Our team were invited by Apex Shark Expeditions to experience False Bay and to view the “Bronzies” from the shark cage. The Great White Sharks haven’t been seen in False Bay for some time and naturally their absence was discussed at length. While the great whites are missed Nick and Nuraan were delighted to say that the viewing of the Bronze Whaler Sharks was amazing and a boat trip into False Bay from Simon’s Town with Apex is highly recommended.
We were lucky enough to have Apex founder, Chris Fallows, on board for our trip. Chris is a world-renowned wildlife photographer and authority on Great white sharks, so much so that he has been featured on Discovery Channel.
If you are interested to know more, please read this exert from an e-book he has published on the subject or find him on www.apexpredators.com
T H E C H A N G I N G OF T HE G UA R D
The World over is seeing major changes environmentally and Seal Island, as well as most of the South African coastline, has been no different.
In 2015 we began to experience a rapid decline in the number of Great white sharks seen in False Bay as well as in the Gansbaai area. Further declines were recorded in 2016 to 2018 and in 2019 no Great white sharks were seen at Seal Island.
It is our strong belief that gross mismanagement of certain fisheries along our coastline has resulted in the collapse of our ecosystem as we know it. The Demersal (meaning bottom) Shark Longlining industry that targets Smooth hound and Soupfin shark began to fish intensively and extremely effectively in 2015.
At this time, a market for this shark meat was also found in Australia where it is sold as Gummy shark for fish and chips. There are no quotas and no size limits for these catches with the result that in just a few short years the populations of both these species are on the brink of collapse
W H Y D O E S T H IS M A K E A D IF F E R E N C E TO T HE G R E AT W HIT E S HA R K ?
It is a common misconception that seals are the main prey item of Great white sharks. It is in fact Smooth hound and Soupfin sharks. All Great white shark hot spots in South Africa are located at cape fur seal colonies that are adjacent to inshore populations of Smooth hound and Soupfin sharks. It appears that a seal diet needs to be heavily supplemented by these two shark species. Take away the main prey item and there is no longer a good reason to use certain areas.
E N T E R P O R T & S TA R B O A R D , T HE S HA R K E AT ING OR C A S
Port and Starboard are the notorious shark eating orcas that are almost certainly responsible for the killing of at least 5 Great white sharks in 2016 in the Gansbaai area. Many theories abound that this is the main reason for the Great White shark population decline. However, we disagree. The Great white sharks most certainly have a flight response to the presence of these Orca but we do not believe this would have resulted in a permanent departure from a foraging ground being that has been used by the Great whites for possibly hundreds of years. The future is uncertain and ever changing but at Apex we will continue to fight this massive conservation issue that we are faced with. With the absence of Great white sharks a new shark species has seemingly filled this gap at Seal Island. This is the dinosaur of sharks, the Broadnose Sevengill shark.
T H E B R O A D N O S E S E V E N G I L L S H A R K OF S E A L IS L A ND
The Broadnose Sevengill shark is fondly referred to as the Cow shark. It comes from an ancient order of sharks known as the Hexanchidea’s .Evidence of Hexanchidea’s dates back to 145 million years ago which was at the very end of the Jurassic period so these cow sharks are living dinosaurs! The Sevengill shark specifically dates back to 66 million years ago. They are the only species of shark to have 7 gill slits (most sharks have 5 gill slits) and their single dorsal fin that is located low down the shark’s back is again evidence of being an ancient shark species. They are one of the most fecund of all shark species and can have up to 80 pups with a gestation period of 12 months. They live to between 30 and 50 years and can get as large as 3 meters (10 feet) in length. Males mature at between 1.5 and 1.8 meters (5 feet) and females at 2.2 meters (7 feet). This means we are seeing many mature Sevengill sharks at Seal Island and often times we have observed what certainly must be pregnant females and other sharks with mating scars. Their teeth are comb shaped and they have amongst the most powerful of all shark jaws. They are primarily scavengers and we think the opportunity of scavenging on dead seals is the main draw card for Seal Island. We have recorded one predatory event on a live seal at Seal Island. It was fascinating so do ask the crew about it. They are very interactive animals which make for a fantastic underwater shark experience. See if you can identify the males and females and let the crew know!
B R ONZE W HA LE R S HA R K
Also known as the Copper shark, this shark can sometimes be seen at Seal Island during the high summer months when we tend to have warmer water. They are so named due to their beautiful bronze/copper dorsal surface and can be found in groups of large numbers.
Whereas the Sevengill shark is very slow swimming, Bronze whalers are generally much faster and move more erratically around the cage, coming in for short periods of time. Often just a blaze of copper is seen!
They feed mostly on bony fishes and can live up to 30 years. Incredibly the females only mature at around 20 years and the males at 13 years.Their maximum size is just under 3 meters (10 feet) in length. As we don’t see the bronze whaler shark too often at Seal Island you will find the crew very excited when one of these sharks arrive.