Let’s Talk About The Great White Shark…part one

I know so much has already been said about the Great White Shark and yet not enough is known! I want to talk a little about the myths surrounding them in this blog, if you will indulge me?

Most people think of movies of the likes of Jaws and Open Water, when they hear the word “shark” or even worse “Great White Shark”, but these are unfair portrayals of these magnificent and little known animals! The bloodthirsty image as shown in these movies, are the overactive imaginings of the directors in order to up ratings! Though these are the apex predators of the ocean, Great White Shark attacks are rare, even when humans swim in close proximity with them!

Fascinatingly enough, the Great White Shark is not entirely white in colour, but grey, blue and even brown, to better melt into the ocean bed, though it’s underside may be brilliant white, it’s fins look as though they have been dipped into a tin of black paint, leaving little black tips. They seem to have a constant smile, with razor sharp teeth, that replenish almost weekly! They are shaped like torpedoes, which aid in attaining the speeds they do while swimming, of course their powerful tails have a lot to do with this as well. Considering their incredible size and weight, the speeds they are able to attain, are mind blowing, up to 25km per hour!

In False Bay, we are very privileged to live in the shark breaching capital of the world, and you could come and experience these amazing creatures with us! Great Whites breach in the pursuit of their prey, which is typically seals. Breaching means the shark breaks the water as they come up under the seal, much like breaching whales.

Let’s dispel some “Jaws-like” myths about sharks and Great White Sharks in particular! Even when humans are in close proximity, Great White Shark attacks are extremely rare! Humans are not targeted by sharks, not even the Great White Shark, we simply do not have the nutritional and protein value they desperately need to sustain their massive bodies and active life styles! In the Mediterranean Sea, there have only been 31 confirmed shark attacks in more than the past 20 years, and of these, more than 95% were non-fatal attacks!

Sharks are curious creatures, and also very large, so coming by and taking a curious bite, also known as “test biting” which is exhibited by many fish, could result in a lost limb, and not fatalities, as after the initial “test bite” sharks generally do not return! So it is not because they are blood thirsty mindless killing machines, rather curious and interested in what they see, thinking it could possibly be a food source! With the vast distances these sharks travel, one can understand that they are not territorial by nature, so if you ever found yourself swimming close to Great White Sharks, refrain from panic, don’t splash about like a wounded animal, because this will only attract the shark and he will more than likely swim in for that “test bite”. Keep calm and swim away, they probably won’t even notice you!

On extremely rare occasions, sharks will attack humans, but again this is believed to be a matter of confused identity! Our identity not theirs! It is believed that our silhouettes could resemble those of seals, the Great White Sharks’ main source of nourishment! But again, once the initial bite proves to the shark that its quarry is in fact not the seal it initially thought it was, it retreats. We are quite simply too bony and not fatty enough to interest them!

I’m quite sure that despite my advocacy in favour of the Great White, there will still be many of you reading this, who will still choose to believe Hollywood!

Great White’s are dangerous to humans though, in a totally different sense! They have incredibly high levels of mercury in their bodies, making them dangerous for human consumption! Now perhaps they are not typically hunted for their meat, they often fall victim to bycatching, so they are considered an endangered species, with less than 10 000 believed to be left! This is a sad state of affairs, and one we as the human race should be ashamed of! Sharks, as with all creatures in our oceans, play a very important and delicate role in the aquatic ecosystem!

 

Keep that tooth grin, till we meet again!

By Nadine Bentley