During an OMSAC after zoom presentation chat, Mark A mentioned that 20 years ago you were almost guaranteed of seeing great white sharks during a dive at Whittle Rock. That’s definitely not the case anymore. So where have the great whites gone?

There are two prominent theories.

One is the recent appearance of a pod of orcas, or killer whales, in Gansbaai and False Bay, which specialises in hunting large, coastal sharks like white sharks.

The other is the decline of white shark food from intensified fishing of small shark species. The local shark demersal longline fishery, which sets kilometres of baited hooks on the seafloor, exports smooth houndsharks to Australia, where they are sold at fish-and-chip eateries as “flake”. These vessels have been caught fishing inside South African marine protected areas and we should be outraged.

The International Union for Conservation of Nature classifies smooth hounds as endangered and soupfin sharks as critically endangered. The department of environment, forestry and fisheries most recent report has admitted both sharks are overfished.

Orcas are unlikely to be the main culprit behind the disappearance of our great white sharks, Sara Andreotti says “The feeling I’ve got from the report is that they’ve been trying to find an excuse for not seeing white sharks that will not necessarily prompt action from fisheries. So it’s not the humans’ fault; it’s not the fisheries fault: ‘We’re doing everything right, and nature just happened to chase the white sharks away from our coast. Some orcas could chase some white sharks out of an area for a short period. But saying two orcas will make the entire population disappear overnight, based on five sharks that in a very short period of time were found in Gansbaai, is a hell of a stretch.”

The presence of sharks is key in keeping the marine ecosystem balanced as they keep their prey in check and confined within certain areas. However, the modern fishing industry has a hand in affecting the recovery rate of this species. Sharks species have been living on our planet for millions of years, surviving multiple mass extinctions. Some species of sharks have been caught for centuries as a source of protein, but the increased technology of the modern fishing industry resulted in a catch effort way above the recovery capability of these long-living animals.

Slow to reproduce, and only giving birth to few pups, large sharks cannot cope with the continuous and relentless decimation of their numbers.

Despite being the first country in the world to legally protect great white sharks back in 1991, the disappearance of these species from South African waters proves so more still needs to be done.

Take a look at the work The South African Shark Conservancy based in Hermanus is doing https://www.sharkconservancy.org/ to see how you can get involved in saving the Great White sharks and our ocean environment along with them.