Shark species in South Africa
Sharks of South Africa
“Sharks have been sculpted by evolution and are ideally suited for whichever ecosystem they inhabit, from coral reefs to the open ocean.”
― Brian Skerry
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Sharks of South Africa
Different sharks found in South Africa
Sharks have been around for over 400 million years and have remained virtually unchanged in their current forms for around 70 million years.
Some ninety-eight species of shark can be found in South African waters putting South Africa on the world map for shark diving enthusiasts. The wide diversity of species and the seasonal movements means there are fantastic shark diving options in almost every region.
Shark Biology and Behavior
Sharks, rays and skates all belong to the class Chondrichthyes (cartilaginous fish) – their skeletons being made up of cartilage, unlike those of bony fish.
The teeth of all sharks, 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.
All species of shark 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 bites on humans.
Shark Habitat in South Africa
Where to see sharks in South Africa
Different types of shark may be found in almost every type of marine environment, from the deepest depth to the shallowest reef and the open ocean.
The role of sharks in our oceans is complex and diverse, their success in part, due to their ability to adapt to different ecological niches as a top predator.
We should therefore try not to just see them as simply ‘sharks’, but see each different species in it’s own right, fulfilling a unique and vital ecological function.
Shark Size & Form
Variation in size and shape
The ability of sharks to adapt to different ecological niches has produced a wide variety of shapes and forms.
These pages attempt to show the beauty of these variations and act as a guide to those 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.
Shark Identification South Africa
What shark did we see?
When trying to identify any wild animals, colour is usually the least important feature. When it comes to identifying sharks try get a good look at the tail and any obvious markings – spots patterns and dark tips on the fins are always useful. Combine this with the size and location of fins and you should be getting pretty close to pinning down the family – if not the species -good luck!
Great White Shark
GREAT WHITE SHARK – Carcharodon carcharias. Great white shark identification: Great white sharks are unmistakable. When you see one you’ll
WHALE SHARK – Rhinocodon typus. Identification: Whale sharks are the worlds largest living fish, reaching lengths of 13m and weighing up to
Sevengill Cow Shark
COW SHARK or BROADNOSE SEVENGILL SHARK – Notorynchus cepedianus. Identification: Cow sharks are a primitive form of shark of the order Hexanchiformes,
DUSKY SHARK – Carcharhinus obscurus. Identification: The dusky shark is also known as a grey shark in some areas can
BRONZE WHALER or COPPER SHARK – Carcharhinus brachyurus Identification: Bronze whalers can attain a length of over 3m. The sleek
Oceanic Blacktip Shark
OCEANIC BLACKTIP SHARK – Carcharhinus limbatus. Identification: The blacktip shark (Carcharhinus limbatus) is often referred to as the oceanic blacktip to avoid
Shortfin Mako Shark
SHORTFIN MAKO SHARK – Isurus oxyrinchus. Identification: The shortfin mako is a sleek, torpedo shaped pelagic shark of the lamnid family.
HAMMERHEAD SHARK – Sp. Sphyrna Identification: Hammerhead sharks are unmistakable – for obvious reasons, although identifying exactly which species is
Bull Shark Zambezi
Bull Shark (Zambezi) Carcharhinus leucas Identification: Bull sharks may reach over 4m in length. The body is predominantly grey with
Ragged Toothed Shark
SPOTTED RAGGED TOOTHED SHARK – Charcharius taurus. Identification: Ragged toothed sharks are perhaps South Africa’s best loved sharks. Affectionately known
TIGER SHARK – Galeocerdo cuvier. Identification: Another unmistakable submarine presence, tiger sharks are thought attain 7m in length, however sightings
BLUE SHARK – Prionace glauca. Identification: The blue shark is a slender, elongate shark that may attain a length of 3.8 m. The body of the blue shark is
Sightings of large pelagic sharks in South Africa are mostly confined to recognised areas – either rest areas or where food is most abundant – see Cape Town, 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 page.
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