Recent reports highlighting the absence of great white sharks in False Bay, have resulted in much confusion for shark cage diving tourists to South Africa and the tourism industry at large, say conservationists.
So what's the story exactly?
As a protected species, great white numbers have been a concern as illegal fishing and natural predation have had a considerable impact - but marine conservationists believe it to be a combination of varying pressures that are leading to a shift in this species patterns.
For all its adrenalin-infused adventure, shark cage diving performs a serious and necessary conservation task in South Africa. Tracking and monitoring the health of various marine species endemic to our shores, including great white sharks - with the funds generated from these experiences used in part to ensure accredited operators can do what they need to do, responsibly.
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“Shark cage diving is the only crucial monitoring platform of white sharks in South Africa. Whilst this species is protected in our waters it is facing many threats, that includes natural predators such as a pair of orcas specialising in hunting sharks for their livers, and human threats of industrial fisheries, pollution and environmental pressures, as well as illegal fishing,” says Marine Dynamics owner Wilfred Chivell.
Situated about two hours outside of Gansbaai, Marine Dynamics has been operating in what is referred to as the White Shark Capital of the World - and together with the Dyer Island Conservation Trust, they have been studying the white shark for nearly 15 years.
Great white sharks have been seen in Gansbaai for some months now, says Shark biologist, Alison Towner, but that recent press reports have been misleading in not reporting the full story.
“Whilst we had a couple of tough years as the white sharks shifted their territory in 2017 and 2018, we have been enjoying incredible white shark sightings in Gansbaai over the past few months. Marine Dynamics has a daily blog that highlights sightings. The confusion created by a misleading headline can have negative ramifications on tourism and ultimately for white sharks as we have become the conservation voice for white sharks,” says Towner.
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“Our team was involved in the research and monitoring of white shark behaviour pre and post orca presence in the Gansbaai area, as well as the necropsies on the white sharks that washed up over two years ago - we have a study being published on these results. When dealing with transient marine predators many facts must be considered.
"White sharks are highly migratory animals spending an average of a few weeks in any one area. We know that they respond to a natural predator and our observations support similar distribution shifts seen in California and Australia. However, many other factors influence their distribution, and we believe it is a combination of pressures leading to the shifts we are seeing in South Africa."
Dyer Island and the surrounding ocean is a critically important ecosystem and home to the Marine Big 5, including the great white.
Known as an Important Bird Area, and managed by CapeNature, Dyer Island is home to breeding colonies of the endangered African penguin and other seabirds. Some 60 000 Cape Fur Seals are resident on Geyser Rock opposite the island and they attract the densest population of Great White Sharks in the world - now critically endangered, as only 532 individuals remain.
Daily observational data by the Marine Dynamics; on board marine biologists is crucial to their scientific research objectives. Research activities include tagging and tracking of great white sharks, behavioural surveys, movement and foraging ecology, environmental parameter monitoring as well as population and fincam studies that help to understand and assess this vulnerable species.
Towner says as researchers they believe in collaborative and inclusive science, as a result their data formed part of an important paper recently published in Nature that highlights the threats that South Africa’s white sharks face (see more on their research here) in the high seas.
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"White shark researchers in South Africa are working together to monitor white shark behaviour and movement patterns in order to better conserve the species."
What tourists who want to support and experience this for themselves need to know:
Where: Gansbaai, Western Cape (About two hours outside of Cape Town)
Cost: Per Adult R2 250 and Per child (Under 12) R1 280.00
Book and Pay online here: Cage Diving in South Africa
On Thursday the following sightings included Great White sharks, Bronze Whalers and Cape Fur seal, according to Marine Dynamics. Read more here.
WATCH: Up close and personal with sharks in Gansbaai
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