Sharks of South Africa

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.

February 28, 2015
Whale Shark South Africa

Whale Shark

WHALE SHARK – Rhinocodon typus. Whale shark identification: Whale sharks are the worlds largest living fish, reaching lengths of 13m and weighing up to 13 tonnes. Once you […]
February 27, 2014
Great White Sharks 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 really know it. No other shark […]
February 27, 2014
Tiger Sharks South Africa

Tiger Shark

TIGER SHARK – Galeocerdo cuvier. Tiger shark identification: Another unmistakable submarine presence, tiger sharks are thought attain 7m in length, however sightings in South Africa are […]
February 27, 2014
Bull Shark South Africa

Bull Shark Zambezi

BULL SHARK or ZAMBEZI – Carcharhinus leucas. Bull shark identification: Bull sharks may reach over 4m in length. The body is predominantly grey with a lighter […]
February 27, 2014
Ragged toothed shark South Africa

Ragged Toothed Shark

SPOTTED RAGGED TOOTHED SHARK – Charcharius taurus. Ragged toothed shark identification: Ragged toothed sharks are perhaps South Africa’s best loved sharks. Affectionately known as “raggies” to […]
February 27, 2014
Broadnose Sevengill cow shark

Sevengill Cow Shark

COW SHARK or BROADNOSE SEVENGILL SHARK –  Notorynchus cepedianus. Sevengill cow shark identification: Cow sharks are a primitive form of shark of the order Hexanchiformes, which comprises six […]
February 27, 2014
Oceanic Blacktip Shark

Oceanic Blacktip Shark

OCEANIC BLACKTIP SHARK – Carcharhinus limbatus. Blacktip shark identification: The blacktip shark (Carcharhinus limbatus) is often referred to as the oceanic blacktip to avoid confusion with the smaller […]
February 27, 2014
Mako Shark South Africa

Shortfin Mako Shark

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

Dusky Shark

DUSKY SHARK – Carcharhinus obscurus. Dusky shark identification: The dusky shark is also known as a grey shark in some areas can be easily confused with other […]
February 25, 2014
Bronze Whaler South Africa

Bronze Whaler

BRONZE WHALER or COPPER SHARK – Carcharhinus brachyurus Bronze whaler identification: Bronze whalers can attain a length of over 3m. The sleek body has a bronze-grey […]
February 25, 2014
Hammerhead Sharks South Africa

Hammerhead Sharks

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

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