COLUMN: The truth about Great Whites

2016-02-09 06:00

One of the most hated and misunderstood animals that has ever set foot on this planet, or put fin to water, are Great White sharks. Sci-fi movies and shark attacks have resulted in a tarnished reputation.

Sharks have been roaming the ocean for more than 400m years. A testament to the adaptation techniques of sharks is that they have survived many mass extinctions, including the extinction that wiped out the dinosaurs. This great adaptation has resulted in sharks becoming an apex predator of the ocean.

Although Great Whites are widely distributed in the global ocean, they are extremely common along the South African coastline, particularly in places such as Gansbaai, False Bay and Mossel Bay. These areas are also known for the large amounts of fish and seals on which Great Whites feed. In the winter months, Seal Island in False Bay is a popular hunting ground for Great White sharks.

Great White sharks, despite popular belief, are in fact selective predators. It often occurs that Great Whites swim through the surf of popular swimming spots along the False Bay coast without attacking any people in the water.

Although there are shark attacks that occur yearly, it is extremely rare for a shark attack to be fatal. Last year, only three people died from a shark attack which is an extremely low number compared to the 100m sharks that are killed each year by humans.

Sharks have no natural predators. However, due to the large amount that are killed each year, the population numbers are drastically declining. This decline could have a drastic impact on the food web as sharks feed on seals who in turn feed on fish. If the seal population increases, the fish population will decrease, which would have a negative impact on the fishing industry. This has resulted in many countries, such as Australia and New Zealand, protecting the Great White shark.

It is important that we change the false perception we have of the Great White shark and, instead, focus on learning more about this creature.

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