Great White Sharks - South Africa
For the first time in almost two years, great white sharks have been spotted again in False Bay. In 2017 - 2018, their numbers reached an all time low, with great whites completely disappearing from South African research surveys for weeks and months at a time. While the reasons for their decline and disappearance remains unknown, it provides a truly unique opportunity to see what happens to an ocean ecosystem following a loss of an apex predator.
While a few sighting does not point to a comeback, it is a welcome sight. The situation is being monitored and researches will only be able to determine the significance, or the possible return of the great white sharks to False Bay, once more sharks are sighted over an extended period of time.
Only a few years ago, scientists estimated there were between 300 to 500 great white sharks in South Africa's False Bay. Now, they have almost disappeared. While local surfers might have relaxed, the absence of the apex predators is alarming to scientists, and the lucrative industries that rely on their presence.
Local cage dive operator and wildlife photographer Chris Fallows says. "When the waters go quiet, both above and below the surface, and these predators are not there, it sounds huge alarm bells."
It is unclear what will happen to marine ecosystems if sharks are no longer there to keep them in check. Seal Island, a rocky outcrop in the middle of the False Bay, Cape Town, is home to a colony of over 64,000 Cape fur seals. It has always been a feeding ground to great whites, famous for their breaching of the surface to attack. Already, there have been changes in other shark species, such as the bronze whalers and sevengills who have become more prevalent at Seal Island. If it becomes a more long term knock-on effect, it is unpredictable what will happen.
As shark numbers dwindled, fingers were pointed toward a pair of roaming orcas, nicknamed Port and Starboard. Orcas are known for their specific way of attacking sharks by the pectoral fin and tearing them open to eat the nutritious and buoyant liver. There have been several sighting of Great White carcasses washed up onto the shore. A couple of orcas could do quite a lot of damage.
Chris Fallows, one of the first cage dive operators in False Bay, has been putting filmmakers, researchers and tourists into the water with sharks at Seal Island for almost 30 years. These days, the cage-dive industry attracts 80,000 tourists each year. But more recently, Mr Fallows has turned his attention to South Africa's demersal longline fishery, which he believes is responsible for some of the changes in shark populations.
Located just 2 1/2 hours from Cape Town. These cage diving trips are generally offered throughout the year, however sightings in Gansbaai have been well below normal in the past few years, with sightings of these rare animals becoming unpredictable and sporadic.
On days when great whites are not seen, another species of shark, the Copper shark has suddenly become a frequently Sighting in this area. The Copper shark, also called Bronze Whalers, can attain a length of over 3m. Their sleek body has a bronze-grey sheen dorsally with an off-white underside and is slightly arched above the gills.
Other wildlife species such as Cape Gannets, Cape Cormorants, African Penguins, whales, from July to November, and dolphins are also frequently seen.