Tourism Guide Africa - - CONTENTS -

The great white shark (Car­char­o­don­car­charias) is on the bucket list for many and where bet­ter to see this leg­endary species than in South Africa. With only a few places in the world one can view white sharks, South Africa has the most ac­ces­si­ble pop­u­la­tion of white sharks and is the most af­ford­able. Other sites are Guadalupe (USA) and the Nep­tune Is­lands (Aus­tralia), both renowned for their vis­i­bil­ity and large sharks. How­ever, both re­quire con­sid­er­ably more dis­tance to be cov­ered and are a lot more ex­pen­sive than South Africa. In South Africa, there are three key sites: False Bay, Mos­sel Bay, and Gans­baai. False Bay has a lim­ited sea­son of the win­ter months due to its prox­im­ity to Cape Town­but Gans­baai and Mos­sel Bay are year round ac­ces­si­ble sites for white shark view­ing.

Gans­baai op­er­a­tors work around the Dyer Is­land ecosys­tem. The nat­u­ral scent from the al­most 60 000 Cape fur seals on Geyser Rock nat­u­rally at­tracts white sharks as they move through the area. White sharks are mi­gra­tory of­ten trav­el­ling large dis­tances be­fore they are seen again at coastal sites. Dur­ing the win­ter months they hunt around the is­land sys­tem as young Cape Fur Seal pups take to the wa­ter for the first time. In the sum­mer months the sharks are found in the in­shore ar­eas where the boats will fol­low in or­der to get an en­counter. Of­ten when en­coun­ter­ing na­ture­var­i­ous fac­tors may af­fect­species sight­ings. Weather also plays a part and the Western Cape of SA ex­pe­ri­ences win­ter storms so al­ways plan a few ex­tra days in the sched­ule if this ac­tiv­ity is re­ally on your bucket list.

In un­der­stand­ing shark cage div­ing in South Africa, one first has to un­der­stand the great white shark. The white shark has been de­monised for many years when once the thought was that the only good shark was a dead shark. Thank­fully, South Africa was pro­gres­sive in pro­tect­ing this crit­i­cal apex preda­tor and did so from 1991, al­though look­ing at the low es­ti­mate of num­bers in Gans­baai, South Africa (pos­si­bly around 800 to 1000) and the slow ma­tur­ing of the species, their re­cov­ery is alarm­ingly slow. World es­ti­mates are de­bated due to the dif­fi­culty of mod­el­ling pop­u­la­tions of white sharks but it is gen­er­ally agreed that their num­bers are con­sid­ered low through­out their global range.

White shark cage div­ing has been recog­nised as a vi­tal con­ser­va­tion tool, crit­i­cally im­por­tant for the species’ con­ser­va­tion in South­ern Africa where it is a highly threat­ened species. With­out shark cage div­ing, white sharks would not be mon­i­tored and po­liced daily in South Africa. This would then open up the very real threat of il­le­gal fish­ing

for them once again. One anal­ogy to con­sider would be the Moun­tain Go­ril­las that have track­ers mon­i­tor­ing them daily – this is only pos­si­ble through the fund­ing gen­er­ated by go­rilla eco-tourism it­self. With­out this form of tourism it is not likely the go­ril­las would have sur­vived poach­ing. There are also pos­i­tive spin offs for the com­mu­nity which is the same with shark cage div­ing.

The white shark pop­u­la­tion in Gans­baai is open, thus sharks do not live in the bay year round. They are tran­sient, and usu­ally spend a few weeks to a max­i­mum of a few months per visit and there seems to be a high de­gree of site fi­delity where in­di­vid­u­als re­turn back to the site in­ter­mit­tently be­tween mi­gra­tions. Pre­lim­i­nary satel­lite track­ing data shows that white sharks un­der­take ex­ten­sive long­shore mi­gra­tions and will of­ten re­main away from Gans­baai for as long as a year or two. The ma­jor­ity of the Gans­baai white shark pop­u­la­tion mi­grates east, tem­po­rar­ily re­sid­ing in other coastal ar­eas along the South Western Cape to Mozam­bique. Cer­tain in­di­vid­u­als, par­tic­u­larly large fe­males, make large for­ays into the In­dian Ocean, the fur­thest jour­ney on record be­ing a re­turn visit to the west coast of Aus­tralia and back, a dis­tance of 22,000km. They also mi­grate to un­pro­tected wa­ters such as those off Mozam­bique where they are tar­geted by lo­cal fish­er­men and sadly their fins are sent off to the Far East. Even along the South African coast­line, they face dan­gers such as the bather pro­tec­tion shark nets in Kwazulu Natal. Re­search of the great white shark is key to their sur­vival and daily mon­i­tor­ing by bi­ol­o­gists work­ing in the shark cage div­ing in­dus­try has been es­sen­tial in un­der­stand­ing the pres­sure on the pop­u­la­tion. If we un­der­stand the pres­sures on this species we can help drive con­ser­va­tion de­ci­sions at a gov­ern­ment level. An­other pos­i­tive spin off is the change in per­cep­tions and af­ter ob­serv­ing the species in its nat­u­ral en­vi­ron­ment, peo­ple from all over the world are becoming great white shark am­bas­sadors.

We are also priv­i­leged to see an­other shark species around the boat – the bronze whaler shark (Car­char­i­nus­brachyu­rus) oth­er­wise known as the copper shark be­cause of its dis­tinc­tive golden coloura­tion. This species is found in tem­per­ate wa­ters and usu­ally seen in groups. Bronze whalers can grow up to 3.3m in length dur­ing its 25 to 30 year life­span. Nowhere else in the world can one dive with this shark so close to shore.

Should you be anover­all na­ture lover, there are whale watch­ing / eco tours avail­able. In a bid to view the Ma­rine Big 5 – sharks, seals, dol­phins, whales and the en­dan­gered African Pen­guin plus many seabird species. We en­cour­age tourists and tour op­er­a­tors to choose an op­er­a­tor that is ac­tively sup­port­ing con­ser­va­tion ef­forts. Ma­rine Dy­nam­ics be­lieved that “YOUR CHOICE MAKES A DIF­FER­ENCE.” Ma­rine Dy­nam­ics with their ten year es­tab­lished Dyer Is­land Con­ser­va­tion Trust has ini­ti­ated many con­ser­va­tion projects. Be­sides in­valu­able shark re­search on pop­u­la­tion, wound heal­ing, move­ment pat­terns and preda­tor move­ment ecol­ogy and pres­sure, there are ma­jor pen­guin con­ser­va­tion strides be­ing made from the nest project ad­dress­ing fledg­ling suc­cess to the es­tab­lish­ment of the African Pen­guin and Seabird Sanc­tu­ary. Vis­i­tors to the area can also visit the African Pen­guin and Seabird Sanc­tu­ary. Open ev­ery day, en­trance is free and there is a pub­lic feed­ing time at 3pm. www.dict.org.za

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