds and mammals, a huge variety of Habitats, Ecozones and Natural Environments. Its 2.800 km stretch of beautiful coastline is also home to over a quarter of the World’s Shark population. Of the 459 species found Worldwide, 122 are found in South Africa’s waters.
For long, Sharks had been largely misunderstood by humans, and were seen as something of nightmares, rather than the mostly harmless species of fish they are. It is hard to believe it but since 1980 to 2020 an average of 8 people Worldwide lost their lives in Shark attacks, per year. Literally, the odds are higher to get struck by lightning or to be killed by a coconut or a Champaign cork, a sand hole collapse or from fireworks, than the odds of being killed by a shark.
Compare this to over 100 Million Sharks being slaughtered annually across the Globe, for Shark Fin Soup, liver and other uses and the picture we have surely changes. This is something that has to be stopped and fought. Underestimating the importance that Sharks have in the Planet’s Ecology is a mistake that We as humanity should not make.
In some form, Sharks have thrived as a specie for over 450 Million years; this is twice as old as dinosaurs and over this unimaginably long period, not much about them has changed other than the drastic decline in its numbers over the last 200 years.
Sharks and Rays play the very important role of Apex predators of the Planet’s Oceans, which is 71% of the Earths surface; they are found in all 7 Oceans. Taking them out of the Oceans or hunting them out to extinction, would mean the collapse of the entire food chain bellow them, from the Secondary Predators right down to the algae. If algae grow out of control, carbon levels will rise even more than they already do today, which will result in an even bigger or complete collapse to the natural selection in the Oceans. This will also affect Oxygen levels and remind yourself that every second breath you take is from the Ocean. The other breath comes from trees, of course.
As Conservation caring people and the Planet’s Terrestrial Apex species, We as Humankind, need to not only put a stop to the mass killing of Sharks, but also making more effort to educate ourselves and those around us, about Sharks and their importance. Understanding and appreciation is the start to eventually saving our Oceans and the Planet as a whole.
Mankind’s previous inability to explore the deep blue Ocean has left us mostly in the unknown about the creatures lurking below the surface, and with a young History of Scientific and Biologic Research on Sharks, it’s hard for us not to assume the worst of these massive toothed fish we occasionally saw breaching or approaching our vessels. Their scary appearance, fierce speed, and curious behaviour, has never helped this fear we share for them. Films such as Jaws, Deep Blue Sea and other Hollywood productions did not help either.
Things are on the up after all, as educational efforts have increased and Conservationists from many countries are doing their best to change what can be changed immediately. Tourism to countries like South Africa is key to bringing everything together and having a better understanding for Sharks. Researchers now are more capable than before and have more resources available to them.
You can view Sharks in a handful of ways all over the country, aspecially on the East Coast of KwaZulu-Natal and Eastern Cape, as well as one of the Worldwide hotspots for a number of Shark species, including the Great White Shark, Gansbaai, near Cape Town. Shark Alley and Dyer Island, are also very famous in the Shark community. One of the more known ways of viewing Sharks, is Cage Diving and this practice has boomed in the last 30 years with people from all over flocking to south Africa to experience the thrill of being lowered into the deep blue with a steel cage around them, and the opportunity to face these amazing creatures. Great Whites are always everyone’s prize and places like Shark Alley always delivers.
There are a lot of positives about this, like the exposure of the species and education, but just as much negative controversy surrounds the practice. The biggest opinion opposing this, is the fact that “chumming” goes hand in hand with Cage Diving and this manipulation of their natural behaviour is said to have negative consequences and some argue that that this is what leads to unprovoked attacks increasing in the last 20 years. Chumming is the practice of baiting and luring Sharks to the Cage by throwing fish guts and blood into the water.
A few of the best places to Cage Dive with Sharks:
- Durban’s Aliwal Shore
- Mossel Bay Western cape
- Gansbaai Cape Town
- Protean Banks Margate
- Falesbay Cape Town
- Dyer Island
Another practice is Free Diving with Sharks. Understandably this is less common but more environmentally friendly. Scuba Diving is another way, but the equipment can scare or surprise Sharks. Free Diving decreases your time however, so, not that rewarding.
New technology has been made available and developed in some countries. Equipment that releases sound frequencies, set to deter Sharks and other technologies with electrical currents as a means to fend off potentially aggressive Sharks, but this is not yet in the general public’s hands.
Or you can simply enjoy observing Sharks from the safety of a boat or an elevated point overseeing the Ocean to view Sharks breaching or swimming at the surface. The Great Sardine Run along the east Coast of South Africa, between June and August is a great event that attracts hundreds of Sharks and therefore making boat bound Tours a fantastic experience.
All Sharks are strictly carnivorous meaning they only eat other animals, but every Shark has a different range of prey; some are very selective and others, like Tiger Shark, will eat a variety of animals and items. Even dead carrion and objects such as number plates and other human trash, gets taken.
Other smaller Sharks feed on a variety of smaller fish species and even snails, sea urchins, crabs and birds are on the menu. On average, Sharks eat about 1/10 of their body weight every week.
The 2 largest Sharks in the Ocean, Whale Shark and Basking Shark, feed on plankton no larger than 4 cm long. They filter feed and can not swallow anything larger than a tennis ball. They swim slowly with their mouths open, like whales do, and everything worthy of protein is filtered through a network of funnels and filters; this will be mostly krill. Another filter feeder that specializes on jellyfish is the Mega Mouth Shark.
Great White Sharks, Mako Sharks and Hammerheads attack and eat large fish, other Sharks and marine mammals such as seals, dolphins, whales and sealions, but even opportunistic attacks on birds, turtles and smaller fish is a normal occurrence.
Pijama Sharks and Dusky Sharks feed on various different smaller fish around reefs and shallow waters. Fish like anchovies, hagfish and eels are common pickings. Carpet Sharks for example, are bottom feeders and feed mainly on crustaceans and molluscs.
Reef Sharks like the White Tip Reef Shark, feeds primarily along coral reefs and are highly adapted and very fast around the rocks. They attack octopuses, eels, crustaceous, snappers, triggerfish and a large number of smaller reef fish.
Sharks thrive in all parts of the Oceans and they need salt water to live…all of them,but one. The Bull Shark or the Zambezi Shark, has the cunning ability to swim upriver and hunt in fresh water as well as semi fresh water estuaries. They are commonly seen in many large rivers across the Globe. For this ability to thrive in the murky fresh water of moving rivers, they have adapted specialized locking jaws, similar to that of a Pitbull Terrier. This allows them to clamp onto their victims after the primary attack, unlike other Sharks, that hunt in more visible Ocean waters and can proceed with secondary attacks therefore not needing the specialized jaws.
Sharks generally use this “first attack bleed out” method, followed by a second attack once the prey item has bled out, and is left defenceless for feeding.
Great White Sharks, are different from other Sharks in that they are warm blooded and can regulate their own body temperature; all other Sharks are what is referred to as cold blooded. They are the World’s largest predatory fish and still have the ability to leap up to 3 metres above the water’s surface. Their senses are very acute, they can smell a drop of blood in 100 litres of water or smell a bleeding animal up to 5 km away. Their bite force is 4.000 tonnes per square inch, double that of a Brown bear and a lot more than that of a human, which is only a 150 tonnes per square inch. Great White Sharks can grow up to 6 metres in length and up to 1.5 metric tonne in weight. It has approximately 300 teeth, which are replaced over its lifespan over and over as rows. In its lifetime, it can lose over 30.000 teeth. It does not chew on its food, instead it rips chunks out of the victim, that is swallowed whole.
They are always on the move and when hunting they can speed up to 30 km/h. Great Whites are the only species of Sharks that possesses the Ampullae of Lorenzini; they are minute pores around the snout and eyes of the Shark that contents a gel sensitive to magnetic and electrical fields, emitted by other creatures, similar to how radar or sonar works. Only Great White Sharks and Rays have this.
Great Whites also seem to be more emotionally advanced than other species of Sharks and more intelligent than the average by far. Aquariums around the World have tried, but unlike other Sharks, White Sharks can not be kept in enclosures. They become highly stressed in a short amount of time and always die in captivity. Until this day no Grey White Shark is being kept captive at any facility anywhere in the World.
So why are Sharks that important? Apart from them keeping the food web in check and managing the numbers of Ocean’s creatures, therefore being directly responsible for the entire trophic pyramid, many Biologists and Scientists consider that they hold the key to curing many of the World’s problematic diseases, and are working on cures for cancer, viruses, cystic fibrosis amongst other diseases. For example, in the USA, last year, more than 2 Million hospital patients suffered from infections due to insanitary conditions. In African countries this is even worst.
Shark skin has very unique antimicrobial properties that is now being used and products are being developed as antibacterial surface coating. One such product is Sharklet AF. It is not only used as an antibacterial coating but also helps to combat the proliferation of superbugs in hospitals and other facilities.
Another important role that the Ocean and Sharks for this matter play in keeping the carbon cycle in motion, should not be underestimated. Then there is the vital role of Tourism and job creation all over the World. In South Africa, Tourism is a very important sector and the livelihood of millions of people. Shark related Tourism plays a huge role in this. We as Humanity should change the way we view Sharks and conserve them as well as all the other top predators and species around the World.
- Sharks are over 450 Million years old as a species and have survived 5 Mass Extinctions
- The Goblin Shark has not changed as a specie for over a 120 Million years!
- The Greenland Shark can live for over 500 years, the Great White Shark up to 90 years.
- Sharks can only move or swim forward and never backward, unlike other fish.
- The smallest Shark in the World is the Dwarf Lantern Shark; the largest recorded individual was only 20 cm long.
- The largest Shark is the Whale Shark which is also the largest fish in the Ocean at up to 10 m long and up to 19 metric tonnes.
- All Lantern Shark species have bio luminescence; they use this to light up visually for a number of reasons. They are the only Sharks to do this.
- Thresher Sharks use their long powerful tailfins to slap their prey off balance before going inn for the kill. Their tailfins are as long as their bodies.
- If you thought an elephant gestation period of 23 months was long, then try 42 months! The Frilled Shark carries its young for 3.5 years.
- Whale Sharks have a 10 cm thick skin, most adult Shark’s skin is 3 to 4 cm thick.
- Sharks can move both their upper and lower jaw at the same time.
- Sharks don’t possess any vocal cords and therefore don’t vocalize.
- Most Sharks don’t have tongues; their taste buds are situated in their mouths and throats.
- All Sharks have a mating ritual that consists of vicious biting and even as embryos they start off super aggressive and actively hunt and kill each other. At this stage they also possess detecting organs that allow them to sense fast movements and stress.
- All baby Sharks are born with full sets of teeth.
- Most Sharks can travel for unimaginable distances. Great Whites are capable of swimming nonstop with no pause to rest or feed, up to 4.000 km!!
- All female Sharks dwarf the males.
- The Mako Shark can jump up to 6 metres above the surface of the water.
- Hammerhead Sharks have 360º visibility.
- Scalloped Hammerheads congregate in large schools at day time; some schools of over 200 Sharks have been recorded.
- Most Sharks have to keep swimming in order to pump water over their gills, some species have spiracles that allows them to do this without motion. Great Whites and Bull Sharks have been seen resting where waves constantly break in order to pump their gills.
- Each Whale Shark’s spots, or pattern is unique just like a fingerprint or a giraffe coat.
- Sharks do not have any bones
- Bull Sharks are capable of swimming upriver in fresh water, the only Shark specie able to thrive in both, salt and fresh water. Their other name, Zambezi Shark, refers to them being spotted along the River frequently. This is common in African rivers as well as all around the World. Recently a Bull Shark was spotted in Illinois in the Mississippi River, INCREDIBLE!
- For over 200 years, Sharks have been slaughtered to near extinction. On average, 100 Million Sharks are killed annually by humans, however since 2013, this number has been on the decline, slowly but surely, we are doing better… only WE can turn this around!
WHAT WOULD THIS WORLD BE WITHOUT SHARKS?
We only recomend activities that has been proveen non prejudicial to wildlife or to cultural, historical or local traditions . Even if we all know that Tourism has an impact in the Environmet, we also are aware that this Industry, when well regulated and supervised, has also ways of being of a tremendous benefit too. We all are responsible of practicing a responsible Tourism and Greenlion is fully commited to this cause.
Contact us now to book a Tour with us and partake in activities like Cage Diving, Free Diving, Scuba Diving, or breaching Tours from the safety of a boat.
White Shark Project
Two Oceans Aquarium
Save Our Seas