The Great White and other Shark species in South Africa: Sharks are very fascinating creatures that have been around for millions of years. Sharks are a larger species of fish but are often mistaken for mammals because they share the same size as whales and dolphins. There are approximately 370 shark species worldwide, but about 100 of these species occur in South African waters.
Instead of a bony skeleton, sharks have a skeleton hard and tuff flexible cartridge. Sharks are an amazing animal to discover. The most active sharks swim continuously, this keeps water flowing over the gills and out of the body through five-seven gill slits on the side of their head, rather than a single gill cover and this ensures a constant supply of oxygen.
Sharks are not capable of folding their fins away when they are not being used. This amazing sea animal does not have scales, but has lots of small tooth like denticles and these cover their bodies to protect them from any harm. Sharks are stream lined and this makes it easy for them to swim fast through the water. They have an excellent sense of smell and a special organ known as the "lateral line" for electing vibration in the water, such as another fish's heartbeat. Most sharks prefer warmer seas, but there are several cold water species found along the South West Coast.
Sharks jaws are at the underside of its head. Sharks are carnivores and eat mainly fish, but there are some that eat only plankton. Sharks that eat fish, squid and seals have powerful, strong jaws and lots of sharp jagged teeth that are constantly shed and replaced from behind and this helps them to grip their food. Crab-eating and shell-eating sharks have blunt crushing teeth.
Sharks cruise at about one-three kilometres per hour, but many are able to swim up to 40 kilometres per hour. Sharks are most active at twilight and at night. Many sharks off our coast are classified as dangerous, but many are harmless and seldomly seen. They are believed to attack humans swimming or surfing, but seldom eats them. When sharks see a human figure from below the water surface it looks very similar to a seal or even a sea turtle and may mistake humans for food.
Shark identification of a few off South Africa's Coast:
African Angelshark these are common and found mostly on the eastern waters of South Africa. They are long and flat looking much like a Ray, brown in colour with white blotches on its upper part and a white under part. They can grow up to one metre in length and feed on squid, small fish and Octopus.
These sharks are locally common and are found in all South African waters, but are mainly offshore swimming at the bottom of the ocean in the deeper parts. This shark is long and slim line, having a brown grey colour with a lighter colour stripe down its side. Their eyes are green and shiny. They can reach lengths of 4.8 metres and feed on squid, octopus, fish, other sharks, ray and also whale meat.
This is a common shark found mostly offshore in deep waters of 150metres. They are long in appearance and are grey in colour with a white under part and white edge fins. Their dorsal fins have sharp spines and can be poisonous. They can reach lengths of about 1 metre. They feed mainly on fish such as Snoek and Hake, but also eat squid, eels and crabs.
These sharks are found in South African waters and are abandon, they swim near the bottom of depths between 450metres and 900metres. This is a thin shark and is grey, brown in colour with black under parts. They only reach about 32centimetres in length and feed on bony fish such as light fish, squid and shrimp.
This particular shark is quite common and is found on our South and East Coast. They swim mainly in shallow waters and are mainly close to the shore near the sandy sea floor. They are classiefied as Cat sharks and is only about 50 centimetres in length. They are long and light brown to yellow in colour with small seven dark blotches on its upper part. They feed maily on small crabs and other crustaceans.
These small "dogfish" sharks are locally rear to South African oceans and found only in a small area off Cape Town and Port Shepstone, but common worldwide. This is known to be the smallest shark in South African waters with a long tube looking body. They are black in colour with white edge fins. They reach lengths of only about 25 centimetres and eat bony fish, crabs and squid.
These sharks are common but found mainly on the eastern coast line in deep waters. This lo9ng shark is brown-grey in colour. They reach lengths of about 1.8 metres and is a fierce predator. They are also often hunted for its liver oil. They prey on deep water fish, cat sharks, skates, crayfish, octopus and Dogfish.
This shark is commonly found in South African waters in depths of 25 metres and 300 metres. This long shark had a grey upper body with yellow spots on the upper part and a white under part. They can reach lengths of approximately 1.2 metres and feed on anchovies, porcupine fish, shrimp, squid and even crab.
This shark is common and is found in depths of waters between 60 metres and 400metres. They are flat and light brown in colour with a lighter under part. They can reach lengths of approximately 1.4 metres long. They prey on fish such as hake, squid, and shrimp and also eat eels.
This is a common shark mostly found in the Eastern side of South Africa's coast. They swim quite close to the shore especially to find prey. They are light brown in colour with dark spots. They are about 3.5 metres in lengths. These sharks feed on crabs, shrimp, snails, mussels, small fish and octopus.
This is a very rare shark species, found in really small areas off Cape Town, Eastern Cape and Kwazulu-Natal. This shark is seldomly seen. It is long with a flabby body and is light pink in colour with blue fins. Goblin looking face, hence the name with a pointed snout. They can reach lengths of about 3.5 metres long and feed on Octopus and crabs.
This particular shark is common in South Africa, but mainly seen in the East of Southern Africa. This is known to be the biggest fish. It is used with a dark grey to sometimes brown colour and has a lighter belly. They also have white stripes and white blotches on their body. They can reach lengths of about 12 metres. This shark has more teeth than any other shark, but they do not use it to catch food. They have special filters in their gills to help strain plankton. They eat algae and plankton, crabs, tuna, and squid.
These are common of our shore and worldwide. They are brown-blue in colour with a white belly. They can reach the length of approximately six metres long. They are good swimmers and are quick movers. These sharks feed on squad, crabs, bony fish and also birds like seagulls.
This shark is common and found throughout South Africa shores but prefers the warmer waters. They are long and reach lengths of about four metres. They are bright blue in colour with a white under part. These sharks are fast and strong and also known to leap out of the ocean more than five metres. They feed and squad, fish, dolphins and also other sharks.
These sharks are found off the eastern parts of South Africa. They are long and thin with a light grey body colour. Many would say they are dangerous because of their appearance of large fearsome teeth. They swim in shallow waters, but no attacks on humans have been recorded. They can reach lengths of about 2.5 metres long. These sharks feed on fish, crayfish and crabs.
This shark is usually uncommon in our waters, but could be seen on the east coast of South Africa. They prefer warmer waters and could be found in reefs close to shore. They are big and yellow in colour. These sharks reach lengths of about three metres, and prey on bottom swimming fish and stingrays.
These sharks are common mainly off the eastern shores of South Africa, they prefer warmer waters and shallow waters near beaches or reefs. They are small and reach about 2 metres in length. They are slim with a grey body colour and a lighter under part. This shark is known to be shy off women. They feed on crabs, octopus, fish and crayfish.
These sharks are also common but found on the eastern side of South African shores. They are quite larger and reach about 5.5 metres in length. They are light grey in colour with darker grey stripes and blotches on its back. These sharks are known to hunt almost anything. They also attack humans in tropical waters worldwide. They feed on crabs, turtles, birds, crayfish, carrion (dead fish), fish and other sharks.
The shark is also quite common on the eastern side of South Africa. They are also found in fresh water, where it gets its name from the Zambezi River. They have a big body and can reach about 3.2 metres in length. There upper body is grey with a lighter under part. They feed on mostly fish such as mullet, soul, cob and catfish but also prey on squid, rays, dolphins and sea turtles.
These sharks are common mainly on the eastern part of South African coast. Their large bodies can reach a length of about 4 metres long. They are bronze in colour and have a white under part. They are classified as dangerous, but there has been no record of human attacks. They feed on grunter, sardines, tuna, rays, crayfish and also other sharks.
This shark is quite common along our South African coast. They are found mainly in cooler waters close to beaches, especially in Western Cape. This long and slender shark can reach the length of about 3 metres long. They are close to having a copper colour body, hence the name Copper shark. Even though it's close to shore, it rarely attacks humans. They feed on fish like soul and elf, cuttlefish and also squid.
These sharks are common in our deep waters and throughout the world. This thin streamline shark can reach the length of about 3.8 metres long. They have a blue top and light blue on the sides of the body with a white belly. They are known to be a shy fish, but has attacked ocean divers and ship accident victims. They prey on sardines, anchovies, flying fish, mackerel, tuna and also crabs, squid and seabirds.
Theses sharks are common especially in the east of South African waters. They swim in cool to warm waters and can go 200 metres deep. They are grey in colour with a touch of olive and a white underpart. Their head is wide and shaped like a hammer (hence the name) and no dent in the middle. They may steal fish from divers but seldomly attacks humans. They feed on hake, sardines, squid, cuttlefish and also other sharks.
These sharks are locally common. They are not known to be dangerous, but may take fish caught by divers. They are long and can reach the length of 3 metres. These sharks are yellow-brown in colour with a lighter underpart and red-brown spots on its body. They come to the water surface to swallow air so that they don't sink. They have short ragged teeth (hence the name). They feed on octopus, fish, crabs, crayfish and also other sharks.
These are the most common shark on our coast of South Africa and throughout the world. They also protected here in South Africa. This shark is a powerful predator of our seas and is very fearsome to most creatures. South Africa is known to be the first country worldwide to protect these massive specie of shark. Great whites are also classified by many as the white shark, white pointer and white death. In the 1980's a shark longer than 7 metres in length was spotted near the False Bay area, it was so big they named it "submarine". The great white is massive, reaching the length of approximately 7 metres in length. They are dark grey in colour and has white under parts. To identify a great white, their structure is huge with a pointed dorsal fin on their upper body. They have a small 2nd dorsal fin and a big curved tail. On each side they have long pectoral fins with usually a black mark at the end. The head of a great white has a cone-shaped snout with black eyes and big teeth which are triangle-shaped with jagged edges. Behind these jagged teeth there are more teeth to replace any teeth that break off. They have about 300 razor sharp teeth which are 7,5cm long. This fearsome shark shakes its head from side to side when it bites, this helps to saw off huge pieces of flesh.
The great white shark is known to swim in depths of 250 metres, they are classified as been a coastal species. This shark also migrates from place to place (e.g. Cape Town to Australia), but the reason for this behaviour is still unknown.
Female great whites are usually larger than males and gives birth to approximately 2-14 pups at a time, they migrate to warmer waters to give birth. As soon as the mother gives birth to her young pups of between 1.2meters and 1.5 meters swim away and fend for their selves from day one to catch their own prey. The great white shark prey on seals, sea lions, seabirds, dolphins, octopus and bony fish, rays, other sharks, turtles and also carrion which is animals that died. Great whites do not chew their food, but rip it apart and swallow. A huge meal eaten by a great white can sustain him for about two months before its next big catch. This shark species can smell one drop of blood in 100 litres of water. Great whites have really good senses that they can sense a little blood 5 kilometres from its distance. They use their nostrils only for smell and not breathing, they breathe using their gills.
Great whites are fast swimmers and are very quick and strong. They can swim speeds of up to 24 kilometres per hour. They have to keep swimming or else they will sink, they propel through the water by using their powerful tails. Their fins are only used for their balance in water.
South Africa is recognised as the only country in the world to easily see great white sharks. The best time to see these magnificent creatures is April to September, at this time of the year they are more plentiful and very active. They can be seen in our waters throughout the year. These sharks are sometimes seen near beaches. It is also known to attack humans, but will often investigate first without attacking. The reasons for their attacks could be because the shark mistakes humans for seals. Great white sharks do not prey on humans and they do not like the taste, humans are bonier and great whites prefer more flesh and fat like seals. One bite to a human can do lots of damage as their razor sharp teeth bite into the flesh and then releases the victim, but are seldomly fatal.
The ultimate way to have a close up of these fascinating species is to take a trip out and see these magnificent predators of the ocean. Most tourist don't consider their trip complete until they have seen a great white shark.
The trips offer either shark cage diving, where individual's gets in a shark proof cage in shark infested waters, usually two people at a time. This is where one can come face to face and see these huge fish swimming close by. What a wonderful marine experience this is and would be a memorable one. These trips are all year round, but trips could be postponed due to unpredictable weather conditions.
The other trip is on a boat watching these great whites swimming and breaching out of the waters. They jump into the air from the water to catch seals. Trips can be taken from different charters that offer this breath-taking viewing experience. Trips can be taken from Simons Town where charters/boats take individuals to Seal Island home to many seals and where the great white feeds and can be seen. Gaansbaai is also another area for shark viewing, it is well known worldwide for its great white population. It is roughly 110 kilometres from Cape Town and here Great Whites can be seen all year, weather permitting. Great whites cannot be kept in captivity for many reasons, this shark specie does not survive when in captivity.
The number of great white sharks are decreasing due to past hunting of these predators for their teeth and fins. They also at times get caught in shark nets/meshes that protect the beaches, they also get caught on baited hooks and get harmed or hurt and could die. Furthermore it is said that they are sometimes prey for the big Orca whale that could be killing the great white for its rich protein liver. Though these massive predators are fearsome in our oceans, we should respect their environment and living habitat so that the cycle of animal life can always continue in our seas.