Marine specialists in south Africa started to notice the decline of great white sharks around five years ago. Photograph: Nature picture Library/Alamy
Marine professionals in southern Africa started to an alert the decline of great white sharks about five years ago. Photograph: Nature snapshot Library/Alamy
Longline fishing, pollution, the come of orcas – what’s leading to these crowd-drawing sharks come shun Cape Town’s waters?


For those who watch the waves, rocks and also beaches because that the distinctive silhouettes and dorsal fins, there is tho hope. If the an excellent white sharks space gone for now, they will return, at some point soon.

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Not so lengthy ago, there to be 200 or much more annual sightings in southern Africa’s False just of the most famed of sharks. The sheer number gathering approximately one island off the stunning curve the sand just eastern of the Cape of good Hope and the city the Cape town made it the “great white capital of the world”.

This year, a single shark has actually been seen. Last year, not one.

“We must keep watching to job-related out what has changed and why, and when they might come back. Because that now, we space still really positive the sharks will certainly return,” says Sarah Waries, of Shark Spotters, one organisation largely funded by regional authorities to screen the population of good whites in False Bay and also watch over the beaches.

For Gregg Oelofse, the absence of the great whites might be the many dramatic environmental adjust he had seen in two decades as a preservation biologist in the area.

“It would be a enormous loss for Cape Town. They room such a big part of the environment, of our feeling of place and also identity here, it would be a tragedy if they never ever came back,” says Oelofse, head of seaside management for Cape Town.

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The great whites are vital for economic and also environmental reasons. Lock are component of a £2bn-a-year traveler industry, as lot of one attraction as Cape’s vineyards, game reserves, well dining or Table Mountain.

The tour carriers taking visitors out in watercrafts to see the sharks, or lowering castle in cages into the sea because that closer encounters, rental hundreds in a nation that suffers native an acute absence of jobs.

Though there room still various other sharks to view, the absence of the crowd-drawing an excellent white is a difficulty to an industry seen by some as a leading example of successful eco-tourism.

Experts began to an alert the decrease of the good whites about five years ago, and also remain divided over the factor for their absence from False Bay. Part have said the arrival in 2015 the orcas, an additional apex predator that strikes sharks, forced also the good whites come retreat.


Great whites are a draw for tourist in southern Africa. Photograph: Arco images GmbH/AlamyTwo orcas, named Port and also Starboard, have actually been seen consistently in False Bay, most recently last month. Dead body of large an excellent whites have actually been discovered with evidence that the orcas killed them for your livers.

Oelofse claims that the orcas’ arrival might be a factor however not the just reason because that the good whites’ absence. Instead, research suggests the population of good whites has been in freefall for countless years.

Dr Sara Andreotti, a maritime biologist at Stellenbosch university who has been studying southern Africa’s good whites for much more than a decade, approximated in 2012 there were no more than 522 off south Africa’s coastline.

Andreotti’s research additionally showed that south Africa’s an excellent whites were not sufficiently genetically diverse to cope conveniently with new threats.

These ranged from feasible pollution – together as hefty metals beginning the food chain and possibly damaging sharks’ reproductive equipment – to the affect of longline fishing watercrafts that have taken vast numbers the fish indigenous the waters east of False bay in current years.

Great white sharks have actually been protected due to the fact that 1991 in south Africa, yet other shark types that provide much of their diet are not.

Andreotti says: “You cannot defend the predator there is no protecting that is food. Sharks room not sardines. Castle are an extremely slow come reproduce. You deserve to fish but you need to do the in a sustainable way. That will certainly be less lucrative in the short term yet will not crash the whole environment and also the industry.”

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Chris Fallows, a respected shark expert and also guide based close come Cape Town, is in no doubt the longline fishing to be responsible for the disappearance of the great whites.

He says the populaces of two varieties that provide much that the food that the great whites had collapsed.

“If you quit the demersal shark longlining then there is every possibility they will certainly come back, but not in a hurry. The marine ecosystem has actually been intact for numerous years and in the an are of 5 we have actually laid it come waste,” that says.

Local officials have actually shown limited interest in the problem, though the south African room of environment, forestry and also fisheries has actually appointed an experienced panel to recommend actions necessary “to appropriately manage and also conserve every shark varieties found follow me the country’s coasts, and to overview their irreversible sustainable use”.

Waries stays optimistic. She remembers just how numbers the sightings reduce markedly between 2008 and also 2009, prior to a surge in 2010 once the great whites returned nearly overnight.

“It’s still at an early stage days … We store hoping castle come earlier soon, yet soon doesn’t seem shortly enough. Us must simply be patient,” Waries says.

Oelofse defined anecdotal proof of lengthy periods in the previous century once there may have actually been fewer sharks in False Bay, and says that there had “peaks and also troughs” in current decades.

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“It is feasible that there room bigger cycles below the we simply don’t know about yet … The level the our knowledge really isn’t the strong,” the says.

“I’m positive the sharks will certainly return but the much longer they space gone the reduced the opportunities seem of that happening.”

Share her thoughts and also experiences utilizing the hashtag #sharklife ~ above Twitter and also Instagram, and also follow our shark collection at Guardian Seascape: the state of our oceans