Sharks of South Africa

Sharks of South Africa – Shark ID, biology and behavior.

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.

February 28, 2015
Whale Shark

Whale Shark

WHALE SHARK – Rhinocodon typus. Identification: Whale sharks are the worlds largest living fish, reaching lengths of 13m and weighing up to 13 tonnes. Once you overcome the […]
February 27, 2014
Shark Id, Biology and Behavior

Great White Shark

GREAT WHITE SHARK – Carcharodon carcharias. Identification: Great white sharks are unmistakable. When you see one you’ll really know it. No other shark has such an […]
February 27, 2014

Tiger Shark

TIGER SHARK – Galeocerdo cuvier. Identification: Another unmistakable submarine presence, tiger sharks are thought attain 7m in length, however sightings in South Africa are almost invariably […]
February 27, 2014

Bull Shark Zambezi

ZAMBEZI or BULL SHARK – Carcharhinus leucas. Identification: Zambezi (bull) sharks may reach over 4m in length. The body is predominantly grey with a lighter underbelly […]
February 27, 2014

Ragged Tooth Shark

SPOTTED RAGGED TOOTH SHARK – Charcharius taurus. Identification: Ragged-tooth sharks are perhaps South Africa’s best loved sharks. Affectionately known as “raggies” to the locals, they may […]
February 27, 2014
Sevengill Cow Shark

Cow Shark

COW SHARK or BROADNOSE SEVENGILL SHARK –  Notorynchus cepedianus. Identification: Cow sharks are a primitive form of shark of the order Hexanchiformes, which comprises six species with six […]
February 27, 2014

Blacktip Shark

BLACKTIP SHARK – Carcharhinus limbatus. Identification: Blacktip sharks also known as Oceanic Blacktips, are dark brown-bronze in colour with a lighter underbelly and a distinctive light […]
February 27, 2014
Shortfin Mako Shark

Mako Shark

SHORTFIN MAKO SHARK – Isurus oxyrinchus. Mako shark identification: The shortfin mako is a sleek, torpedo shaped pelagic shark of the lamnid family. The mako is brilliant blue to […]
February 25, 2014

Dusky Shark

DUSKY SHARK – Carcharhinus obscurus. Identification: The dusky shark is also known as a grey shark in some areas can be easily confused with other species when […]
February 25, 2014
Bronze Whaler / Copper Shark

Bronze Whaler

BRONZE WHALER or COPPER SHARK – Carcharhinus brachyurus Identification: Bronze whalers can attain a length of over 3m. The sleek body has a bronze-grey sheen dorsally […]
February 25, 2014

Hammerhead Shark

HAMMERHEAD SHARK – Sp. Sphyrna Identification: Hammerhead sharks are unmistakable – for obvious reasons, although identifying exactly which species is another story. Nine species of hammerhead […]

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

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