The Cape Peninsula dangles turn off the bottom of Africa like a rough fishhook, curling round from the frigid waters the the Atlantic coast into the broad expanse that False Bay.

This island-like location has created a plethora of waves, indigenous spitting beach breaks and also big-wave reefs come the beginners’ heaven of Muizenberg. Despite the variety of setups, the peninsula is far much more famous because that its other marine attractions.

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Since the early on 2000s, False bay has become a world-renowned ar for cage diving with good white sharks or come witness the spectacular breaching phenomenon – where these sharks beginning themselves into the air while searching seals. Much less spectacular is encountering one of these leviathans while surfing, which additionally became a far more common occurrence at the turn of the millennium.

Between 2010 and 2016, there to be 205 an excellent white shark sightings on median per year recorded by the Shark Spotters, one organization set up especially to monitor shark task around the peninsula. Various scientific studies approximated there were, an ext accurately, between 300-to-500 good white sharks inside the bay, make it home to among the densest concentrations of white sharks in the world.

As a who’d grown increase in these waters, i couldn’t aid but feel slightly unsettled through statistics like this while investigating a story about Cape Town’s shark phenomenon in 2015. But I additionally took solace in the fact that it to be surely one indication the a healthy ecosystem. Great whites have been protected in southern African waters due to the fact that 1991, and also False Bay was teeming with life — no just an excellent whites, but an abundance of other shark, fish and marine species.


Photo Credit: Photo: SA Rips
This picture was taken along the southern coastline of Australia, however the great white sharks that room now decreasing in numbers in Cape Town most likely look just as scary.

Then in 2017, the number of an excellent white sightings tape-recorded by the Shark Spotters plummeted come 57. In 2018, this figure dropped further to just 50. By 2019, there were zero taped sightings, mirrored by a complete lack of white sharks in cage diving encounters. In the space of 3 years, Cape Town’s apex predators had actually literally disappeared.

“What we have seen in simply the past few years has been nothing short of a calamitous crash of our good white shark populace along the south and southwest Cape coastline,” claims Chris Fallows, a world-renowned cage diving operator and also wildlife photographer based in False Bay.

While the assumed of under white sharks can make neighborhood elafilador.nets’ toes curl less in the lineup, the eco-friendly implications could be dire. It’s well known that sharks pat a an important role in maintaining a balance in the ocean ecosystem and also their disappearance, states Fallows, may have actually catastrophic results.

It was at first speculated the the culprits can be a pair the orcas nicknamed Port and Starboard, who were an initial spotted in False just in early on 2015. Orcas room the only types known to predate on great whites and also other big sharks. They regularly hunt in pairs, attack the pectoral fins and ripping the shark open to eat that is liver, i beg your pardon is rich in fat.

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Between 2015 and also 2017, a variety of sevengill and good white sharks washed increase on shore through these telltale wounds in False Bay and also Gansbaai, another great white shark hotspot additional east.

Dr. Alison Kock, a leading shark scientist and marine biologist, theorized that a brand-new sub-group of killer whale that especially targets sharks might have moved closer come shore together their offshore food sources declined, changing the structure of the False bay food chain. As these brand-new apex predators appeared more frequently in the bay, the great whites had fled.

Fallows, however, is hesitant that killer whales are exclusively to blame.

“During every encounters with orcas in False Bay and around Seal Island, we never ever noticed a drop turn off in sightings of an excellent whites,” the says, citing considerable sets the data the tracks the presence of orcas in False Bay due to the fact that 2009. “I am not saying that orca predation does not or has not had an result on white shark residency… (but) these effects are brief to tool term, together mirrored in various other locations approximately the human being where orca predation on an excellent whites has actually actually been witnessed.”

Rather, Fallows believes it is the loss of smaller sharks the has had actually a ripple impact all the method up the food chain.

“In the so late 1990s, southern African fisheries scientists provided out demersal shark longline permits,” explains Fallows. “This (type the fishing) permits several thousand hooks come be collection on the ocean floor come target smaller sharks.”

Specifically, smooth-hound sharks and also soupfin sharks, i beg your pardon congregate in dense shoals and were historically abundant in False Bay.


A Shark Spotter in Cape Town, scanning the lineup for males in grey suits

According come Fallows, that a typical misconception that southern African good whites feed mostly on seals. Rather, smaller shark species and bony fish space their primary food source, making up 60 percent of your diet. This sharks to be fished intermittently around False Bay in ~ first, mainly to supplement other catches, till 2015.

“Suddenly, 3 demersal shark longline allow holders really started fishing the source hard,” claims Fallows. “They learned how, where and when to target the smooth-hound and also soupfin sharks. Their records soared as can be checked out by the violin data to Australia, wherein the sharks are marketed for fish and chips. For the good white, this has been nothing quick of a fatality blow.”

Often referred to as “flake” in Australia, smooth-hound shark is commonly used in Australian fish and chips. Numerous consumers don’t also know they’re eating shark — follow to Australian seafood labeling laws, just fresh and frozen fish demands to it is in identified. As soon as it is cooked, there is no legal responsibility to name the types and shark is dubbed everything native “flake” to “pearled fillet”, “boneless fillet” and even “monkfish”.

Australia has its very own smooth-hound shark fishing industry but it is sustainably controlled with strictly quotas and also enforcement. In stimulate to accomplish the large excess demand for fish and also chips, importers merely started happen in shark from southern Africa, whereby the fishery is poorly controlled with small regulation.

“For Australia, it is a twin win,” says Fallows. “They space protecting their resource from overfishing by having well researched and well-enforced quotas. To comprise the demand deficit, they import our sharks at a favorable exchange rate. The damages being done on the other side of the s is unknown come most human being in Australia, who are unwittingly eat our sharks in your fish and also chips.”

Unlike in Australia, there is no border on the full allowable catch in southern Africa. Because 2011, the department of Environment, Forestry and also Fisheries’ (DEFF) own scientists have declared that this sharks room being harvest at one unsustainable price — practically three time the annual recommended quota — and have made urgent references to border the total allowable catch, however this has actually been repeatedly ignored by management and also policy makers. To do matters worse, shark longliners have been recorded fishing inside south Africa’s flagship maritime reserves — the tantamount of longline fishing top top the great Barrier Reef. In 2019, DEFF researchers warned that smooth-hound and soupfin shark populations were in a state the collapse.