There are roughly 100 shark species in southern Africa, and while most of them are very rarely seen and are harmless, Great White Sharks Carcharodon carcharias are of the more infamous of these species particularly due to its perceived aggressive nature. This shark species is one you will recognize on sight. It has a blue-grey upper half of the body in contrast to the white underbelly, and a sickle shaped tail, not to mention a toothy smile with large triangular serrated teeth. Great White Sharks have long pectoral fins, and small anal and second dorsal fins. These sharks are found worldwide in temperate offshore and coastal waters, and are often seen around seal colonies. Each year Plettenberg Bay sees a number of Great White Sharks cruising through the waters, often seen behind the waves, and in the shallow waters along the base of Robberg Peninsula. Despite the notoriety of this species, there is still much to be learnt regarding its biology and life. Great White Sharks are thought to grow up to 6 m, but potentially up to even 7 m, with most individuals caught measuring between 5 m and 5.8 m. Mating in the Great White Shark has not been reliably witnessed, though sexual maturity is thought to be reached at a size of 4.5 – 5 m (14-16 years), while males reach sexual maturity at a size of 3.5 – 4.1 m (10-12 years). Great White Sharks give birth to a litter of 2-10 pups after a gestation period of over 1 year, and each pup measures over 1 m in length! They have a varied diet including seals, fish, other sharks, large rays, dolphins, and even scavenge off whale carcasses. This is a species at the top of the marine food chain, with humans being one of the greatest threats.
Unfortunately, most of the media relating to Great White Sharks has been negative, which was exacerbated by the 1970s movie JAWS. Despite the animosity that many people have for this species, they are protected in South Africa, and many other countries. In Plettenberg Bay, the Plett Hope Spot (www.sst.org.za/hope-spots/plett-hope-spot) in collaboration with the ORCA Foundation (www.orcafoundation.com) have started a project recording all Great White Shark sightings in the area. To do this effectively we need your help! Please report all Great White sightings including date, time, location, number of sharks and their estimated size to 081 377 9478 or to[email protected].
Written by: Minke Witteveen
For further reading:
- Branch, G.M., Griffiths, C.L., Branch, M.L. and Beckley, L.E. 2010. Two Oceans: A guide to the marine life of southern Africa. Pp. 256. Random House Struik Publishers, Cape Town.
- Fergusson, I., Compagno, L.J.V. and Marks, M. 2009. Carcharodon carcharias. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2009. Accessed: 05-06-2016. URL:http://www.iucnredlist.org/details/full/3855/0