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

Want to see sharks in South Africa

Join us on a shark diving tour or charter!

Discover the sharks of South Africa and join Oceans Africa for an epic diving adventure. Oceans Africa have been crafting specialist dive tours in South Africa for over 20 years. We are passionate about sharks and shark diving. Having worked several years as dive guide and and skipper roles diving Protea Banks as well as working  with white sharks in Cape town, we know the industry from the inside – so let us help you see sharks in South Africa.

Dive Cape Town Kelp Forest
Sevengill cow shark in the kelp forest

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

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.

Sharks of South Africa
A curious Great White Shark
Shy Sharkin reef
Shy shark in Cape Town

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.

Blue Shark 1
Blue shark in the deep

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 Sharks South Africa
Sharks of South Africa

Great White Shark

GREAT WHITE SHARK – Carcharodon carcharias. Great white shark identification: Great white sharks are unmistakable. When you see one you’ll

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Whale Shark South Africa
Sharks of South Africa

Whale Shark

WHALE SHARK – Rhinocodon typus. Identification: Whale sharks are the worlds largest living fish, reaching lengths of 13m and weighing up to

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Broadnose Sevengill cow shark
Sharks of South Africa

Sevengill Cow Shark

COW SHARK or BROADNOSE SEVENGILL SHARK –  Notorynchus cepedianus. Identification: Cow sharks are a primitive form of shark of the order Hexanchiformes,

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Dusky Shark South Africa
Sharks of South Africa

Dusky Shark

DUSKY SHARK – Carcharhinus obscurus. Identification: The dusky shark is also known as a grey shark in some areas can

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Bronze Whaler South Africa
Sharks of South Africa

Bronze Whaler

BRONZE WHALER or COPPER SHARK – Carcharhinus brachyurus Identification: Bronze whalers can attain a length of over 3m. The sleek

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Oceanic Blacktip Shark
Sharks of South Africa

Oceanic Blacktip Shark

OCEANIC BLACKTIP SHARK – Carcharhinus limbatus. Identification: The blacktip shark (Carcharhinus limbatus) is often referred to as the oceanic blacktip to avoid

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Mako Shark South Africa
Sharks of South Africa

Shortfin Mako Shark

SHORTFIN MAKO SHARK – Isurus oxyrinchus. Identification: The shortfin mako is a sleek, torpedo shaped pelagic shark of the lamnid family.

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Hammerhead Sharks South Africa
Sharks of South Africa

Hammerhead Sharks

HAMMERHEAD SHARK – Sp. Sphyrna Identification: Hammerhead sharks are unmistakable – for obvious reasons, although identifying exactly which species is

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Bull Shark South Africa
Sharks of South Africa

Bull Shark Zambezi

Bull Shark (Zambezi) Carcharhinus leucas Identification: Bull sharks may reach over 4m in length. The body is predominantly grey with

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Ragged toothed shark South Africa
Sharks of South Africa

Ragged Toothed Shark

SPOTTED RAGGED TOOTHED SHARK – Charcharius taurus. Identification: Ragged toothed sharks are perhaps South Africa’s best loved sharks. Affectionately known

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Tiger Sharks South Africa
Oceans Africa News

Tiger Shark

TIGER SHARK – Galeocerdo cuvier. Identification: Another unmistakable submarine presence, tiger sharks are thought attain 7m in length, however sightings

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Blue Sharks South Africa
Sharks of South Africa

Blue Shark

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

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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

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