Sharks of South Africa : 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 have been implicated in attacks on humans, with only one recorded shark attack in South Africa on a scuba diver and that being 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 marine environments as a top predator in a wide variety of ecological niches. The role of sharks in our oceans diverse and complex and we must try move away from just seeing “sharks” to seeing 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 form and 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 ” So what was that shark we saw ?”. Sometimes the answer is obvious and sometimes identification is more difficult with the similar forms of many of the requiem sharks and an animal that is often shy, generally moving and whose colouration and markings may not be clear underwater.
OTHER 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 and cage diving. Basking sharks, thresher sharks, cow sharks, white tip reef sharks, soupfin and numerous smaller reef sharks are amongst the many species found in our coastal waters and not as yet included in this text.
Copyright: Oceans Africa 2012 Original artwork: Graeme S. Grant