Sharks of South Africa – Shark ID, Biology & Behavior: Some ninety-eight species of sharks may be found in South Africa. Sharks, rays and skates all belong to the class Chondrichthyes (cartilaginous fish) – their skeletons being made up of cartilage, unlike those of bony fish. Sharks teeth, be they well defined or fused as plates, are continuously replaced throughout the animals life. Instead of swim bladders, sharks have large livers to increase buoyancy and store nutrients.
Sharks are carnivorous, they have a keen sense of smell and are highly sensitive to vibrations and electrical impulses. Of the various species of shark found off South Africa the majority are harmless and are rarely encountered. Only a few species have been implicated in attacks on humans, with only one recorded shark attack in South Africa on a scuba diver – and that was on the surface.
Sharks have been around for over 400 million years and have remained virtually unchanged in their current forms for some 70 million years. Their success is in part due to their ability to adapt to different ecological niches as a top predator. The role of sharks in our oceans is complex and diverse. We should therefore try not to just see them as “sharks”, but see each different species in it’s own right, fulfilling a unique ecological function.
The ability of sharks to adapt to different niches has produced a wide variety of different forms. These pages attempt to show the beauty of these variations and act as a guide to divers hoping to identify the sharks they see while diving in South Africa. Many a dive guide has been asked the question ” What was that shark we saw ?”. Sometimes the answer is obvious, but often identification is difficult with an animal that is often shy, generally moving and whose colouration and markings may not be clear underwater.
SHARKS OF SOUTH AFRICA: Sightings of large pelagic sharks in South Africa are mostly confined to recognised areas – either rest areas or where food is most abundant – see Protea Banks, Aliwal Shoal, Sodwana Bay, cage diving and the sardine run. Basking sharks, thresher sharks, silvertips, white tip reef sharks, soupfin and numerous smaller reef sharks are among the many species found in our coastal waters that are yet to be included in this text. This text has been compiled from several different sources, personal observations and anecdotes. It is intended to serve as a popular guide only. While every effort has been made to keep the information accurate and updated, it should not be seen in any way as a scientific text or reference.
Copyright: Oceans Africa 2012 Original artwork: Graeme S. Grant