Where did the sharks go? Great whites 'missing' from False Bay

28 August 2019 - 16:33 By Dan Meyer
No great white sharks have been spotted in False Bay in 2019.
No great white sharks have been spotted in False Bay in 2019.
Image: 123RF/Andrea Izzotti

Great white sharks have been noticeably absent from False Bay on the Cape coast during 2019, prompting questions as to when the apex predators will return.

Between 2010 and 2016, shark spotters recorded an average of 205 white shark sightings a year at their operating beaches during spring and summer.

But since then, the numbers have dropped significantly, with only 50 of them seen since the start of 2018. None have been spotted this year. 

The city of Cape Town said on Wednesday that it did not have a conclusive reason for the sharks having gone AWOL. 

“Great white sharks have been noticeably absent from False Bay on the Cape coast during 2019, prompting questions as to when the apex predators will return,” they said. 

“The shark cage diving eco-tourism operators, who would normally witness multiple individual sharks visiting their vessels and up to 30 seal predations daily, have not had a single white shark sighting at Seal Island in 2019.”

They added that there were no traces of bite marks on any of the whale carcasses the city had removed from False Bay this year, which usually indicate feeding patterns. 

The drop in sightings has forced the city to redeploy shark spotter operations around the peninsula, and they say that they will review the situation again only in 2020 once more data is collected. 

They also admitted that they do not know what impact the sharks' absence will have on the ecosystem.

“It is important that the city and shark spotters maintain an adaptive management approach to shark risk and that we use our resources responsibly. We have assessed all of the information at our disposal and we believe that a change in the spotters’ operating locations is a responsible approach to the new situation,” said mayoral committee member for spatial planning and environment, Marian Nieuwoudt.

Shark spotter programmes will continue to run in Fish Hoek, Clovelly, Kalk Bay, Muizenberg, Monwabisi, and Caves at Kogel Bay, but operations in False Bay will cease. 

Nieuwoudt said people should nonetheless be vigilant of other shark species in the water.

“The marine ecosystem is dynamic,” she said. “It is uncertain at this point whether the great white sharks have left False Bay for good, or whether this reduced presence is only short term.

“It is also true that the sharks may return at any time, and for the risk to increase accordingly,” she said. 

“Residents and visitors should remain vigilant and cautious when visiting beaches,” she said. 


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